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What to Do When You Fall Back Into Your Old, Less Productive Ways

What to Do When You Fall Back Into Your Old, Less Productive Ways
Published December 7, 2012 by Elizabeth Grace Saunders

What happens after you've tried a new productivity routine for a few hours, a day, or even a week only to then find yourself seemingly right back where you started? Do you give up? Or try once more with renewed determination to make the habit stick?

Your answer to the above question plays a massive role in your ability to bring about change in many areas of your life, including your time investment. Losing weight doesn't happen in a completely linear fashion, and neither does retraining yourself to make a new behavior stick. New habits happen in a two steps forward, one step back pattern. It's not just having the right system that matters, but grooving the habit so that you reflexively respond in the correct manner.

Here's how to keep at it, even when faced with the inevitable discouraging relapses that can happen in the process of creating lasting behavioral change:

Determine what led to the relapse

When you notice that you have reverted to an old way of behaving, it's tempting to take the easy way out by blaming the system or blaming yourself. Whether you take the "Stupid Technique" or "Stupid Me" approach, you end up diminishing your desire to try again because you see yourself as a victim of external circumstances. To experience lasting habit change, you need to look at the situation as an opportunity to learn what you can do to create a different outcome in the future. Instead of overreacting to the blip, step back from it, see it as an incident instead of an indictment, and then examine it like Sherlock Holmes looking for clues.

For example, you could ask yourself: What happened before the slip? Did I encounter a specific trigger event such as a last-minute client request? Was there an unusual circumstance such as sickness? When did I first notice the reversion in my behavior? Is some part of this routine unsustainable and if so, how could I adjust it to make it more realistic?

It's tempting to take the easy way out by blaming the system or blaming yourself.

Determine solutions

Once you determine what happened that led to the relapse, proactively decide what new pattern of replacement behavior you want to practice. For example: If I start to feel frantic, then I will step away from my computer and plan out my day instead of jumping into more work. If I receive a last-minute client request, then I will think through whether to accept it or to decline the short deadline. If I am sick, then I will reduce my exercise routine and increase my sleep time.

Recognize deviations quickly by checking in daily

Recording what you do on a daily basis can help you more rapidly notice when you get off track. For example, I've had clients who have benefited from writing up their daily accomplishments in Evernote or going down a checklist at the end of each day. These reviews of the past 24 hours help you to pick up on deviations from your routine before weeks or months have passed by. By "checking in" on your habit every day, you'll be more aware of any changes and less likely to slip up.

Remember that relapses happen

If you become afraid of any "slip" in your behavior, you can end up paranoid about falling back into old habit patterns. The way to bypass fear of failure is to give yourself permission to take life moment by moment.

By 'checking in' on your habit every day, you'll be more aware of any changes and less likely to slip up.

When a thought comes to mind like "Why are you even trying? You're just going to screw this up." You can calmly acknowledge that yes, you may get off track in the future, but right here and right now you will focus on what you can do in the moment. Letting go of fear of failure lowers your perception of risk and heightens your chance of success in lasting habit change.

With the right attitude and approach, you can overcome relapses and move forward on your time investment goals.


How About You?

How do you respond when you notice a relapse in a new behavior?

More about Elizabeth Grace Saunders

Elizabeth Grace Saunders is the founder of Real Life E Time Coaching & Training and author of The 3 Secrets to Effective Time Investment: How to Achieve More Success With Less Stress and How to Invest Your Time Like Money. Find out how you can accomplish more with peace and confidence at

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