Overcoming Setbacks

By now, most people have given up on their New Year’s Resolutions. Did you try to start a new habit this year? Have you stuck with it? If so, you probably have some good strategies for overcoming setbacks.

Your brain and body are designed to interfere with your attempts to develop new habits. Most of what you do any given day happens via autopilot. This is effective for accomplishing your usual routines, but it derails attempts to establish new behaviors.

Imagine that your daily thoughts and actions are like a long freight train traveling down a track. The momentum keeps the train moving at a steady clip. Developing a new habit is like inserting a new train car somewhere into the line-up while the train is moving!

When creating a new habit, it’s important to acknowledge how difficult it is to overcome your automaticity. By expecting setbacks, you are less likely to be discouraged by them. Anticipate as many as you can before beginning your new behavior, and develop specific plans to address challenges head-on. When an unforeseen obstacles pop-up, make a new plan to overcome it.

For example, because of automaticity, one of the biggest challenges to building a new habit is just remembering to do it. Almost two years ago, my friend Dan had a life-threatening accident, which left him with a new lease on life. He felt deep gratitude for the little things and wanted to sustain that experience. Dan knows how readily mundane habits of mind reemerge, so he wrote a poignant email to his friends describing his experience and asked us to remind him from time-to-time, with an email or text, to attend to his mindset. I entered a repeating prompt into my phone and we have sustained a monthly email exchange, for almost two years now, reminding each other to focus on gratitude.

What are your best reminder systems? My phone is loaded with prompts of all sorts that keep me on track. Put post-it notes on your desk, mirror, steering wheel, etc. Change your phone or computer wallpaper to a photo of your desired outcome. Make an inspiring music playlist associated with your new habit. Set alarms with these songs throughout the day. Be creative about your reminders.

Resilient Resolutions require review and revision. If a desired behavior isn’t happening, get curious about identifying the mental, logistical and emotional obstacles, and be creative in developing plans to surmount these hurdles. Setbacks are inevitable when establishing new habits, yet with strategic planning, you can overcome them and enjoy your new routine.

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