How not to give up on goals when you ‘screw up’

Sarah Von Bargen
4 min readApr 3, 2018

Raise your hand if you’ve been here:

It’s Friday night and for the last week you have been an absolute paragon of virtue. You’ve gone 6.5 days without falling down a single Instagram hole.

When you’re waiting in line, avoiding conversation on the bus, killing time while the coffee brews — you’ve manged to resist the siren song of that pink square.

But then you get a notification that you have a direct message. So you log in to see the meme your friend sent and that’s it.

You’re off to the races. You’re stalking your ex. You’re hate-watching Instagram stories from your high school nemesis. An hour passes and you emerge bleary-eyed and ashamed.

You screwed up, so you might as well give up. You throw away the week of progress, decide that you’re just not the sort of person who can give up social media, and wonder why you even bother trying.

Are you nodding along? Giving up on a goal, a resolution, or a habit when we ‘screw up’ is SO COMMON. In fact, it’s one of the most common questions I get in my workshops!

Here’s what to do instead.

How not to give up when you ‘screw up’ on your goals

Use your ‘screw ups’ as an opportunity to know yourself better

It sounds Pollyanna-ish, but every time we fall off the wagon, we can gain more insight into what motivates us.

Instead of beating yourself up, use this as an opportunity to get curious. What was it — exactly — about that situation that nudged you off course?

Did you go on a shopping bender because:

  • You were tired?
  • You just spent 20 minutes looking at other people’s perfect Instagram lives?
  • You were celebrating a promotion?
  • Your body changed recently and you don’t like the way any of your clothes fit?

If you can figure out where things fell apart, you can avoid those same issues in the future.

Anticipate when you’re going to be tempted + plan accordingly

My Achilles heel comes in the form of any and all party food. WHO CARES ABOUT CARROTS LOOK AT THIS CHEESE PLATE.

I’m sure you have your own version of this! Maybe you have a specific friend who always talks you into buying things you don’t need.

Maybe long work weeks seem to end with too many cocktails, cigarettes, and mean-spirited gossip. Maybe you abandon workouts if the weather is less than perfect.

If you can spot the bumps in the road, you can see where you’re most likely to fall off the wagon.

Look at your calendar and spot the times, places, and people that are going to challenge you. Then plan accordingly.

Plan to go to the gym because it’s supposed to rain. Invite that purchase-encouraging friend over for dinner instead of meeting him at the mall.

You’re smart. You get the idea.

Track your process, not your progress

Have you ever started a diet, weighed yourself after three days, and then yelled about how you haven’t lost 15 pounds yet? This is called being a human.

Nobody wants to hear it but it’s true: progress takes much, much longer than we’d like or expect. Most of us put in five days of effort and then throw our hands up when we’re not rich, famous, and good looking yet.

I know you know this but it should be said: anything worth having takes time. You probably won’t get anything lasting, life-changing, or important after five days of effort.

So instead of obsessing over results, track how many times you did what you said you were going to do.

You’re less likely to give up if you track your process not your progress.

How many times did you drag your ass to the gym? How many times have you brought lunch to work? How many blog posts have you written?

Most things in life are a numbers game. If you keep doing what you said you were going to do — going to the gym, pitching articles, spending carefully — you’ll eventually get closer to where you want to be.

Know that self-compassionate people are more likely to achieve their goals

I’m not saying this is in a “just be nice to yourself while holding a crystal” way. I’m saying this in a “this is backed by multiple large academic studies” way. Like, this is a fact.

And it makes sense, right? When you practice self-compassion, you’re more likely to get back on the wagon, keep going, and achieve what you aimed for.

So next time you ‘screw up’ — next time you stalk your ex on Instagram, spend too much at Target, have too many cocktails — take a deep breath.

Consider why it happened, how you can avoid it in the future, and then talk to yourself the way you’d talk to your best friend.

After that pep talk, you’re more likely to true your wheels, re-commit, and keep going.

If you found this helpful, be sure to 🖤 it below — as a writer it means the world.

And if you ‘d like help making or breaking habits, check out my free class 5 Reasons Your Good Habits Don’t Stick + How To Change That!



Sarah Von Bargen

Writer and teacher who studies happiness, money, and living your life on purpose. Figure it alongside me here: