A couple of weeks ago you were on your A game.
You would workout 3 to 5 days a week, eat a clean healthy diet, meet targets in your professional work, sleep well and wake up early in the morning—motivated and pumped to take on any challenge thrown at you during the day.
But then, in a moment of weakness, you messed up and went on a binge. It seems like your old bad habits are beginning to come back into your life again.
For whatever reason—a vacation, relationship breakup, illness, injury and so on—you fell off your diet plan, skipped workouts, fell behind in the quality of your work and lost the motivation to take good care of your life.
Now you’re stuck in a downward spiral of negativity because it seems like all the progress you’ve made may be ruined.
If you can relate to this scenario, you know how tough it can be to get back on track after you messed up.
But, it’s possible.
Here are 4 simple, effective and powerful strategies that will help you get back on track today…
1. Identify the root cause of your failure.
“If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.”
– Albert Einstein
Popular advice on how to get back on track with your life typically starts off with tactics.
Whilst these may help you in the short-term, you’ll find that in most cases a few weeks or months later, you’ll be back to your old ways once again.
This is simply because the root cause of ‘why’ you messed up was never identified and addressed first.
What was your emotional state at the time of the slip-up? What thoughts were running through your mind before you fell off track? What was going on in your life when you made that mistake?
If you do enough due diligence, you’ll discover that there are common triggers that cause you to fail.
These include but are not limited to the following:
- Stress from life changes and relationship issues.
- Boredom and frustration with lack of progress.
- Injury or illness.
- Drastic change in environment i.e. vacation, going to a specific venue, change in home address etc.
- Trying to do too much too quickly.
Take some time off to reflect on and identify the triggers that cause your habits to fail. You may uncover some unique strategies that work well for you.
For example, if you discover that the boredom of eating the same food everyday caused you to binge eat, then you could try fitting in new healthy recipes, meal times and so on to deal with this.
As simple and obvious as this may seem, this will lay the proper foundation for the other strategies to help you get back on track and stick with your habits over the long run.
2. Create a Schedule and stick to it.
“Unless commitment is made, there are only promises and hopes… but no plans”.
– Peter Drucker
Do you have a schedule to fit in these habits in your life? If not, you should seriously consider doing so.
For example, I know that every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, I will be in my local gym at 7.30 a.m. for my prepared strength training workout.
If for whatever reason, I mess up and miss my workout on Wednesday, I already have a schedule and plan in place to get back on track for the Friday workout.
Business carries on as usual because the decision-making process has already been made.
I already know exactly what, where and when I will be taking action next time. 
Practice: If you haven’t already done this, simply block and fit in your habits into your calendar.
Be very specific about what you will be doing, where it will take place and when you will be making it happen.
A pro-tip here is to build in buffer zones in your calendar to allow for potential slip-ups and failures.
Sticking to a schedule will help prevent you from beating yourself up after messing up, re-engage with and stay focused on the habit at the next opportune time.
3. Get Back to the basics.
“If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word.”
– Margaret Atwood
It’s tempting to try to do too much too quickly, especially when you’re trying to get back on track quickly. But, this is usually counterproductive for making progress.
Depending on how far you’ve slipped up, you may have to get back to the bare basics and build up overtime to a sustainable routine.
Are you trying to get back on track with your diet? Instead of worrying so much about strict diets and foods to avoid, why not focus on portion sizes and tracking simple calories for now.
Are you trying to get back on track with your writing? Instead of worrying so much about finishing that in-depth article or book, why not focus on writing a few basic journal pieces for now.
Are you trying to start meditating again? Simply start off by sitting down in a quiet room, close your eyes and focus on your breath for a few minutes.
I’m sure you can think of several relatable examples in your life.
The key point here is to strip the complexity from the habit and make it as difficult as possible to not get started consistently.
Instead of worrying about “doing it right” the first time, why not simply get started right now.
Once you get back on track and build up consistency with the habit, you can figure out how to do it better overtime.
Remember it’s easier to make changes once you’re already in motion.
4. Change your environment.
Is your current environment designed for success or failure?
Your immediate environment doesn’t just include people, but also items, colours, sounds and the like, that trigger your behaviours.
Most importantly, a well designed environment can help you change your habits without relying too much on willpower or fickle motivation.
On the flip-side, a poorly designed environment will cause your habits to fail time and time again.
For example, keeping bags of chips and cookies around your bedroom and kitchen cupboard makes it easier for you to binge eat and snack late at night.
Ideally, we would like our environment to work to our advantage.
Here are a few examples of how to use this to get back on track with your habits…
- Want to get bed earlier and sleep more? An hour before bed, turn off all electronics and have a book in hand to read till you sleep.
- Want to eat more green vegetables? Use dark green plates (or darker colours in general). Research has shown that we tend to eat more portions of food types that match the colour of the plates we use. 
- Want to exercise more? Pack your gym clothes in a bag the night before the workout and place them right next to your bedroom door.
Evidently, what works best for me may not work best for you.
I’ve personally discovered that I get much more out of my writing and workouts whenever I have my headphones plugged in with music playing.
On the off days that I don’t use this strategy, my productivity doesn’t quite reach it’s peak levels.
This is a subtle environmental change I make on a daily basis that helps me stick to my habits and make consistent progress everyday.
Make the necessary changes to your environment to make it easier for you get back on track quickly.
It’s Never Too Late to Get Back on Track
“Supposing you have tried and failed again and again. You may have a fresh start any moment you choose, for this thing we call ‘failure’ is not the falling down, but the staying down.”
— Mary Pickford
We’ve all messed up and fallen behind on our goals—yes, this includes the people you look up to and aspire to be like, they’re not superhuman either.
It’s not always easy to get back on track, but it’s possible if you make a firm commitment to do so.
Some days you’ll feel like you’re making forward progress, whilst on the other days it will seem like you’re taking two steps backwards.
No matter the case, in the grand scheme of things, if you get back on track when you mess up, grind it out and stick to the plan, you may actually end up even further ahead than you ever imagined.
Mayo Oshin writes at MayoOshin.com, where he shares practical self-improvement strategies backed by proven science for building good habits that stick and living a healthy life.
To learn the quickest and easiest ways to master your habits, improve your health, boost your creativity and 10x your performance at work, join his free weekly newsletter here.
1. This strategy is more formally known as implementation intention. An implementation intention is when you state your intention to implement a particular behaviour at a specific time in the future. There have been several hundred of studies showing the successful use of implementation intentions for positive results in helping people stick to their exercise habits and even vaccination shots. Here’s a study on how this was used to help people eat healthier diet.
2.You can read more on this experiment, conducted by Brian Wansink from Cornell University and Koert van Ittersum from the Georgia Institute of Technology, showcasing the effect of using plates of different colours on eating habits.
A version of this article originally appeared at mayooshin.com on September 11, 2017 as 8 Effective Ways to Get Back on Track After You Messed Up (And Finally Stay There).