You made a strong start with mindfulness, you were on track, hadn’t missed a meditation and then it happened. You missed a day. And then another. You’re finding yourself wavering. You can either give up now or get back on track.
It happens to all of us, which is why we wanted to share four steps to help you get back on track when you find yourself wondering whether you may as well give up now. Getting back on track is something that lots of people struggle with, so even if things are going well for you right now, we encourage you to read on so that you’re prepared.
1. Acknowledge how you feel. When we’ve gotten off track with something it’s common to feel like giving up. Usually we don’t even want to think about it, we just want to ignore and push away our feelings, especially when we feel down or discouraged. Doing so however usually only makes us feel worse (as the saying goes ‘what we resist, persists’) making it even more likely that we’ll give up.
Instead, see if you can say something to yourself along the lines of “I feel disheartened that I haven’t meditated for the past few days. I’m feeling discouraged and am thinking of giving up’. You might also notice some unhelpful thinking that we introduced you to in an earlier post. If so, you might also acknowledge this by saying to yourself ‘I’m noticing all-or-nothing thinking. I’m concluding that I may as well just give up entirely now that I’ve missed a few days.’ Remember, you don’t have to believe everything you think. We can notice the unhelpful thinking and not be driven by it.
2. Remind yourself of your motivation. Next, having acknowledged your feelings and identified any unhelpful thinking, ask yourself ‘do I really want to give this up or is there a good reason for me to try to get back on track?’. Re-read your Mindfulness Vision to remind yourself of your motivation to meditate.
3. Take one, small, easy step. Having reminded yourself of your motivation to establish a meditation practice, think of one really small, easy step you can take right now. Can you settle into your meditation posture and simply take three long, slow, deep breaths? Can you pause and pay attention to the sounds that you can hear even just for a few moments? It might seem ridiculously easy, but something small is the first step to getting back on track. Don’t underestimate the power of small steps. They can be key.
4. Acknowledge little victories. When we accomplish a small step in the direction of our goals, we often become more motivated to take another. And then another. Even the smallest steps count, especially if we keep taking them. Consider droplets of water dripping into a bucket. The first few drops don’t seem like much, but over time the bucket will fill and eventually overflow. When we get caught up in ‘all-or-nothing’ thinking, instead of embracing and celebrating small steps, we get so focused on the big picture and can feel overwhelmed and give up.
Research suggests that people who break a complex task into smaller chunks and then work towards completing them one by one accomplish the overall task faster and better than those who focus entirely on the end result3.
The more often you follow these four steps the more you’ll start to find that little setbacks won’t throw you off track so easily. These steps aren’t hard to do but they do take practice. They require acknowledging that you’re struggling (rather than ignoring or resisting it), a willingness to ask yourself whether you really do want to get back on track, and a focus on taking small steps and acknowledging little victories.