Progress is fun. We're happy when we make progress. Especially when it's towards something we believe in. With progress comes a sense of meaning, or purpose.
But what happens when the progress slows down? Or worse, what happens when we move backwards and fall back into our old ways?
Falling back into old habits sucks.
It really does. Especially after we put so much time and effort into making progress in the first place.
So why do we fall back? And more importantly, what can we do to get back on track?
There's one big reason why we tend to fall back...
And that's when something shakes up our routine of progress. We're making good progress on something, then our routine gets shaken up, and rather than letting the disturbance pass, we let it come without letting it go.
Take the simple example of a vacation. I recently went on a two week vacation, and while it was spectacular in every way, it did shake up the routines I had going before I left. Certain routines are so engrained in me that it didn't really matter.
For example, going to the gym is something I've done for 15 years, so it was no trouble getting back into that habit. But practicing awareness is something I haven't been doing for as long, so I've had to remind myself more and more to do this since I've returned.
Essentially, what I've noticed is that something comes through, shakes things up and diverts our attention for a time, and then we tend to fall back to the most autopilot, comfortable ways. We revert to our own individual lowest common denominator of behaviors.
If we're not careful, this becomes, once again, the norm. That's why it's important to follow this simple, yet powerful approach to breaking out of old habits.
Knowing that you fell is the first step.
First, acknowledge it without judgement. Say to yourself, I'm falling back. Congratulate yourself for even having the self-awareness that allowed you to recognize that you're falling.
It would be worse if you returned to your old ways without even realizing it. This happens to people more often than you think. In fact, it's probably happening to you and me right now in an area that we're not really focused on. We'll only realize when it becomes a problem, or when someone points it out.
So just knowing, saying to yourself, that you've lost momentum, is the first step in getting back on track. If this doesn't feel like a first step to you, then consider it step zero. Either way, it's necessary to be able to move on to step two.
The next step is important, and it's to let go of the story around it.
Acknowledging that you're back in your old ways doesn't mean making a whole story around it. You've identified it, you've acknowledged it, and that's enough. There's absolutely no need to keep hammering it home for the next two weeks or two months.
I'll admit that this is something I tend to do. I'll notice a shift in my behavior, and instead of just noticing it and letting it go, I start to identify with it. I'll tell people, and then tell some more people, to the point where it becomes my current narrative. It's something I'm working to do less of going forward.
Like me, I know you might have a tendency to tell your friends and family that this is happening, but the more you do this, the more you identify with the story.
The last thing you need is to make your current story one about falling back into old ways.
After you've identified it without judging, and let it go of the story, the final step is to...
Revisit or revamp your intentions.
Your intentions could be goals you have for upcoming chapters in your life, or lifestyle changes, or behavioral changes.
Anything that you consciously set your heart and mind towards that will bring out a positive change in yourself or in others, is a good intention.
It's always good to have intentions. Why? Because when you live with intention, you experience more of life. You give meaning to your days. You breathe life into your existence. Intention requires your consciousness to focus, and expand, while giving your body and mind a sense of purpose.
For example, an intention I set for myself a few months back was to become more aware of my thoughts and emotions without identifying with them. Since then, I've gotten in touch with the deeper part of my being, that is, the part that notices things, not the part that is those things.
Through this intentional awareness I've gained a deeper sense of equanimity. Things aren't perfect and I struggle a lot, but deep down I always know the real me is inside, untouched, while the outer me is the part that's struggling.
When you set intentions for yourself, whether it's to become more aware throughout your day, or to achieve a grand financial result, it's easier to get back on the train of making progress.
If you're bummed about falling back into old ways after making some initial progress, I invite you to try out the approach I laid out in this post for a week and tell me how it helps.
Live with substance!