We have all taken a wrong turn at some point in our life. Sometimes, the fix is small: You might need to reorganize your closet and streamline your morning so you can spend 15 minutes doing yoga, or choose a new route home from work that avoids the road construction so you can arrive home in a better mood. Sometimes, the problem is big and the solution complex: You wake up one day and realize you are in so much debt that you worry about money all the time and it has sucked all the fun out of life. Another time, you might suspect that you have chosen the wrong career. Or, you might want to reduce stress and get into shape, but you have no time in your hectic life for your own needs.
We all struggle with getting back to our goals and deciding the best way to get there. It’s easy to stay on the path to success when everything is going right. You have enough sleep, time and energy. No obstacles are in your path. Other times, it seems that everything is working against you. This is like learning to sail. When the wind is going the direction you want, set your sail and go. When the wind is against you, you have to set smaller goals, and take a zigzag path to make your destination. Sometimes, you decide to take the less direct path anyway, just to take in the sights. Either way, you can get there. So, how can we take stock and get back on track when we wander off?
- Identify the problem
- Get past the emotional response
- Realign your priorities
- Stay focused
Identify the problem
Sometimes this is the easy part. Someone you trust may just come out and tell you are losing ground in your quest to reduce your stress and improve your outlook, or you might realize that you are walking in circles as you see patterns repeating themselves. You might suddenly realize you are in the wrong in the middle of an argument, or that arguing is the problem in the first place. Sometimes, it’s just a sneaking suspicion that the path you are on in life is not going to go anywhere you want to be.
The problem is not the outcome, but the choices that got us here. Choices can have big, immediate consequences, but the small day-to-day choices add up as well. So how did we get to this place? DId we take a wrong turn, or was it many small ones? Now we know what has to change.
Get past the emotional response
Once we identify what we want to change, frustration, regret and guilt can get in the way of making things better. These feelings can make us want to distract ourselves, and this alone can set us back on the same, wrong path. To let go, we have to start over. Declare amnesty and forgive those past choices. This will allow us to focus on getting what we want.
Realign your priorities
It is easiest to make lasting change if we can keep our values and priorities in mind. There are lots of ways to do this. You can keep a journal, have a reminder in your pocket, or post sticky notes all over your house. If it is easier to take the right path than any other, you will take it more often. If your workout gear is next to the bed and the rest of your clothes are put away, it will be easier to go on the morning run. If you pack your lunch while you are putting away leftovers from dinner, you will have it ready to take with you in the morning.
It seems that we often have the goals in mind, but the actions we take at any moment are not aligned with the goal. We try to do too much and never quite get things done, we put the needs and priorities of others ahead of our own values. Sometimes, we make choices so we don’t have to confront the fact that our values do not match those of people we care about. These choices are not hard to justify, and they seem insignificant in the big picture. It is easy to get off track when we try to avoid conflict or letting others down, but the consequences of these small choices add up. Revisiting your priorities, and refreshing your reminders can help. Otherwise, we can repeat this process if we go off track again. The path may zigzag, but we can get there.