Instead of Quitting, Learn to Start Again

Allison Burney

Don’t let “missing a day” in your habit streak keep you from your goals

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We all have those days where we just can’t seem to do the things we need to do (or even the things we know we should do, because they benefit us).

Monday was one of those days for me. I was feeling sluggish and exhausted by the end of the day, and couldn’t seem to find the strength or the energy to do my workout. Of course, I’d meant to do it earlier in the day as a break from work, but that never happened.

So, I let it go. I didn’t worry about it. GASP!

It doesn’t have to be “all or nothing”

Trust me, I know what you’re thinking. I’ve thought that way too for most of my life.

I’m guessing it’s something along the lines of:

But you can’t just give in and give up every time you don’t feel like doing something! You’ll never accomplish anything that way!

I used to believe very strongly in this narrative. And to be honest, I still get caught up in it sometimes.

For years, I’ve struggled with achieving my goals because I’ve approached them with an “all or nothing” attitude. I make this rash plan to all of a sudden start doing a million new things every day, and then when I miss a day (which, at some point, becomes inevitable), I get down on myself and give up altogether.

I start believing I’ve failed, and from that point on, I can’t see anything but the day I missed. I could have been writing steadily or meditating or exercising every day for the past 30 days, but that one day I didn’t becomes all that matters.

Beware of “failure” thinking

The problem with this way of thinking, though, is that it doesn’t do me any good. It doesn’t serve me in any way.

When I approach my goals as nothing more than items to be checked off a list, even if I do the thing I’m “supposed” to do, there’s no satisfaction in it. Most of the time, I’m only doing it so that I can avoid feeling guilty for not doing it, rather than because I actually want to do it.

And if I don’t do it, then I feel guilty and beat myself up for “failing,” often causing me to give the thing up entirely, instead of simply seeing it as a day off.

This quote comes to mind:

When you’re tired, learn to rest, not to quit. — Banksy

This is the essence of what I’m getting at.

If you can do something every day, by all means, do it! But watch out for the emotional toll that the guilt, feelings of failure, and negative thoughts will make you pay. This is the part we need to alter.

Start building “Atomic Habits”

This is also what James Clear speaks to in his book, Atomic Habits.

He says it’s better to recognize that we’re not perfect and pick up where we left off if we miss a day, rather than trying to maintain a strict and unreasonable schedule with the lofty goals we’ve set for ourselves.

We’re only human, and sometimes, we forget. We get too busy or too engrossed in what we’re doing, or something more pressing takes our attention for the day. As a result, we don’t find time to write that day, or to work out, or to make ourselves a healthy meal — even though our goal was to do all three of those things every single day.

The problem is, many of us (myself included) accidentally allow one missed day to turn into two, and then before we know it, we haven’t written anything or exercised at all in months. Suddenly, the things we most wanted for ourselves are the furthest away, and we wonder what happened.

It’s okay to miss one day — just don’t stop

That’s the thing we all need to watch out for.

The key is to never miss more than one day of a habit, so that you can easily get right back into it and keep progressing on your most important goals.

Instead of beating yourself up over yesterday, just start again today.

In the end, what’s better: doing something straight for 30 days, missing once, and never doing it again; or missing a few days here and there, but continuing the practice for years to come?

Obviously, even when you miss a day, you’re still going to gain more practice and build better habits in the long run if you can just stick with it, if you can make it a part of your life for months and years to come, rather than just in the short-term as something you’re “trying out.”

Breaking your “streak” doesn’t have to be the end

Writer Anne Lamott also has some insight:

Some of us tend to think that what we do and say and decide and write are cosmically important things. But they’re not.

The world’s not going to end if we miss a day of a habit we’re trying to build. It’s only when we miss too many days in a row that we doom ourselves.

I think my biggest fault sometimes is treating my goals like they are the be-all and end-all when all I really need to do is acknowledge that they matter to me, and keep working towards them — even after a “bad” day.

Just because you couldn’t muster what you needed to tackle yesterday doesn’t mean today will be the same. It’s a brand new day, and therefore, a brand new opportunity.

Just breathe, and remind yourself that regardless of what happened yesterday, you’re not a failure. As long as you keep going, you can’t fail.

Let it go, and begin again.

Photo by Adi Goldstein on Unsplash

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Writer & proofreader. I love travel, reading, coffee, and exploring nature. On a mission to keep learning, growing, and enjoying this adventure we call life.

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