People often give up on health and fitness goals long before they achieve them. A common reason for quitting a goal prematurely, is being unable to bounce back from a series of setbacks or failures.
Mistakes are often repeated because it isn’t clear how to correct them. This can of course, be extremely frustrating and discouraging.
That’s why I’m about to lay out a clear 3-step process to make you more comfortable overcoming failure. This process will give you the tools to troubleshoot obstacles as they arise on your journey to build healthier habits.
This easy-to-follow, troubleshooting process will help you avoid quitting after a slip-up, and teach you how to avoid making other mistakes in the future so that you can become a happier and healthier you!"Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time." ~Thomas Edison Click To Tweet
To make this as easy as possible, I have made you a free troubleshooting template so you can work through your own obstacles!
I would recommend that you download it now so you can follow along as we go.
Got it? Great let’s get to troubleshooting!
Overcoming Failure In 3 Steps
Okay, let’s get started on that 3-step process to overcome failure in your health and fitness goals!
Step 1 – Reframe Your Mindset To Avoid Giving-Up When You Make A Mistake
Building new healthy habits can be tough – especially mentally.
Being able to persevere when things start getting hard requires the right mindset. In fact, your mindset is the first step to address after a slip-up, to ensure you are able to stick to your goals.
If you haven’t read my previous post about how to reframe your mindset to avoid giving up after you’ve made a mistake, you may want to take a moment to do that now, as this post builds on that one.
[BONUS: There’s a downloadable mindset exercise in there that would be helpful for you to have on hand when you do have a slip-up!]
Step 2 – Minimize The Damage By Getting Right Back On The Horse
After slipping up, we often say, I’ll start again tomorrow, or next week, or next month. Or maybe we tell ourselves, “Things will be easier after ________, I’ll start again then.”
But let’s be honest, how often do we actually start again when we say we will? Pretty much never… right?
That’s because starting is the hardest part.
So instead of quitting now because of a little slip-up, save yourself the pain of having to start all over again by getting right back on the horse.When it comes to healthy habits and fitness goals, the only thing harder than getting started, is having to start all over again. Click To Tweet
To do this, I like to use the mantra of “Never miss twice”. This mantra refers to not messing up on your goal twice in a row. The reasoning behind not missing twice is that multiple mistakes can quickly spiral out of control.
James Clear makes this point well in the following quote from his book, Atomic Habits:
How To Put “Never Miss Twice” Into Practice
Below are a few examples of what never miss twice would look like.
If you’re trying to eat healthy, but you slip-up and have a donut for breakfast – don’t quit and try to start again next week. Instead, make sure you don’t miss twice, by eating a healthy lunch.
If you miss your workout on Monday, do everything you can to make sure you can sweat it out on Tuesday.
Step 3 – Solve The Problem And Prevent It From Happening Again
Once you’ve minimized the damage by getting right back on the horse, the next step is to make sure you don’t make the same mistake again in the future. The following two activities will help you accomplish this.
The 5 Whys
The 5 whys root cause analysis was made famous by the book The Lean Start-Up by Eric Ries. However, the 5 whys method was originally developed by engineers at Toyota to get to the bottom of manufacturing problems.
The purpose of the 5 whys root cause analysis is to find the true source of a problem. Sometimes the cause of a problem might be truly obvious, and in that case this technique can be skipped. For example, if you missed your workout because you chose to go to happy hour with your friends instead, that’s a pretty obvious cause.
However, when a problem continues to occur, it may be that the real problem is not what we think it is. This is the perfect opportunity to use the 5 whys method.
How Does The 5 Whys Method Work?
In order to make this technique work for you, you need to really take time to reflect and think about your answers. It is very important to be honest during this exercise.
Remember the growth mindset – it is okay to make mistakes.You don't have to be perfect to make progress, but to make progress, you do need to learn from your mistakes. #GrowthMindset #MindsetMatters #ProgressNotPerfection Click To Tweet
To find the root cause of a problem, first state the problem clearly (in one sentence if possible). Then ask yourself, why is this problem occurring? Continue asking why with each subsequent answer you get until you come to what seems to be the root cause of the problem.
I like to write down each of the 5 whys and their answers as I work through the exercise. This allows me to come back to it later if I need to.
The technique is called the 5 whys root cause analysis, but don’t get too caught up on the number 5. It could take more or less whys to reach the root cause of the problem. Also note that there may be several causes of the problem. So don’t stop until you’re sure you’ve found them all.
Once you finish this process, identify all the root causes that must be solved by writing them down. Then you can address each of these one by one.
Example Of How To Use The 5 Whys Method With A Health Or Fitness Goal
Ben has set a goal to go on 3 runs per week after work. But for the last few weeks, he’s been missing more runs than he makes and he’s just not sure why he can’t seem to stick to it.
The goal is important to him. He enjoys running and feels like 3 times a week is an appropriate amount of exercise for him. Ben usually likes to run after work to blow off a little steam.
So why can’t Ben stick to his goals? Let’s have Ben use the 5 whys method to find the root cause of his problem (note that this exercise is being written as if performed by Ben to figure out his own problem).
State the problem: I have been missing many of my runs lately.
The 5 Whys: The discussion (or thought process) Ben would have with himself to work through the 5 whys might look something like this:
- Why have I been missing my runs lately?
- I haven’t felt very motivated.
- Why haven’t I felt very motivated?
- I feel more tired after work than usual.
- Why do I feel more tired than usual?
