When You Fall Off The Wagon

“I fell off the wagon”
“I went totally off the rails”
I hear that all of the time.

Then comes the guilt and shame spiral, or making the failure epic. After all, if we’ve already fallen off the wagon, we may as well play in the mud puddles while we’re there (aka chips, chocolate, extra wine, leftover cold pizza, skipped workouts, etc.)

If you want to stop the ‘all or nothing’ eating or habits, the wagon needs to go.

There is no wagon, so there’s nothing to fall off of. Instead, there are times where we drift off course. It’s a normal part of being human. 

If we have the perspective that we’ve fallen off the wagon, we often feel like we need to do a massive overhaul or reset everything. We might feel defeated and lose enthusiasm for our journey because we feel like we’re back to square one. But this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Think of a car parked in a garage when you’re first learning to drive. Maybe the first few times you practice driving, you back the car out of the garage under your parent’s panicked guidance – or maybe they do it for you for those first few outings – and then you start learning all the skills of driving. You learn to use the gear shift. You learn to keep the car in a straight line. You practice parking.

Can you imagine how it would feel if you thought you were back at square one each time you got into your vehicle to drive it? What if we felt like we were starting over every time we had to back the car out of the driveway? The thing is, we aren’t starting from scratch after that first time. Each time we drive from that moment on, we’ve had more practice. We’ve gained a deeper understanding of how all the parts of the car work. We have more confidence in our ability to drive the vehicle. It will never feel as hard as it did that first time to get the car out of the garage. It will become more natural and habitual each time we do it.

It’s the same with our health and fitness journey. Sometimes, other parts of life can become overwhelming and distract us from our goals. Maybe it’s additional work stress from a big project coming due. Maybe it’s a challenging situation with your kids or family. Maybe it’s COVID-19. There are going to be distractions and obstacles on the road to your goals. But that doesn’t mean you’re starting over.

You still have all the experiences you gained prior to this setback. You have all the tools in your toolkit ready to use. You know exactly what to do in order to get back to a place of progress because you’ve done it before. You’ve practiced all these skills already and know they work.

You haven’t gone backwards or lost ground because you had a week or two where you made some choices that weren’t in alignment with your long term goals. There isn’t one person in the world who doesn’t experience setbacks or mistakes along the way. It’s a part of the process, and an important one because it gives us the chance to practice returning to our healthy habits and mindset skills.

If life was always easy and things always went our way, we wouldn’t have the chance to grow and get stronger. It would be like continuing to lift the same five pound weights month after month, even though our bodies are ready for more challenging weights so we can continue getting stronger. We get stronger when these challenging times come up because they force us to improve our ability to use the tools we have in our toolbox.

If you’re in a period where you feel like you’re off the wagon – which couldn’t be further from the truth – the solution is to focus on what you can do today to progress in the direction you’d like to go. 

What tools help you the most?
What action could you take in this moment that aligns with your long-term goals?

Then commit to taking that action. The more you do this, the more natural and practiced these skills will become. You are always in the driver’s seat, and you become a better and better driver the more you practice.

You got this. One day at a time, one choice at a time.

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