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The Ever Better Challenge, Part 3: Overcome Setbacks, Finish What You Started

So, about that cookie I mentioned in last week’s blog

It was an accident. Sometimes setbacks are. Like when you want to start running every day, but you sprain your ankle. Or when you commit to an Ever Better Challenge to stop eating desserts, but a tray of warm chocolate chip cookies is placed in front of you at your office’s holiday party—and you instinctively grab one and take a bite.

Taking the cookie was a great example of my habit loop in action. As soon as the tray was set down, my brain went into automatic processing mode—EAT THAT NOW—despite spending much of my day focused on this challenge and being surrounded by coworkers aware of my situation.

I realized what I’d done while I was chewing. When my coworkers noticed, they laughed and that was that; no beating myself up or feeling disappointed. It was a simple mistake on day four of my challenge.

But…

A week later was different.

Day 11 of my challenge was rough. I had heard some bad news and was feeling bummed out. I got home from work and was craving sugar. Not surprising, since eating—particularly “junk” food—is a common way to deal with negative emotions.

There were some cookies in the snack cabinet, and even though I knew I wasn’t “supposed” to eat one, I did. Then I ate a few more. And then I felt disappointed and discouraged.

I had done a lot of research on habits. I’d filled out my templates and built a support network. I knew better than to give in to my craving, but I did it anyway.

Setbacks aren’t surprises

Setbacks are to be expected. When I started my challenge, I knew that “Deal with Setbacks” was the topic for this blog and wondered what I would write about since I—of course—wouldn’t have one. Then the accidental cookie happened, and I felt relieved; now I had material.

I wasn’t expecting to have a true moment of weakness at all, let alone so soon.

Maybe you’ve had a setback by now as well. If so, here’s what can you do next to make sure you stay on track and finish what you’ve started:

Acknowledge setbacks—compassionately

Setbacks happen. We’re not perfect—nobody is. The pressure we apply to ourselves to be flawless is not only unrealistic, it’s also dangerous.

Failing forward is part of growth. It’s only a big deal to have eaten the cookie because I decided to change my behavior. Rather than focus on a slip, it’s better to focus on the other days without one. Success is not always a straight line, but rather one of ups and downs that gradually leads to a positive change.

Take responsibility

After a setback is a good time to check-in and understand why and how it occurred. Eating the cookies was a willful decision. I knew the consequences, I knew there were alternatives, but that didn’t stop me. It’s best to own that choice without judgment.

Beating ourselves up over a setback doesn’t help. The most effective approach is to accept what happened and consider what could have been done differently—and do it next time temptation strikes.

For example, I could have called my support network or done the pushups I mentioned in last week’s blog. While these actions may not have replaced the craving, they would have likely been a distraction until it passed.

Talk about it

Even though I didn’t reach out to my network before eating cookies, I did afterward. Not only to be honest and accountable about my decision but also to be vulnerable in a way that will make it easier to reach out the next time I’m struggling.

Being honest with another person about a slip lets everyone (especially ourselves) know that we’re willing to ask for—and receive—help.

Don’t use a setback as an excuse to quit

It’s not uncommon for people to totally give up on a goal after a slip. We set these targets in a black-and-white way—this will be accomplished or it won’t—instead of recognizing that consistent effort leads to improvement. A slip isn’t the end, it’s a bump in the road.

All-or-nothing thinking is usually dangerous. It can lead us to negative self-talk and giving up entirelyinstead of remembering that setbacks can be learning experiences that lead to growth.

Remember your motivation

I felt guilt and shame after succumbing to my craving for sugar. That’s because I want to change my behavior and, at that moment, I regressed.

I want to lose weight by not eating dessert. But it’s easy to succumb to a craving in a moment of weakness. Short-term rewards provide instant gratification, especially in times of stress or struggle. The discipline to resist those cravings is essential for success.

Revisit your Build a Plan template and remember your motivation and the strategy you created to accomplish your goal.

Get back up

Because of my slips, I won’t be able to say I went 30 days without dessert—but I can still make it 28 days. And that’s 28 days of breaking a habit, making different choices, and proving to myself that I can do this—all of which build confidence that will be helpful as I take on other challenges.

If you’ve had a setback, it’s especially important to accept it and move on; stay focused on your goal, not the bumps along the way. Instead of getting stuck, get stronger.

Keep checking the boxes

A few days without an “X” on your Habit Tracker template doesn’t mean you failed. Use those days to enter notes about what happened and why, and remember there are still a lot of days before and after a setback to feel good about.

Let people in

Reaching out to the people on your Support Network template can lead to acceptance, guidance, and…support. As you go through your challenge, keep in mind that people want to help you be better.

I genuinely thought I wouldn’t need any help because this would be so easy. It’s been humbling to realize I am not as disciplined as I thought I was, but it’s also been a positive experience that has brought me closer to others.

Reflect and Correct

The lessons you’re learning through this challenge will be useful in the future. The notes from your Habit Tracker can also be used for the Reflect and Correct template. One of the benefits of writing all this down is that it’s preserved for posterity.

In the future, I can look at this template and remember the night I ate the cookies—how I felt (before and after) and what I could have done differently.

I’ll share more of that information in next week’s blog as I wrap up my challenge. Understanding how this one went—what worked and what didn’t—will help set me up for success going forward.

Because “Ever Better” is a lifelong goal, and we get there one challenge at a time.

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