You did it. You set a goal to visit the gym five times a week, quit smoking, start saving money, or give up sugar. You’ve triumphantly crossed “X’s” through each weekday of the past month—and you’re chugging along, feeling accomplished. The moment you made the decision to change a habit was a breakthrough, and you’ve succeeded in another step forward by keeping that commitment to yourself.

But then the challenge hit. You had a relapse, a setback, a backslide—whatever you want to call it. You feel like all your hard work and dedication has just been flushed down the toilet, and you’re worried you are on the fast track back to your old ways.

Here’s the thing: breakthroughs are inevitably followed by fallbacks, big or small.

Don’t expect to glide through your resolution—that’s not what habit-changing is all about. It’s undeniably easy to slip into old routines, and positively toilsome to forge new ones. You will in all likelihood face challenges and have a few slips. So here are a few key points to remember when those happen.

  1. Expect stumbles, and don’t beat yourself up about them. You owe it to yourself—and the effort you’ve already invested in your new goals—to practice self-compassion and pick up, dust off, and try one more time. Robert F. Kennedy said, “Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.”
  1. Face the challenge, and plan your attack. Since you know fallbacks will happen, think of what you might do to get past them. Come down with a cold? Nurture yourself and get better, then ease back into the gym, staying a bit longer or working a bit harder each time you go. Suddenly bored with your sugar-free dessert options? Sign up for a healthy cooking class or book a session with a nutritionist. Shifting gears is a great way to keep yourself enthusiastic about achieving your goals and changing your habits.
  1. Hold on to your goals tightly, but don’t cling to your strategies. Remember, your vision is somewhat limited when you first set your objective or intention. You can’t have a clear or complete picture of what challenges, obstacles or opportunities will come your way as you implement your new plan. Be flexible. Things will pop up—travel, illness, weather, money issues—and your target may seem to be slipping from your grasp. Your strategy—that initial plan—is what got you in motion, what propelled you toward your goals. Without it, you might never have gotten out of the gate. Just remember to hold your strategies loosely as obstacles arise, and keep your end goal at the forefront.


When a setback has lodged itself in your path, ask yourself this critical question:

What adjustment in strategy or change in plan do I need to make today to accomplish my goals?