What can you do when you start backsliding into old habits? Here’s a 3-step method to get you back on track.
It’s not uncommon for people to backslide into old habits, even when they’ve been on track for awhile.
Let’s say you built a nighttime routine you know (& feel!) helps you sleep better. Then you travel a week for work, and it’s all out the window.
Once you’re back home, your sleep isn’t refreshing, your routine hasn’t happened, and you’re back to using your phone right up until bedtime.
Related: How Routines Reduce Stress & Help You Get Stuff Done
To get back on track more easily, you can use the AIR method, which stands for:
Let’s look at each of these steps more closely.
Acknowledge the Backslide
When you notice yourself backsliding into old habits, you must first ACKNOWLEDGE three things:
- How deep is this pattern? The habits you’re trying to change are a worn path, created over many years or even several decades. It’s likely there are some life lessons to be discovered in changing your patterns. To wear a new path, time and patience is expected.
- How am I feeling about this backslide? It’s normal to have feelings about a backslide. Disappointment, anger, regret, fear (that one will never be able to change, for example) are common ones to process as part of moving forward.
- What progress have I already made? Due to the recency effect, you’re more likely to remember what happened yesterday compared to last week. You’re not “starting over”; you already have a foundation. You’re now up-leveling your learning, growing, and changing. When you’re first starting out, “progress” could be that you’re simply more aware of what you’re doing. (For most people, that awareness is huge, so celebrate it!).
Identify Next Steps
When you notice yourself backsliding into old habits, and you’ve acknowledged the three things I described above, the next step is to IDENTIFY two things:
- What did I learn? Rather than seeing backsliding as a failure or a losing situation, re-frame it as a learning experience. What might you do differently, based on this experience? View habit change as a journey of self-discovery. Learning to adapt to new circumstances is a natural part of the process. Make “win and learn” your new motto!
- What do I need most? You may find it useful to look back to your feelings, as negative emotions carry clues as to what we most need. A common barrier my clients experience is lack of time, or failure to prioritize themselves when there are so many demands. You may need more space, or healthier boundaries.
Reconnect to What’s Possible & How
Lastly, when you notice yourself backsliding into old habits, there are three things you’ll want to RECONNECT with:
- What DO I want? Don’t spend energy beating yourself up over what you didn’t want, didn’t do, how you failed, etc. Instead, spend a little time dreaming about what your life will be like when you are consistently doing what you want to do. Reconnecting with your vision, your dream of how your life will be different is a crucial part of your motivation that helps you get back on track. Paint a detailed, colorful picture.
- What about this is important to me? How does this vision satisfy you on a deeper level, as a human being? How does it help you become the person you want to be? For example, let’s say the habit you want to be doing consistently is putting down your screens 1-2 hours before bed so you sleep better and wake feeling more refreshed each morning. This may be important to you because you want to focus during your workday, so you can be more present and truly connect with your family in the evenings.
- What contributed to my prior successes? If you’ve been successful altering this habit before (see #3), changing another habit, or dealing with a similar challenge (even if it’s a different context or situation–such as professional vs. personal), what made that possible? Look at your strengths and supports for clues. Supports include other people, your environment, processes you had in place, tools you used, etc.
At this point you’re likely feeling more motivated, and know exactly what can help you get back on track.
(And if not, know I’m here to support you on your journey to better sleep, more energy, & an improved quality of life!)
Did this post open your eyes to something new?
For more atypical insights into your ongoing sleep & well-being struggles + a way forward without more pills, products, and gadgets, grab your copy of MASTERING YOUR SLEEP PUZZLE: YOUR 12-WEEK GUIDE TO SLEEPING BETTER by Kali Patrick.