Rewind to reset

3 steps to get back on track

By Leziga Barikor

As the spring season begins to blossom leaving the winter season behind, many people’s New Year’s goals they set in January have already being scrapped. Whether the fitness plan has been on a one week or one month pause, or your healthy eating habits have been self sabotaged for the 4th time this week, it is very likely your early sense of motivation has began to wane. It can be both disappointing and extremely frustrating to fall off track with goals as it’s essentially breaking a promise you’ve made to yourself. But how do you find that motivation again, or if you never even put your goals in action to begin with, how do you start now? It may be tempting to scour the internet for new self help books or new blogs (hello!) to kick start your motivation, but the real solution to getting back on track is often simpler than you think. I’m constantly resetting, which is how I’ve come to this three step method to finding my motivation again.

Go back to the beginning

When I first got started on my fitness journey, I had only a couple small goals in mind and was really motivated by Rachel Aust an Australian YouTuber. And I’d say many of the goals I’ve set for myself throughout the years can be traced back to either a book I read, advice from a mentor or some other resource I found inspiring in the moment. So when it comes to trying to get back on track with goals you’ve let slide, your first best defense is to try and recapture the mindset you had when you made that goal. Who or what was it that pushed you into thinking this was the right move for you? Chances are you haven’t reflected on your initial motivators in a while. So before even attempting to force yourself to get back on track take the time to get yourself re-motivated.

It can be easy with all the different messages we get online and in real life on the daily to lose track of what speaks to us personally. If you like journaling or haven’t tried it before, a good simple exercise to help you get back into the proper mindset to achieve your goals is to reflect on all the things that initially motivated you to start. If that was a YouTube video, book, podcast, or even a conversation with a friend go back to that moment and write about how it initially impacted you. What made you excited about this goal? What impact did you anticipate this having on your life short term and long term? If you can, completely revisit the your inspiring moment by listening to that podcast again or re-reading that blog post. If this goal still aligns with your values, these prompts will remind you of why and make you feel excited about them again.

This idea of shifting your mindset through resources you already know works because when it comes to goals you’ve already set, chances are you’ve already done much of the groundwork. You don’t need another new year or a newly packaged book on the topic. You need to put the information you already know into practice. But before you get started on your goals again excitedly consider some of the factors that led to you falling off track to begin with. Because leaving those unaddressed will only lead to another crash and cycle of disappointment. A likely cause for your goals falling to the wayside could be your environment.

Forget discipline, change your environment

In James Clear book Atomic Habits, he details the pivotal role your environment plays in the success of your goals. It can be easy to overlook, but it just as easily has the biggest impact on your behavior. Consider how if you’re trying to eat healthy, how hard it would be to stick to that decision if everyday a platter of your favorite desserts was placed on your kitchen table. Sure you could avoid it one day. Throw them out the next. But if you were faced with that temptation daily, it would become easy to justify eating just one this week. And maybe if you fit in an extra workout make that just two.

And while we don’t all have environments that magically tempting, there are often other things in our environments that we don’t think of often that still are hindering our goals. The small daily habits we already have in place go unnoticed by us after years of getting used to them. So we need to change our environments to make them more friendly towards our goals, and less hostile to them as well. In Clear’s book he discusses a couple exercises to become more mindful of your current environment and habits that feed into it. One I like to do on a very typical day is to write down (or type if you’re more of a Notes app person) everything you do in the day. That means everything from getting up, turning off the alarm, going to the bathroom, checking your phone, making breakfast, etc. The very process of doing this exercise can be enough to encourage you to adapt your behavior mid day, particularly as you start to notice just how frequent habits like checking your phone are.

But this is an essential step to then making the necessary changes to your environment. What activities do you end up doing instead of working on your goals? Chances are those activities are built into your environment. So now how do you build your goals into your environment? The most effective strategy here is to both make your more distracting hobbies less appealing and the goals you want to achieve more appealing. So if you want to eat healthy, but still have unhealthy snacks in your kitchen then get rid of them and perhaps bring your healthy snacks more to the foreground. Add filled water bottles into your workspace so you’re more easily encouraged to drink water. The night before you go to bed pick out your workout outfit and place it on your dresser so it’s top of your mind when you get up to start the day.

Find those small steps that signal the start of your goal and put little environmental reminders in place. Adjusting your environment is all part of the process of making your goals easier to remember and work towards. And maybe you’ll find that your goal is too ambitious for your current life style, but assessing that also allows you to make adjustments. Maybe the time of day you original picked doesn’t work out, but now that you’re aware of other conflicts you can adjust accordingly. Building your ideal environment is all about giving yourself to the grace to make your goals both easy and accessible for you to achieve.

Set new types of reminders

Lastly, I believe the real key to reaching your goals is consistently reminding yourself what those goals are. It can be very easy in the rush and bustle of daily life and your other seemingly more substantial to dos to forget long reaching goals. That is a natural part of life and doing things like reflecting on what inspired your goals and adjusting your environment to fit will go a long way to keep you reminded. But taking it a step forward, consider using other means to make give yourself a gentle reminder of your goals.

