Question of the Day: How Do I Deal With Obstacles and Lapses?

3 Tips to Getting Back Up Again

Photo by Craig Gary on

You’ve embarked on a new fitness plan, a healthy eating pattern, a smoking cessation program–or maybe you’ve been absolutely spiffy at it for months–and then the inevitable happens. You stumble. You miss a session. You give in to temptation.

Maybe you think: “No problem, I’ll get to it tomorrow,” “I’ll start over in the morning,” or “Next week will be better.” Or maybe you feel like you’ve let yourself down: “I never stick with it,” “I’m such a failure,” or “I can’t win.”

I said inevitable because it’s the rarest of individuals that can make a decision to do something and then do it every single time, perfectly, forever and ever (or until they decide they’ve had enough and want to do something different).

I haven’t met that person. But don’t most of us assume that’s the norm? That’s what you’re “supposed to” be like? We think we are somehow unique in our difficulty.

Since in reality we all “fail” at some point, how can we prepare ourselves for it? How can we spend less time feeling bad and just get back to what we know we need to do?

I talked to a client today who like me has given many efforts over the years towards living more healthfully–residing at a body weight that feels optimum for what we want to do with our bodies, consistently eating foods that fuel us with balanced nutrient levels, exercising daily or on a schedule that feels “right” for keeping us strong and fit, etc. And we have both succeeded multiple times, for months or maybe even years at a time.

Then something happens. Maybe a vacation. Maybe a stressful day or several at work. Maybe a relationship problem. Or maybe things are going “too well” and we feel the need to invite a little chaos (that’s probably a different article). Whatever the case, good or bad, it’s an interruption to the healthy pattern we have developed, and if we’re not prepared for it, can derail our efforts completely.

In my client’s case, she said she’d had a particularly busy, stressful day yesterday that pulled her away not only from her healthy activity habits of exercise and meditation, but also away from work.

When she reported her steps to me this morning–which were still above the minimum she’s set as a goal!–she said she was “short.” Yes, she had fallen short from her recent streak, but she wasn’t giving herself credit for still meeting her goal.

Before we started working together, she might have let that streak lapse or perceived “failure” defeat her. Add to that the stress she would have felt about getting behind at work, and she likely would have decided she was too busy today to return to her regularly scheduled exercise and meditation programming.

Today, though, she said: “…but today’s another day!”

What a great attitude to have! “Every moment brings an opportunity to shine a little brighter,” as I like to say. It’s also an opportunity to begin again.

The conversation continued:

Screenshot by author

Tip #1: Have a Plan

Plan ahead for lapses and obstacles. Because it’s going to happen. And even if it doesn’t, it never hurts to know you have a game plan for getting back on track!

Potential Lapses: You had to work late and missed your spin class? You couldn’t get your walk in because your partner can’t watch the kids? You ate too much at dinner and can’t handle Zumba? You wanted cheesecake (or chocolate or pizza or _______) and you ate it?

Plan ahead for ways to “do something” and feel okay: Get some bodyweight exercises done before bed and do a yoga nidra meditation to help you sleep. Tomorrow’s a new day! Or count it as a rest day. It’s okay to take a break–life happens! Sometimes you gotta eat the cheesecake! Know in advance that an unplanned lapse and obstacles will occur. What’s your plan for having a good attitude about it and getting back to balance?

Potential Obstacles: You’re going on vacation or a work trip in the future? Will that interrupt your exercise or eating patterns? Even if you think you’ll still follow through and pack your shoes and workout clothes, what if you have schedule conflicts or the menu doesn’t exactly accommodate your plans? And the one day off is about to become a week off?

Again, plan ahead for what you can do if you get off track while you’re away: Is there a set of bodyweight exercises or fitness band exercises you could do first thing in the morning or a couple hours before bed in the hotel room? Are you conscious about your step count and actively thinking of that as your exercise while you’re away (so that when you get back to “regular life” you continue to feel good about advancing toward your goals)? Could you look up the restaurant menu online or find alternatives before you get there?

At the very least, know in advance that even a planned schedule interruption can lead to further lapses and feeling defeated if you don’t have a plan to actively pursue your goals while you’re gone and after you return.

Tip #2: Be Flexible!

Being flexible and adaptable helps make you resilient. Recognize what’s working, keep that, and let go of what doesn’t work. Life is really just kind of an experiment. I certainly take that attitude towards fitness and balanced eating (and I think it applies well beyond). Different exercises and different regimens work for different people. You have to find what works for you, helps you feel your best. Lapses are inevitable. Rest is necessary. Treats are fun! Include change, rest, and treats in your plan.

Tip #3: Have a Support System

Everybody needs somebody… Somebody to check in with, be accountable to (in addition to yourself–which is MOST important), share with, complain to, provide a different perspective, take up some slack… This can be a friend, a partner, a paid coach, or whatever works for your situation. Life is hard enough. It can be incredibly difficult to see our lapses and failures, no matter how small or inconsequential–or big and life altering–as holding lessons. Those lessons are wins if we take them in, learn from them, and respond in ways that leave us and/or those around us a little better off in some way.

Do you have a plan to deal with inevitable interruptions?

Are lapses just opportunities to begin again for you? A needed rest before getting back to it?

Do you have someone to remind you how wonderful you are? Someone to point out that your perceived failure is not a failure at all? A buddy to help get you back on track?

Takeaway: Developing a plan to implement in response to a perceived or actual “failure,” being flexible, and having a good support system will help you take lapses and obstacles in stride and to get back on track quickly.

Go well!

The resources and information shared here are solely for informational purposes and aren’t intended to diagnose, treat, or cure any condition or disease or provide any professional advice. Discuss any changes in your activity and eating patterns with your primary care physician prior to pursuing.

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