May 3

How to Get Back on the Bandwagon and Rebuild Lost Routines

Getting back on the bandwagon—whether it's resuming a diet, exercise regimen, a personal project, or any good habit that has slipped—can be challenging but is ultimately a rewarding pursuit.

New beginnings are often disguised as painful endings. Lao Tzu

Here’s a story I read in the comments section of an article in the NY Times:

David had been making steady progress on a writing project for months when he received a diagnosis of throat cancer. The news, of course, derailed David’s life and also his writing plans. The hospitalization and treatment protocol left him too feeble to make any meaningful progress on his writing project. So, David pivoted instead to journaling his experiences at the hospital as best as he could.

Though not as purposeful as the story he was writing, the journaling allowed David to engage in an activity that he cherished and loved—writing—and also gave him something to look forward to during an obviously difficult and uncertain time.

The unpredictability of life

Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans. John Lennon

It's a universal truth: life is unpredictable. Whether it's a sudden illness, a major life change, or simply everyday chaos, there will be times when our routines fall to the wayside, and it may seem almost impossible to get back on the bandwagon.

Exercise habits and diets are classic examples—you finally learn to become a gym rat, and just when you can start to see progress, the seasonal flu strikes, and a couple of weeks go by. Then, the very thought of hitting the gym at 5 a.m. can seem awfully daunting, and before you know it, you forget what reps, sets, and supersets mean.

Here’s an obvious fact: it’s not that disruptions to our schedules and habits MAY occur. They WILL occur. And so, we are better off focusing on how to restart and bounce back instead of lamenting what went wrong.

But first, we should consider whether it's worthwhile to get back on the bandwagon. I

Is it worth restarting?

The COVID-19 lockdowns caused more than just irrational stockpiling of toilet paper; they also saw flour and yeast flying off grocery store shelves thanks to an explosion of home baking—a phenomenon referred to as “pandemic baking.” As this Vox article describes, “Bread baking is a thing we do in a crisis, perhaps because bread is one of the very foundations of human civilization.”

During the pandemic, those of us who aren’t qualified to even critique the Great British Baking Show, let alone dream of participating, became self-appointed pâtissiers. However, as lockdown restrictions eased and life returned to "normal," many of us found ourselves unable to carve out the time in our schedules to continue refining our baking abilities. And as time goes on, our baking skills regress to pre-pandemic levels, which is to say, non-existent.

Surely, we can find a way to continue to indulge the inner boulanger in us, especially because it’s brought us joy and comfort during a time of need, right? 

However, there may be cases where the decision to restart or not isn't so clear-cut and requires a deeper examination, starting with what caused the derailment to the habit in the first place.

Getting back on the bandwagon

Did we stop dieting because we were traveling for work and our schedule made it impossible to follow the diet plan, or did we lose interest in Intermittent fasting the way we previously lost interest in Keto, Paleo, and the Rhubarb diets? Did the habit fall off due to purely external circumstances (illness, life changes, etc.), or are we simply using minor derailments as an excuse to avoid pursuing our goals? 

Depending on the answer, we need to be honest with ourselves about whether restarting the process is worth our time and effort. Especially because of this one often-ignored paradigm:

Restarting a habit is often much harder than starting the first time, as we're now aware of the uphill battle ahead of us. 

How to get back on track

The way to rebound and get back on track isn’t through superhuman willpower but through practical strategies, a few of which are highlighted below:

Embrace the power of scheduling

James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, says, “Habit formation hinges on your ability to bounce back.” This principle underscores the importance of not just creating habits but also scheduling them into your life. And when it comes to scheduling, specifics and precision matter.

Soon is not a time, and some is not a number. James Clear

Stick to your schedule, no matter how small the effort

It’s not always about completing the habit in its ideal form; it's about keeping the momentum going.

As Anne Lamott suggests in her advice on writing,

Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere.

This principle applies broadly: the act of starting, even minimally, is better than not starting at all. If a full article seems daunting, jot down a single paragraph.

The Myth of Optimal Conditions

Perfect is the enemy of good. Voltaire. 

We might never start if we wait for the perfect conditions to cultivate habits or make changes. Motivation and energy levels will fluctuate, but consistency remains key.

Accountability: The Unsung Hero of Habit Formation

Having someone who expects something from you can significantly enhance your commitment.

Whether it's a workout buddy, a writing peer, or even a professional mentor, accountability can keep you engaged even when your motivation wanes.

Tell people about your goals — as Adam Cheyer of Siri fame notes, this act alone “makes you believe — makes you commit.”

Conduct a Friction Audit

Can’t go for a run, because you can’t find your headphones in the morning or you don’t have your playlist together yet? In his book Anatomy of a Breakthrough, Dr. Adam Antler suggests starting with a Friction Audit to identify what repeatedly derails you and find ways to eliminate those obstacles.

Embrace the Power of Resilience

As we navigate the ebbs and flows of life, the ability to get unstuck is more about handling setbacks than avoiding them entirely. The resilience to start over, the wisdom to work with what we have, and the insight to keep our goals aligned with our capabilities keep us moving forward. By keeping these strategies in mind, we can face the unpredictable nature of life not just with hope but with a plan.

Remember, as the saying goes in recovery circles,

If nothing changes, nothing changes.



Can We Create Our Own Luck?

Can We Create Our Own Luck?
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