This summer I moved into a new townhouse with my two girls, and I have the cutest new neighbor. We’d been talking for several weeks about getting together, and we finally made our plan a few months after I moved in.
We went to a Mexican restaurant around the corner with our kids, and it was so much fun. I usually drink wine, but that night I decided to have a margarita. Unfortunately, the bartender was a little heavy-handed with the tequila, and my usual healthy-eating standards got tossed right out the window.
I ate chips and cheese dip, about a half a bowl of guacamole, and a cheese quesadilla that was big enough for two people.
I woke up in the middle of the night and the dinner snapped to the forefront of my mind. My sinking feeling was immediately followed by the inevitable thought, “Why did you do that?”
I’m sure you can relate. We’ve all had those moments where feel like we completely went off the deep end, and then we feel defeated and like a failure.
And it’s especially hard if you find that an episode like this isn’t a one-off — where the days of failure outnumber the days where you were “good.” (As in, “I’m going to be good tonight,” which is another post in and of itself.)
The worst part about having this happen isn’t about the extra calories or fat grams or fried foods you consumed. It’s how you treat yourself after the fact. Not to mention, you give in to that feeling that you’re back at square one and have to start all over.
But when you fall short of your health goals, there’s no point in beating yourself up. After all, it happened and it’s over. Why add insult to injury and shame yourself?
So when you mess up, instead of feeling bad about it, what can you do to turn it into a positive? Here’s how to do it:
Gather data. You’re never in the same place twice. Even if it seems like you’ve been there, done that, what’s different is you. You may have eaten cheese dip and chips before, but you’re not the same person who did it the last time. You’re always making new distinctions, even if you don’t realize it.
It’s actually a good thing to “fail,” because if you can step back from it, look at it objectively, and figure out why you made that choice, you can take that information and use it next time to do it differently.
Choose three changes. Speaking of making a different choice, come up with three small changes you could make to alter what you did. Rather than decide that you’re never going to eat Mexican again, think of minor alterations you could make next time to improve.
You could ask for a side of tortillas instead of chips. You could gorge on salsa instead of cheese dip. You could ask the waiter to box up half of your quesadilla for later.
Even if you still go overboard with your calorie intake, just making these kinds of small changes makes you feel confident and in control — which keeps you on track to continue marching forward.
Focus on the experience. While you were being not-so-healthy, did you have a really good time with your friends? Did you get to let loose a little bit and enjoy your vacation? Did you try out a new restaurant you’d never been to? Focus on the experience you had rather than the food you ate.
Coming up with something good keeps prevents you from uselessly wrecking your self-esteem by calling yourself a loser and believing that everything is ruined. This flat out isn’t true, and if there is anything that comes close to taking you back to a perceived square one, it’s indulging in this kind of thinking.
The most important thing is to figure out the reason you went a little crazy and exactly how it happened. Every action you take is preceded by a series of thoughts, and these — rather than the behaviors they create — are what you ultimately want to change.
If you choose to focus on what you did wrong or how you fell short, you will continue to stay stuck. But if you change your perspective and choose to see what’s good about it, that’s when you start really making progress.
When I gave it some thought, I decided that the fun I had bonding with my new neighbor and laughing hysterically for the first time in a really long time was worth every artery-clogging chip I ate. Plus, all it took was a short 1-mile run and some green juice to get me — mentally and physically — back on track.
The truth is that there’s always something good that comes out of every “failure” — you just have to find it.