Vision Board

If you didn’t start the year with a vision board that doesn’t mean you can’t start now. Especially if you are someone who responds well to visual cues, printing off photos of things related to your goals and putting them into a vision board somewhere in your home space will help a lot. Whether you print out photos or go the old school magazine cut up route, the important part is to place your collage or photo gallery somewhere you pass through frequently. It doesn’t need to be framing your bathroom mirror, but maybe on the inside of your bedroom door or outside your closest door would be ideal.

Another even easier and potentially more helpful way to keep your vision board front of mind is to create a collage and make it your computer desktop. Especially if you work on it daily having that desktop reminder can be a powerful subtle cue each day. I used Canva to create my virtual vision board, and also have a physical one too for days when I’m not really on my computer. All of last year I used a vision board for my desktop, and I definitely noticed it still months later.

Planners (weekly/daily)

Using a planner is one of my favorite things for productivity, but even then your daily and weekly tasks don’t necessarily go along with your goals. Taking the time to re-write your main goals and the small steps you are going to take to achieve them each week has been a practice that has helped me a lot. If you use a virtual planner too, find a place to incorporate a weekly goal that feeds in to the goal you are trying to achieve. If your main goal is to read more, than each week write or type down that your goal for the week is to read a page a day. Using a planner allows you to get both more specific and start small because you likely didn’t set a yearly goal that can be achieved in just one week or day. Again this step of using planner helps you stay reminded and break your goals into achievable steps. I personally love the Life Map Daily planner by MuchelleB and it has all the prompts you need for both weekly and daily goal setting.

Set multiple alarms for one day

You may realize especially if you try Clear’s activity of tracking everything you do in a day, that there are certain times a day you tend to lose track of focus. For that something that I’ve found helpful is to set mindfulness alarms for myself the day prior. I won’t actually want to set up 6 alarms for myself every day, but if I notice I’ve gotten into a rut of distractedness then I will set alarms for the next day. There are also apps you can download to tell you the time every hour. And those little frequent reminders that time is passing serve as good motivators to do something with your time. I wouldn’t recommend setting alarms for yourself every day for things you want to do in your free time, but doing it for a couple days can help you jump start the routine adjustments you are looking to make. If you usually get lost in Netflix around 8p.m. but want to practice meditation instead, setting that alarm reminder will help you notice and get started. I find then the next day I am more aware of time passing on my own and get started on things faster. Another trick that Clear talks about in his book is pointing and calling. So if you have a free moment in the afternoon and you reach for you phone to hop on Instagram, say outload, “It’s 3p.m. and I’m checking Instagram.” This type of overt self awareness can help reinforce the need to be mindful about your time even if it seems silly because it gets more areas of your brain engaged.

Reset is constant

No matter the goals you are trying to achieve the best thing you can do is realize that you don’t have to work on them perfect. Making 80 imperfect attempts to start is far better than making none at all. So take advantage of your feelings of motivation and simply get started. And get familiar with the concept of reset and adjustment because finding your flow when you start something new does take time. Even if you were able to work on your goals consistently for three days, but hated how it fit into your day, reset for day four and try a different approach. Your pathway to achieving something like better fitness or more reading will be unique to you, so keeping making adjustments until your find your way. And for days when you don’t feel motivated try anyway because consistency will help you get way further than feelings of motivation in anything in life. Maybe like me you’ll find those days you stayed consistent over motivated inspire you even more to keep going. It proves to yourself that you are capable of more than you imagine. And there are few things quite as fresh and invigorating as proving something to yourself.

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Mindfulness Matters More than Ever

Try this mindful coping idea for COVID-19 worries

By Leziga Barikor

It is very rare that a news event has as far reaching impact and implications as what has happened with the COVID-19 pandemic. To even find an event comparable, we have to go back over a hundred years to the 1918 flu commonly known as the “Spanish flu” and it still doesn’t come close. According to professionals, the best approach we have to maintaining the least amount of lost lives is social distancing which has uprooted many of our daily routines.

From record breaking job losses, to closures of schools and many of our favorite non-essential businesses, and, for the spiritual, the inability to gather in community can have many questioning what is left? Sure spending unlimited time on streaming platforms and sleeping in has it’s short term appeal, but it quickly becomes clear that isn’t all most of us want out of life.

And to top it all off, the pandemic itself — as daily reports pour in about positive cases and deaths and constant reminders to wash your hands, it can be overwhelming. The immunocompromised and otherwise at risk make up more of our friends and family than we ever thought to worry about, but now we are. Worried. And it’s during a crisis like this that we need to be practicing mindfulness more than ever.

