7 Ways You Can Get Back On Track After Falling Into Bad Habits

By AAwosika07 | Uncategorized

Oct 18

We’ve all been through this scenario before. I call it the habit death spiral.

You’re in the process of trying to form good habits, reach a long-term goal, and/or maintain the good habits you already do have. Things have been going well for a while until you reach that fateful day.

Diet and exercise is the obvious example here. You got the routine going a little bit, but then one day you just don’t feel like going to the gym, so you don’t go. You have Tupperware filled with your prepped meals, but you order some takeout instead.

Normally, you’d be at the gym right now, but you’re currently watching Netflix and eating a Buffalo chicken sandwich. You tell yourself “ah, it’s just one day. Gotta live a little. I’ll be fine.”

All of a sudden, this slip-up day becomes a groundhog day. You repeat the process over and over again until you’ve fallen completely into a cycle of bad habits — the habit death spiral.

How do you escape?

How do you get back on track after falling into bad habits?

Habits have been covered from top to bottom, right-left, and sideways. But, since they’re so difficult to master, another article on the subject won’t hurt. As always, I’ll try to provide an angle that’ll reach you.

Let’s look at some ways to break bad habit patterns ranging from short-term slip-ups to long-term downfalls.

Whatever You Do, Don’t Do This

Whenever I see people attempt to break bad habits start new ones this, I know they’re going to fail.

Someone’s been slacking on their writing and wants to get back on the horse. What do they do? Instead of, you know, writing, they have this big elaborate plan. They’re going to spruce up their website, re-write their about page, research a bunch of social media tools to share their article. They make it out to be this big production instead of just writing one article.

Every January you see people creating the most elaborate routine after having spent months without proper diet and exercise. They meal-prep dry baked chicken and vegetables for 7 days, buy brand new workout gear, and an apple watch. They download my fitness pal to track every last calorie.

You think because you’ve spent so much time falling into bad habits that you need a monumental effort to break them and form new ones. But think of how you formed those bad habits.

Do you make a big deal out of eating fast food? Do you have this huge elaborate scheme for skipping your writing session? Nope. Then why all the extra gusto for forming new habits?

Try not to think too far into the future when you’re trying to get back on track. Just, go to the gym once. Write one article. You’re putting too much pressure on yourself to build habitual patterns when habitual patterns take time to build.

Use This Mental Frame to Get Back on a Positive Track

You have a difficult time getting back on track after falling into bad habits because you ruminate. You stew. Instead of accepting the present moment, you bet yourself up for allowing so much time to pass. You want reality to be different than it is right now.

I wanted reality to be different than it was when I was 50 pounds overweight about 18 months ago. I thought about all the times I could’ve just stopped eating junk and started hitting the gym. What the hell was I thinking?

Fortunately, I’ve developed the ability to forgive myself for the past and accept the present moment. I got naked, looked in the mirror, and told myself “Ok, this is where you’re at. Time to get started.” I’ve been working out 3-5 days a week since that day.

Most people don’t understand how much they haven’t let go of. You get stuck in these habit spirals and can’t break them because you can’t accept what you’ve done. Since you can’t accept what you’ve done, you can’t let go. Since you can’t let go, you can’t move forward.

Where are you at right now?

Are you out of shape? Accept it.

Have you developed a major procrastination problem? Accept it.

Are you lazy? Accept it.

Accepting your situation doesn’t mean you resign yourself to the situation. It means the opposite. Resignation, giving up, happens after you continue to look back without doing anything in the present that you get totally stuck. The sunk costs have to go.

I was the poster boy for bad habits. I drank nightly, smoked cigarettes and weed, did drugs, wasted tons of time — a living habit death spiral. Then, one day, I looked up at my life and thought “Oh crap.” I realized what I’d done and knew how much time I wasted. But I also knew I couldn’t change the past.

You know that logically, but embrace it emotionally. You can’t change the past and erase deep-seated habit patterns just like that. Accept where you are right now so you can finally start over.

The Rule of TWo

When you’re at the beginning of breaking bad habits and building new ones, you’re going to have one of those days where everything falls apart.