- I am not sure… I’m sleeping fine, I’ve worked up to running this much, everything is the same at work…so that’s not it. Maybe it’s because I haven’t been eating lunch at work a lot of days.
- Why haven’t I been eating lunch at work?
- I don’t have any food in the house to make lunches to take to work, and I’m usually too busy at work to grab something.
- Why don’t I have any food in the house?
- Football season started. I’ve been going to my friend’s house on Sundays to watch the games. That’s when I used to shop for groceries.
Note: In practice, Ben would simply jot down his answers to the 5 whys in the discussion above. It would look something like this:
State the root problem(s): Finally, Ben would look at his 5 whys that he wrote down, and try to pull out any root problems he found. He would summarize these in one to-the-point sentence:
- I don’t have enough energy for my runs because I haven’t eaten enough.
- I need to find a new time to go grocery shopping for the week.
Why the 5 Whys Method Works So Well
Imagine if Ben hadn’t done this 5 whys exercise. He might have asked himself why He wasn’t able to stick to his goal just once, as most people do. Had he done this he might have and concluded that he just lacked motivation, which really that wasn’t the case at all!
If he was left thinking that motivation was the problem, he might have tried to force the issue by watching motivational videos, reading quotes to inspire him, or maybe even making an upbeat playlist to listen to on his runs. But these things would likely not have worked, since motivation really wasn’t his problem.
Likewise, if Ben had stopped the 5 whys exercise too soon, he might have concluded that the root problem was that he was too tired.
To try and address his lack of energy he might have tried to go to bed a little earlier. don’t get me wrong, this surely wouldn’t hurt! But it probably wouldn’t help much either since he said he was already sleeping pretty well.
Or, maybe he would try to go for his run a little earlier in the day so he wasn’t too tired for his post-work run. Again, nothing wrong with this, except that he would have lost the benefit of his stress relief after a long day at work.
However, because Ben did perform the 5 whys exercise to completion, he was able to solve his root problems without a lot of wasted effort on the trial and error mentioned here.
After figuring out what the actual problem is, it’s time to figure out how to solve it! That’s where barrier planning comes in.
How Does Barrier Planning Work?
Barrier planning is pretty simple. The first thing to do, is to write down the problem(s) you want to solve.
The problem(s) could be one(s) you identified in the 5 whys activity above, or it could be another problem that you’ve encountered.
Next, brainstorm three (or more if you want!) possible solutions for each problem you identified.
Be creative here! Sometimes you need to think out of the box to find the best solution. During this phase of the exercise, just write down any and all ideas. Don’t worry too much about which are right for you.
If you find yourself having trouble thinking of solutions, here are a couple options:
- Tell a supportive friend or family member about your problem and ask for their advice.
- Do some research! Ask Google how other people have solved the problem you are currently having.
Once you have come up with a list of solutions, it’s time to choose which you would like to try.
When deciding, make sure to be honest with yourself, and pick something that is realistic for your needs and lifestyle.
Example Of How To Use The Barrier Planning Technique With A Health Or Fitness Goal
To understand how barrier planning works to come up with solutions to a problem, let’s look at an example.
Let’s say Susan is a wife, and mother of a 2 year old. She has a goal of losing a few pounds so that she can look and feel better.
Susan signed up for a spin class membership, and set a goal to attending 3 days a week. She goes to her classes when her husband gets home from work, so he can watch the baby.
But Susan’s husband calls and tells her he’s going to have to work late. She doesn’t have anyone to watch the baby.
Let’s use barrier planning to help Susan figure out how she can still get a workout in.
How To Use Barrier Planning Before The Problem Occurs
Barrier planning is a great tool for solving problems after they occur as illustrated above.
However, barrier planning can also be used in advance to make back up plans for predictable problems.
By making back up plans in advance, it can prevent some of the panic and frustration that occurs when the problem arises, and it can help prevent (in this case) a workout from being missed.
Take Susan’s example from above. If she had recognized it was a possibility that her husband might have to work late occasionally, she could have made plans in advance plans that would allow her to still attend her spin class even if her husband worked late.
Here’s an example of what that might look like:
Without a plan it can be extremely difficult to get back on track after a slip-up with your goals.
But before you decide to throw in the towel, try the following 3-steps to bounce back and achieve your health and fitness goals even after making a mistake:
- Reframe your mindset to avoid giving-up when you have a setback.
- Progress, not perfection.
- Minimize the damage by getting right back on the horse.
- Never miss twice!
- Solve the problem and prevent it from happening again.
- Use the 5 why’s to find the root cause of the problem.
- Use Barrier Planning to find the best solution to the problem.
That’s it! Do this and you will be able to stick to your goal even when things get a little bumpy.
It is however, important to point out that this is not a one and done kind of thing.
In fact, I like to make a habit of reflecting on my goals once a week. You can even grab my FREE Weekly Self Reflection Worksheet here!
Then, if I need to, I can use the troubleshooting template to solve any problems that might still be unresolved.
Or if I’ve got a busy or stressful week coming up, I use the barrier planning template to make back-up plans. This helps me avoid any potential slip-ups.
Don’t forget to download your copy of the Troubleshooting Template if you haven’t already!
What do you think of the 5 why’s and barrier planning techniques? Have you used them before?
Which would you like to try?
Are there any other techniques that you have found for overcoming obstacles to your health, fitness, or nutrition goals?
Note: I wrote this in the context of health and fitness goals, but really this process applies to any type of goal that you may have.