You’ve been there, right? Everything is trucking along, you are consistently exercising, eating in a way that satisfies you physically and emotionally, making progress towards other goals, feeling good, and then BOOM. A setback. It could come in any form – illness, injury, a binge, unable to focus, additional work assignments, a car accident, the kids have an unexpected project, or any of these things happening to a loved one or close friend. Setbacks happen. They are part of life. The big question becomes how do you view them? How do you think about them and how do you react to them? (Hint – how you think about them will directly impact how you react to them!).
Oftentimes when a setback happens we go straight to thinking that any previous progress has been eliminated. One step forward, two steps back, resulting in backward momentum. But it really doesn’t work that way. Progress is progress, no matter what. And a setback is truly meaningless, UNTIL we make it mean something.
Let’s say you are working on binge eating. You are doing some really good work – becoming aware of your triggers, noticing the thoughts that occur leading up to a binge, and maybe you’ve been able to work through the urge a few times without giving in. Then one day you binge. Here are some common thoughts that occur:
“But I was doing so well…”
“Ugh – now I have to start over in counting how many days since my last binge”
“I knew I would never figure this out”
And the self-loathing begins. We expect ourselves to be perfect. To never have another binge again, to never have another time where we eat past the point of comfort. So when that happens, we make it mean that we might as well quit because we will never figure it out.
Anything we learn in life will have a learning curve. That is part of the process! Do you remember when you learned how to tie your shoes? For a long time, you didn’t even think about tieing your shoes. Someone did it for you or you had velcro. Then you learned a new skill. You might have learned an intermediate step (bunny ears anyone?) before learning the “advanced” version. Did you figure it out right away? Chances are, it took some time, and some effort, and then it became natural and now you don’t even think about tying your shoes. It is the same with changing your relationship with food. It takes time. And it is way more advanced than your shoelaces!
Now picture a child learning to walk. It’s not graceful! It takes time and a lot of falling down. But what happens when the child falls down? The caregivers are there to encourage them to get back up, to try again. Do they focus on the fact that they fell? Are they surprised when they fall? NO! It is part of the process! They don’t even pay attention to the fall, they simply help the child get back up and encourage them to do a bit more each time. Some days the child is able to go further than others, and some days the child stays on their bottom. Do the caregivers get mad or frustrated? NO! They keep encouraging the child and meet them WHERE THEY ARE ON THAT DAY.
Through a lot of support, love, and encouragement, and celebrating the small wins – the child learns what they need to do to keep honing in this new skill. And when they take the first few steps is it pretty? Does it look like someone who has been walking for years, or even months? NO! Does the child look around and compare themself to other kids learning to walk, or other kids who already know how? Do the caregivers point out the other kids who are the same age who already know how and ridicule them for not knowing how to do this yet? NO! The caregiver only focuses on the child and what they can do. They push them, but only to a point that is comfortable and doable. They encourage, they lift up and they celebrate the small victories. Over time, the child falls less, stumbles less, and even begins to run. And after a period of consistent effort, celebrating all of the small victories, it becomes natural, and something that doesn’t even need to be considered.
This is how we can view our setbacks. When something happens that you can identify as a setback and you start to think that all of your previous work has been erased – imagine that toddler learning how to walk. If the caregiver talked to the toddler in the same way that we speak to ourselves when we find ourselves on our bottom, over time, that toddler would probably quit trying to get up. We need encouragement, motivation and support to get up and continue moving forward. If you aren’t able to provide that encouragement to yourself, search for a support system that will do that for you. A child does not learn how to walk without the support of a caregiver. Most of us will not learn how to improve our relationship with food and with our bodies without the support of friends, a community, a spouse, a coach or a therapist. Asking for support is one of the strongest things you can do. And the time you need it most is during a setback. Support will help you minimize your setback and see it as an opportunity to learn and grow, rather than as evidence that you can’t do this.
Setbacks will happen. The next time a setback happens to you, I encourage you to embrace it. See this as an opportunity. What will you learn from this? How will you rally support to get you through?
What setback have you faced recently and what have you learned from it? I’d love to hear from you!
photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/42346519@N00/117671682″>gasp at life</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/”>(license)</a>