Two weeks ago, I didn’t publish a blog post. I broke my once-per-week publishing schedule after nearly a year.
And I didn’t let myself off the hook easily. I’m still thinking about it, two weeks later, even though I disappointed precisely one dedicated reader (hi Mom!!).
I realized that dwelling on my perceived failure made me feel less motivated to publish again the next week. I felt thrown off and disconnected- I screwed up once and it seemed easier to screw up again than to get back on track.
Think of the last workout regimen you tried to follow. It went well for a week or two and then one Netflix binge tied you to the couch for the night. And the next, and the next. You open up your jewelry store on Etsy and work every weekend, only to entirely quit after one unfilled bracelet order. One mistake lodged into a string of successes seems to break the whole chain.
Messing up, taking breaks, mysteriously gaining 10 pounds after developing a craft beer habit, don’t make us failures. They make us human. Our ability to get back up when we fall (even if, like, everyone saw you trip), well, that makes us superhuman.
Here’s my step-by-step guide on how to get back on track:
Go to bed earlier
You’re probably sick of people telling you to wake up early, so I won’t do that. Here’s a much more pleasant suggestion: go to sleep. Get to bed 15 minutes earlier tonight than you did last night, and you might just wake up 15 minutes earlier, too. Take that extra time in the morning to re-focus on your goals: write for 15 minutes, stretch, go for a walk, do some research, watch a short webinar on YouTube. You need a time in your day when no one will bother you to guarantee that you’ll get back on track, and all you have to do is absolutely nothing (seriously, just close your eyes and see what happens).
Yeah, but, 15 minutes won’t make a difference
Sticking to your routine consistently is more important than sporadic spurts of really good work. If you don’t have an hour to write 6 pages in the morning then just write one paragraph. If you don’t have time to run a 5K then just run to the end of your street. Can’t read a whole chapter? Just get through one page. Eventually your daily routine will turn into a habit, into something that comes naturally, something that you can improve at over time. It’s amazing how valuable 15 minutes can become.
Work with what you’ve got
Around mid-September, I stopped running in the morning because it was too dark. I live in a quiet, heavily wooded (read: creepy af) area and I will not run alone when it’s pitch black out. I got way off track with my running goals and just sort of complained about it. Here’s what I should have done: joined a gym and used the treadmill, sucked up my pride a bought a running headlamp, found a local running group so that I wouldn’t have to run alone… I could go on. The point is that you will rarely work under perfect conditions when striving toward a goal, but there are always ways to overcome the barriers you may face. Focus on the resources available to you instead of the things you lack, and the path to your dreams will bust wide open.
And once you figure that out…
Okay, so you’ll join the gym so that you don’t have to run in the dark every morning. Now, make sure you design your environment to make it as easy as possible to stick to this new routine. Pack your gym bag the night before and leave it next to your door. Plug your laptop in on your desk so that it’s fully charged and ready for you to write in the morning. Set your food photography studio up (just me?) before you start cooking so you can just start snapping pics once dinner’s ready. Do not rely on willpower or motivation alone to get you to your goals, turn your environment into a visual reminder that you can’t ignore.
You’re back on track, feeling great, and you slip-up again. You’re going to make more mistakes, more obstacles are going to get in your way, there will be another blog post I don’t publish. Getting back on track is not something you do once, it’s a skill for you to develop and use any time you make a mistake. It’s important to forgive yourself, move on, and start right back from the top of this list. Over time, you’ll make less mistakes and getting back on track will be easier. Over time, you’ll finish that novel, you’ll run that marathon, you’ll snag the dream job.
Working toward a goal, learning something new, or challenging yourself in some way is never easy. Things worth doing rarely are. You will take two steps forward and one step back. But if you can brace yourself for those setbacks and develop a plan for getting back on track, you really can be unstoppable.