Worry and anxiety in the COVID-19 era

To be clear, I’m no psychologist or medical professional, and I highly recommend you seek one out if you’re feeling daily life has become unmanageable. But today I am writing as a person with worries when it comes to COVID-19, and I hope some of my coping strategies can help you during this difficult time. This pandemic has put us all in the unique position of having many of very real and valid fears. Will I loose my job, will my mother get sick, will my friends get sick, how will I ever find toilet paper all comes to mind.

So how do we practice mindfulness when our anxieties all cover a range of various valid possibilities? Well first, I think we need to get a better understanding of mindfulness and what our brains and bodies are doing during times of high stress.

Now mindfulness can have many different definitions and applications, but for my purposes, it is the practice of using your five senses to fully be in the moment whatever it is and wherever it is. It’s a practice most commonly associated with therapy, but need not be limited to professional settings. There are many ways to practice mindfulness, but they aim at the same goal of accepting without judgement your current state of being.

The major issue we’re facing with this pandemic is an uncertain future, and anxiety is often related to concerns about the future. What a lot of us are experiencing is natural response to an common enemy — the unknown. Not knowing what to anticipate is both frustrating and scary, and that’s okay. You don’t need to fight or immediately make these feelings go away. To practice mindfulness is to let yourself be and feel whatever is happening in the moment, and actually allowing yourself to feel the worry won’t make it worse. It instead gets you further on the process to feeling better.

Mindfulness in the midst of real chaos

Now I feel like a lot of well meaning blogs discussing mindfulness require people to jump into the deep end and start by recommending meditations. I do meditate and find it very useful, but besides carving out 10-20 minutes of your day for calm, that still leaves time for stressers to pull you back down again.

The battle against racing thoughts is at a fever pitch when every inconvenience or negative consequence of the pandemic is making daily life challenging. So the first step towards mindfully quelling daily worries and anxieties is to notice them and how they’re making you feel. Accept the feelings but challenge your thoughts. Consider what the location is in time and space for these thoughts being mindful that anxiety is often future focused.

  • Asking what ifs. . . (What if that person who just coughed has it?)
  • Thinking in absolutes. . . (This quarantine is never going to end.)
  • Future forecasting. . . (First I coughed this morning and again right now, I must have it.)
  • Minimizing the positives. . . (My work is keeping us all home, but I’ll probably get sick at the grocery store.)
  • Conclusion jumping. . . (They just announced a case in my parent’s town, it must be them or their direct neighbors.)
  • Should/shouldn’t. . . (I should’ve bought toilet paper when this first hit the news.)

There are plenty more models you can find to help you identify anxious thoughts, and that’s an essential first step to changing your mindset.

What your body needs after going through these feelings is for your autonomic nervous system to reset. The various physical responses you have to anxiety are seen in the autonomic nervous system without you ever thinking about it like regulating your breathing and heartbeat. The sympathetic division is where your “flight or fight” responses come from, and the subsequent calm at rest state is managed in the parasympathetic division. But since a virus isn’t an enemy we can fight or run from, our body’s next resort is a freeze response.

Freeze and turning location services on

Since we can’t flee or fight the threat this pandemic poses, freeze responses, essentially having your body shut down, is the next place you could go. This may be reflective in you losing focus, having a lack of motivation and desire to just sleep all the time. And honestly, get the extra rest. And take a deep breath to help kick start your parasympathetic nervous system to calm mode.

The next way to get through the anxiety after you’ve paused to accept your negative emotions and identified your thought patterns is to turn on your location services. Not on your phone, but with your present environment. Where are you, what is your current outer environment? It may seem silly at first, but answering those questions in your head very specificially can help pull you back into a more mindful state all without having to take a mediation break.

The physical reactions we have to anxiety are all to deal with danger, so you have to tackle that question to move forward. Your body doesn’t think you are safe and wants to protect you, so you have validate that internal concern. This great podcast episode gives four questions to ask yourself to get into a more mindful state, and I’ll paraphrase a few here.

  • Are you safe here and now?
  • What are your five senses telling you about how safe you are now?
  • How does your body feel now that you’ve established your physical environment is safe?

Now the fourth step is to savor that feeling of okay-ness. And things are going to be okay. The next time you notice yourself worrying excessively, you can use the same location setting questions to pull yourself back into the present. Are these thoughts based in a present reality or a future concern? Well if it’s a future concern, then it’s time to check back into the present moment.

Why mindfulness

Now the goal isn’t to ignore very real problems you may be facing because of this COVID-19 crisis, but to give yourself a better mental framework to operate in it. My job is very focused on the topic, and our normally daily routines have been disrupted in ways we could’ve never imagined. But practicing mindfulness reminds us even through this mess, we can still find things to be grateful for and we are resilient enough to meet the challenge.

Once you find your own inner calm, your friends, coworkers and family members will be drawn to it. You’ll find taking care of yourself not only gives you the benefit, but those you socially distantly interact with will experience it too.

Stay safe, and if you can, stay home.

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