Making Progress When Life Happens

You’ve probably been there.

You’re clicking along with your goals. You’re in the gym on a regular basis, and killing your workouts. Your nutrition is on point, and everything feels just like you want it to feel.

And then, seemingly out of nowhere, life rears it’s ugly head, and throws a wrench (or hand grenade) right into the middle of your previously smooth sailing journey.

Maybe it’s a parent who fell ill, or extra responsibilities and stress at work. Maybe it’s a divorce, or just a bunch of little things that happen at once. But whatever it is, it threatens to bring your momentum to a screeching halt.

That’s what most of us do…we don’t pump the breaks, we slam on them, throw our hands up in the air and say, “Well, I guess this was a waste of time!”

And you know what? If that’s your response when life happens, then you’re probably right…it probably was a waste of time to work so hard and then abandon everything completely.

But, is there another option? Is there a way to keep progressing when life explodes, gets messy, and stress levels go through the roof?

Did you already guess that I’m going to say yes? You did, didn’t you? You smart little cookie.

When life goes boom, we often evaluate our ability to continue to make progress against what progress looked like before life went boom. In other words, we decide if we can maintain our current level of investment in our health, and if we can’t maintain that same level, we quit.

Lets imagine you’re in the middle of some good momentum. Over the last few weeks you’ve been hitting the gym consistently 3 days a week. You’re getting in some extra movement on a few other days during the week. You’ve been making quality breakfasts, packing all your lunches for work, and have planned and prepped for all of your dinners for the week. Physically, you feel really good. You’ve dropped a few pounds in the last two weeks, you’re sleeping better, and you have more energy.

Things are awesome.

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Then on a Monday morning (of course it’s on a Monday morning), your boss puts you in charge of a project. This is great for work, but since it’ll require several extra hours a week, it’s not so great for that momentum you’ve got going. That afternoon, you get a phone call. Your mom fell, and broke her hip. She’s in the hospital. She’ll be there for a few days before she gets moved to a rehab facility. As you hang up the phone, a notification dings, reminding you that your son’s basketball season starts tonight. That means two practices and two games a week. You had kind of forgotten about that.

Oh, hi life. Thanks for reminding me how tough you can be in a not-so-subtle way.

Somewhere in the middle of all of this is where you subconsciously make the decision to put your plans for self care on hold for a few days.

This is understandable.

After the dust settles a bit, you accept the reality that things suddenly got much busier. You will be spending more time working, more time visiting your mom every day, and more time getting your son to and from practice, as well as attending his games.

Wow. A whole just got dumped on your plate.

This is the point where you look at the reality of life now, and compare it to how life was before that dreadful Monday. “There’s no way I can keep up that pace”, you tell yourself. “I guess I just need to stop for now, and I’ll try to get back at it when things calm down a bit.”

You’re right.

But you’re also wrong.

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It’s true that you can’t be the employee, daughter/son, and parent you want to be, and continue with the same level of energy you’ve been giving your personal health and well-being. It’s not true that things need to come to a halt until things calm down.

People feel like they have to stop all their momentum because they’re comparing their ability to invest in themselves in a time when life is very busy, to a time when life had fewer time intensive responsibilities. This is a very common, and detrimental mistake.

If you only evaluate your ability to make progress by weighing it against a time in life that had exceptionally favorable conditions, you are almost always going to feel like you don’t have the ability to make progress in any other conditions.

You’ve set yourself up to fall into a cycle of continually stopping and starting your goals, only to never really get anywhere with them.

That’s a crappy situation.

Let’s put your progress on a scale of 0-10, 0 being no effort or progress is being made, and 10 being a situation where everything is going incredibly well. If you’re honest with yourself, there’s a good chance you only operate at a “0” or a “10”. It’s either perfect, or nothing is happening.

But guess what? There are a whole bunch of numbers in between 0 and 10. And ALL of them will help you continue to move forward.

If you’re clicking along at a 10 and life goes boom, a 10 is probably no longer possible. But what about a 6? Or maybe a 2? Can you do that? Most likely, you can still do something. We just have it in our heads that if it’s not as much as we were previously doing, then it’s not worth it at all.

That all-or-none thinking can get us into a lot of trouble, and can keep us stuck in the same spot.

Giving yourself permission to do less, but still do something can be a real game changer. It’s also an incredibly important skill to have for long term success. If you only allow yourself to operate at a 10, you will perpetually be in a cycle of starting and stopping.

That cycle will get you absolutely nowhere.

Maybe doing less, but still doing something, looks like cutting your workouts in half, or in quarters. Maybe you only focus on planning dinners because that’s your most problematic meal. Or maybe you just focus on getting a certain amount of water, and going for a 5 minute walk each day.

All of these options, and countless others, are much better than doing nothing. They not only help keep you moving forward, but they are an act of self-discipline. And training that self-discipline muscle will come in handy when things settle down and you have the chance to ramp things back up. Your other option is to start from zero. Yet, again.

So, the next time life happens (or if you’re in the middle of life happening right now), instead of throwing in the towel, ask yourself what you can continue to do. Ask yourself how can you do less, but still do something. You might find that simply doing whatever you can goes a long way to being a healthier person, and keeps you out of a cycle that leaves you frustrated and never making real progress.

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