How many times have I done this: catastrophizing. “Well, the diet’s blown. Might as well eat five doughnuts” (after eating one). “Well, my day is shot, I just spent 2 hours watching a twitch stream instead of doing work.” “Well, my workout program is junk now, I missed a day.”
You would never say, “Well, my front tire is blown, I might as well put a nail through the other three.” So why do we do this in our life?
This is why it’s important to build some flexibility into your plan. If you try to cram every second with high-impact, high urgency work, you are going to burn out. If you have room in your schedule you can recover, both by taking breaks as well from the unplannable.
When doing physical training, for example, you have to start small and build. At a certain point, if you’ve been working at a high volume and intensity for a while, you are going to need to back off or risk injury. Backing off can enable an “overreaching” effect and the rebound tends to be better than continuing to drive yourself into the ground. This is why weight trainers, runners, and other athletes near their competition take “taper” weeks where they cut back their training before important competitions. You have to strike that balance between keeping the moves “grooved” into your nervous system but also have all your muscles fully recovered and any nagging injuries healed before you go into competition. So there has to be flexibility in your plan to prevent burnout and injury.
Just like in physical training, I know that I will slip up occasionally. I will get sick, I will feel crappy, I will open a tab to YouTube and fall down a hole and only come up for air hours later. When this happens, how do I get back on track?
- Notice that it’s happening. Sometimes it’s not even clear that I’ve gone off track. Being aware that my brain is being hijacked is crucial.
- Re-center. Simply take 5 deep breaths.
- Forgive yourself. Acknowledge that yes, I went off the rails, but beating myself up isn’t going to make it any better.
- Re-calibrate the day. Look at my to-do list and calendar and take 10 minutes to re-plan my attack. What is the most important thing for me today? How can I move that forward? What’s the first step? How do I win the rest of the day?
- Use the five second rule to take action on the first step.
Even if you’re not specifically off-track, it can be helpful to take a moment to re-calibrate, especially the second half of my day.
If I find myself going back down the same YouTube hole or into other distractions, or I’m feeling emotionally compromised (angry, sad, frustrated) it may be that I’m not taking care of myself properly. Here’s my basic checklist for this:
- Have I eaten anything yet? Not garbage, but maybe it’s time to put some high quality fuel in.
- Have I had enough water to drink?
- Are my salts OK? Going through the early stages of keto will teach you to take care of your sodium intake.
- Am I tired? Can I take a nap or an intentional break? If I’ve been on my feet all day, maybe it’s time to sit (or lie down) for a while.
- If I’ve been sitting all day, can I take a “movement break”? When I’m working I use the Pomodoro technique, and on every break I go to do my HFT and mobility. When I worked in an office, I would get up and walk around every 25 minutes. If I had a door that closed I might do some pushups, rows, and lunges.
- Have I had a real workout and a shower yet today? Working out, showering and putting real clothes on (either day clothes or PJs) can be just the ticket for curing the feeling of being stuck and stale.
If I’m feeling truly awful: I follow some of the advice in this post as well.
To paraphrase Mel Robbins: when you become an adult, no one tells you that you have to “parent yourself”. Part of being a parent is making sure that the kids get enough to eat, enough to drink, enough rest, and enough recess. People need to move, socialize, eat and drink, rest and relax. We are not robots and just because you had a big plan for the day doesn’t mean that you have to (or even can) stick to it.