So you fell off the wagon? – CLIMB BACK ON.


I’m about to share something personal with you in order to get a point across. It’s something I’ve known for a very long time but something I haven’t wanted to admit to myself until recently (ie: the past year or so). This ‘secret’ has caused me anxiety, heartache and shame – among many other unsavoury emotions. You see, I like to see myself as a strong person who can tackle anything life throws at me and tackle it with excellence. I view myself as capable, intelligent and focused on the right things in life.

While all of that is absolutely TRUE about me, here’s my painful secret … I’m NOT perfect.

I know that may come as a surprise (tongue firmly planted in cheek here), but I have acknowledged it so that I can deal with it! Some of you out there reading this might also be coming to terms with this secret for yourselves. Feel free to nod along while you read this if you’ve experienced any of the following:

  • resolving to go to the gym at least 3 times per week from now ‘til the end of time – and stopping completely after you skipped out on a personal training appointment in week 3
  • committing to eliminating foods with processed sugar from your diet – and grabbing a Snickers bar for lunch at the dairy on your way from one appointment to another after being really ‘good’ for the first month
  • investing 30 minutes at 5am daily writing my book for 2 months, then deciding to have a lie-in one morning and not picking the pen back up the next morning, or the next, or the next…

I’ve done each and every one of those things and felt crap about it each and every time. But something changed for me when I came to the conclusion that I wasn’t perfect…I let go of being so outcome-focused with all of those goals and started to be kinder to myself when I slipped.

Now, I realise it’s just a simple mistake when I ‘fall off the wagon’ and I don’t let it affect my mood, outlook or self-image. I’m still just as capable and intelligent as I ever was – I’m also human. The KEY is to recognize it as a mistake and get right back into my new habit or routine immediately afterward.

Change is HARD! Our brains are hard-wired to protect us and maintain the status quo rather than create new habits and new neural connections. So, when you fall on your face – and you will – learn how to re-frame the mistake as a one-off speed bump rather than as a total roadblock.

Something that really helped me as I learned to re-frame my mistakes was learning to recognize my trigger points – or the FEELINGS that occurred just prior to me slipping off track. At each slip, I would stop and think about what cued me to sleep longer or eat that candy bar. What I found FOR ME was that my slip-ups were often preceded by a feeling of overwhelm (I had taken on too much) or anxiety that made me want to shut down and protect myself.

When I decided to consciously make the effort to RELAX more during my day (stop and smell the roses, in essence) and take pleasure in the small things around me, I gradually felt less overwhelmed and more in control. The more in control I felt, the more successful I was at sticking to a new habit or achieving a goal.

So, the next time you find yourself slipping off track from achieving your goal, STOP and REFLECT on what you’re feeling or experiencing in that moment. Take note of it so that the next time you sense a trigger or cue heading your way, you can control it before it gets the best of you! Focus on what you can control.

Aaron T. Beck developed Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) in the 1960’s, and out of this arose the concept of cognitive reframing and restructuring (Beck, 1997). The steps below are part of a psychological process called “cognitive re-structuring”. That’s psychologist-speak for changing your thoughts for the better and literally changing your brain.

  1. develop your mental awareness. Learn to ‘catch’ yourself thinking negative thoughts (which create negative emotions) so that you can re-frame them immediately
  2. challenge the ideas/conclusions your mind has come to about your current situation – are they valid??
  3. replace the faulty conclusion or idea with a positive or supportive conclusion

A tip to help you practice re-framing is to place an elastic band around your wrist and lightly snap it (don’t hurt yourself!) each time you find yourself dipping into thought territory that doesn’t support you and your goals. Picture ‘snapping yourself out of’ negative thinking and back to reality. Being mindful of the self-talk and language we use is a key factor in switching your thinking to a more positive vein. Catch that trigger behaviour before it pulls you off-track.

Ref: Beck, A (1997). The past and the future of cognitive therapy. Journal of Psychotherapy Practice and Research, 6, 276-284

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