There’s nothing like a long weekend. An extra day off work, additional time spent with loved ones, a trip out of town. Did I forget anything?
Unfortunately I forgot something important… the string of healthy habits I started to build but hadn’t fully internalized. So maybe I should say “there’s nothing like a long weekend to derail several weeks’ worth of progress.”
Sounds a bit cynical, I know. But bear with me, there’s a happy ending.
Perhaps I should start at the beginning.
My girlfriend and I planned the perfect getaway for Australia Day weekend — a short trip to Adelaide, complete with a day-tour to the Barossa Valley wine region. To avoid the post-vacation hangover, I did what any self-respecting, forward-thinking person would do — I stayed up until 3 in the morning cleaning my apartment before I had to get up again at 6 to catch my flight.
On 3 hours of sleep how could I not remember to implement my morning yoga and meditation routine? After all, the two weeks of yoga and meditation under my belt had already transformed me into a veritable Superman, right?
Not by a long shot. I was able to pull myself out of bed that morning and complete a hasty yoga sequence — and later that night (about 16 hours behind schedule), I squeezed in a short meditation before bed. But the damage was already done. By the end of the weekend, my routine was in shambles.
The good news is that I was able to recover, and upon returning to Sydney I managed to pull myself out of the abyss of habit-crashing dystopia.
So what did I do to get myself back on track? And what did I learn from this experience to help me to overcome future scenarios of a similar ilk?
Here’s a list of a few tactics that helped me, and hopefully they will help you too. Some of these tactics I implemented consciously. Others, I pieced together after the fact. Luckily, it all came together effectively enough to help me avoid a complete collapse of my habits.
(Just a quick note: My “disruptive” event was highly enjoyable, short in duration, and planned in advance. As such, I would say it falls on the “easy” side of the spectrum when it comes to disruption level. However, I think it does provide some good insights that can be applied to other, more difficult circumstances.)
Without further ado, here are some tips for dealing with life disruptions as they pertain to your habits:
1. Enjoy your new experience. One thing I forgot to mention is that I had a blast on my vacation. I wouldn’t have traded it for anything, and it would have made no sense for me to dwell on “habit failure” regardless of the situation. Contingency plans can come later. The first thing you need to do is promise yourself you will enjoy your new experience. If your experience is a negative or annoying one (e.g. you have to stay in a hotel while you fumigate your house for a couple of days), do your best to focus on the situation at hand so that you can get back to normality as quickly and efficiently as possible.
2. Admit that your routine might take a hit, but set a hard date that you will resume your routine upon your return. In my case, I promised myself that regardless of what happened, I would be implementing my morning yoga and meditation routine the day I got back from vacation. On the surface, it looks like I gave myself an excuse to slack off for a couple days, but what it really did was reinforce the importance of persistence, even in the face of inevitable “dips.” It also created a sense of freedom in which I could both enjoy my vacation, and experiment with creative stop-gap routines.
3. Have a stop-gap in place, but don’t cling to it. I usually don’t use guided meditations, because for some reason they don’t work well for me. But before I left, I downloaded a few just in case. A couple of times on vacation, I was able to put one on and complete the meditation. While I don’t believe it was as effective as the meditations I do at home, I am glad I was able to keep up some modicum of routine, even though it wasn’t perfect. You can do something similar with almost any other habit too. If you have been trying to implement a weight-lifting habit, you won’t gain a ton of muscle doing 20 push ups while on vacation — but those 20 push ups can serve as an effective stop gap until you return. If your habit is “stop drinking store bought coffee,” but home-made coffee isn’t an option on vacation, you could say “cappuccinos are off limits, but I will allow myself to have basic diner coffee — but ONLY until I return home.” But please keep tips #1 and #2 in mind, and don’t cling to these stop-gaps at the expense of enjoying yourself or making the most of the experience at hand.
4. Pick up where you left off. Re-instate your routine as soon as you return to normalcy. I think this goes without saying. The whole point of the article is how you can maintain a routine in the face of disruptions — so get back to it!
5. Reinforce to yourself that this wasn’t failure, but that it was just a different form of success. If you use a habit tracking app like Coach.me or if you are tracking your progress in a spreadsheet, I would go ahead and put a big fat check-mark next to the disrupted days, even if you didn’t implement your habit that day. After all, the whole idea is that you’ve given yourself permission to temporarily readjust the definition of success. Only do this after you’ve consistently re-implemented the habit for a few days upon your return — and only in relation to genuinely disruptive situations (which doesn’t include things like a flat tire or taking on a new project at work). I think any piece of encouragement, no matter how subtle, is important to continued success. So you deserve those check marks!
6. Learn from the experience. As I said before, I implemented some of these tactics consciously, while others I didn’t learn until during or after my trip. But now that I’ve been through it and have learned what works and what doesn’t, I am more prepared for future disruptions. For example, after trial and error, I discovered a guided meditation that works better than the others, so on my next trip I don’t have to fumble around finding a good one — I can just pop in my favorite one and get on with it.
So, that’s what worked for me on this particular occasion. Of course there will be situations that are much more disruptive than a few-days’ vacation in wine country — but armed with the knowledge I’ve gained, I’m confident that I can apply some of these same tactics to a variety of different occasions and circumstances. Plus, it’s an ongoing learning experience, with each new challenge providing an opportunity to learn and share.