When all of this coronavirus chaos started, I had a lot of goals. I wasn’t going to let being stuck at home break my pattern of working out consistently, I wasn’t going to let it get me down mentally, I wasn’t going to waste time on my phone or watching TV, but I was going to learn new skills and use the time to really improve myself.
It’s easy to look back at all of these goals and chuckle a little bit. While I have kept some principles in mind over the last couple of months, I haven’t been nearly as consistent as I wanted to be.
I’ve gained weight because, frankly, I didn’t work out for several weeks, although I did try to get into running but mostly as an excuse to just do something and get out of the house for a little; it didn’t stick. I haven’t eaten as healthy as I’d like; however, I do have a newfound love of brown sugar toast. I’ve spent far too much time on Twitter, and if I wanted to, I could probably write an entire essay just about the bad habits I’ve started.
On the flip side, I could also look at the positives. I’ve become pretty adept in the kitchen, making things I never thought I’d make and giving my grill a good workout in the process. My wife and I have learned, through much difficulty, how to take care of our 2-month-old son pretty much on our own. I’ve been able to carve out a living as a freelance writer in what many would describe as one of the most difficult times for freelancers. And I finished reading a book that I’ve been working my way through for two years.
But do you want to know what I’m most proud of during this time? (And this is truly something I think everyone needs to focus on as we look forward to a completely uncertain future.) I’m proud of the fact that I gave myself enough grace to get back up on the horse after falling off several times.
I wrote a piece about Robin Sharma’s 5 AM Club last year, and when I was talking to Sharma about waking up that early every day, I asked him if he ever overslept. Here’s a guy who has been waking up at 5 a.m. every morning for decades. He’s written a book encouraging people to do the same. If anyone could never have an off day, it’s Sharma. But his answer surprised and encouraged me. “I slip all the time,” he said. “I think most people do. Each day is simply about fighting the disruptive currents and getting back on track.”
There sure are a lot of disruptive currents in our daily lives, not just while we’re stuck at home, that pull us away from our goals. But that’s where it’s so vital to give yourself grace.
For me, I had to apply that grace when it came to physical fitness. I’ve never been a workout fiend, but I stayed in decent shape before the baby and the stay-at-home orders. Weekly indoor soccer games combined with a gym membership that I used a couple of times a week kept me from gaining too much weight. But when all of that was stripped away, I just couldn’t motivate myself to work out at home. And one or two days of laziness started spiraling into two or three weeks, until I finally looked at myself and realized that I wouldn’t be able to just flip a switch and get back to where I was before all of this started.
I didn’t change my ways immediately. It still took a few days and a group of friends who could keep me accountable. With their support, and their own admissions that they were in the same boat, I paid for a membership for some online workout programs. I found one that would suit my goals and I started. One thing the trainer says all the time is, “Do your best and forget the rest.”
At first, my “best” was not very good. I was barely able to finish the first workout, and this was the beginner level! My friends agreed; they were just as exhausted as I was. Having other people going through the same thing was encouraging, and even though the weight I gained didn’t magically fall off, I felt so much better about myself. Those weeks of inactivity didn’t matter anymore because I had just finished a week of consistent workouts. Will there be days I don’t do the workouts? Certainly, but instead of spiraling back down into a pattern of laziness, I have to forgive myself for that one day and start again the next.
Here are some things I’ve learned for how to give yourself grace and start again to accomplish your goals. These tips apply in so many different situations in life, from fitness goals to business goals to raising children. Think about these any time you just can’t find that motivation to begin again once you’ve stumbled.
1. Leave the past behind.
For some, it might be a motivational factor to be a little angry at yourself for failing. For others, that may have the opposite effect. Either way, it’s imperative that you don’t dwell on your mistakes. Think about what you want to accomplish today and work on steps to reach those goals.
2. Take that first, small step.
I knew that with several weeks of little physical activity under my belt, it would be unwise to jump into an intense workout program. So I started with one that takes only 25 minutes a day; it doesn’t make me so tired and sore that I can’t continue. And while it’s getting me back into shape, it’s also building a daily habit that will help me graduate to a more intense program in the future.
Think about how this same principle applies to other facets of life. Want to read a book a week? Start by trying to read a book in a month. Or start with a shorter book. Want to eat healthier? Instead of eating only salads every meal for a week, eat one salad a day, or replace dessert with an apple. Do something small that gets the momentum going in the right direction.
3. Find people who can help hold you accountable.
Having accountability is important all the time but especially when everyone is physically distant. It’s so easy to let yourself slip in areas of discipline when no one can see you. So it’s helpful to reach out to somebody close, share your struggles and your goals, and support each other in forming and sticking to new, good habits.
I know I didn’t start working out again until I said something to my community group about how I wanted to do it. I’d been thinking about it for weeks, but it wasn’t until I had someone encouraging me, offering to join me, and making me feel like I wasn’t alone, that I committed to doing it.
4. Take it one day at a time.
It only takes one day to start a new streak. You can’t work out 30 days in a row on a Monday. You can work out on that Monday and then again on Tuesday. But it can’t all happen at once. All it takes is a dedication to make today the day that you take a step in the right direction. It doesn’t matter what happened yesterday, and you can’t do anything about tomorrow yet; all you can do is make decisions for today.
So whatever it is that you want to start doing, don’t get lost in thoughts about how long it’s going to take or how difficult it might be, just think about what it will take to do it today.
These are weird times, and none of us know quite what we’re doing or how to do it. So forgive yourself for bad habits you may have started or mistakes you might’ve made in adjusting to your new normal, and look forward instead. A bright future begins with good decisions today.
Photo by @criene/Twenty20.com