You’re not going to stick to your routine and you’re going to spiral. That’s ok. Just don’t do it two days in a row. I forget where it came from, but I learned this two-day rule for staying on track and it’s worked quite well in my own life.

When you spiral, you’re trying to sabotage yourself.

Why? Because part of you identifies with the ‘old you’, the ‘you’ with the bad habits. It feels so good to fall right back into that groove. Sure, you’re not closer to your goals, but you get to be ‘you’ again. You get to be comfortable.

You have to build new habit patterns to reinvent yourself.

The rule of two gives you a strategy to help you beat your subconscious mind by using your conscious mind. I can’t give you some magic trick here, you just have to get back on the horse the next day and call a mulligan for the previous day.

Once you build good habits, you can develop the ability to get back on the horse after long stretches. I had to stop working out for a few months because of an injury. I went right back to the gym and maintained my new routine without a hiccup. I’d spent enough time developing the new identity based on the new pattern.

You can and will build an automatic source of motivation given enough time. The two-day rule helps you reach that point.

A Classic Technique You Must Use to Break Old Habits and Build New Habits

A corollary to the point above where I talked about avoiding putting too much investment into overhauling your habits right away. Don’t try to break or make more than one habit at a time.

Find a keystone habit to make and focus on a bad habit you want to break. That’s it. Usually, the two have a symbiotic relationship with each other.

Depending on what your bad habit is, you might have to ween yourself off of it, e.g., drinking one or two sodas per day instead of five or six, then eventually getting to zero.

Again, there’s no magic guarantee that any of these techniques will work since habits are so deep-seated, but your best shot is to focus on a habit that you have a shot to break and would have a major impact on your well-being. Take the soda example. Maybe you don’t start eating healthy altogether, but cutting out liquid calories is a huge improvement.

For developing a new good habit to counteract your bad ones, the keystone habit is the key:

“{Keystone habits are] small changes or habits that people introduce into their routines that unintentionally carry over into other aspects of their lives.” – Charles Duhigg

I’ve been writing for almost 6 years now. I developed this keystone habit and it has made developing a bunch of other habits much easier because I got great outcomes from my keystone habit. Remember, I didn’t make some bold declaration to become a writer. I wrote one post.

This created a path to a bunch of other habits that help with marketing, psychology, business, etc. All from writing. You can create a snowball effect in a positive direction. Once you build a single positive habit it’s easier to create a second, third, fourth, nth habit. Again, you know this but focus. And set the parameters that work for you.

Carefully Choose The Parameters Four Your Habits

You have to choose a keystone habit, a routine, a plan that is simple, achievable, yet stretches you enough to create growth.

Working out five times per week might be too much. But starting with twice per week might work well. Writing one article per week might give you a better shot than trying to write three.

Consider time windows. Maybe you can only spend 10 minutes on your new habit, maybe 30, maybe an hour. Again, avoid this grandiose plan and focus on something you legitimately think you can do right now.

We have this all or nothing mindset where we feel embarrassed if we set goals that are too small. It’s not fun to admit to yourself that you can only handle going for a ten-minute walk, but if that’s where you’re at, that’s where you’re at.

John Grisham wrote his first novel 10 minutes at a time before heading to his hectic job as a lawyer. It took him more than three years to publish his first book, but he did it. A simple 500 words per day is enough to write three or four whole books.

It’s hard to visualize how things can add up, but they do add up. It took me five years to go from zero audiences to building a full-time career, but I did it with a keystone habit of writing for about an hour each morning before work.

In that five-year time span, I got rid of all my addictions and vices, improved my health, read hundreds of books, learned a ton, really transformed my entire personality.

How? By building small yet useful habits that created compelling outcomes. The secret to my success in life has been a lack of super high demands and standards upfront.

Tap Into Your Hidden Psychology

Feedback drives your behavior.

When you build positive feedback loops, you create more confidence. When you create more confidence, you can tackle bigger challenges. Eventually, you create a positive upward spiral.

I like that word, create. It shows you that you can generate something that didn’t previously exist, which is exactly how the process of changing your habits works.

To get there, especially if you haven’t been on track for a while, you have to create some sort of reward system for good behavior.

Mental pats on the back were good enough for me. When I started getting my life together, I looked at each moment as a huge win. If I read a book for a half-hour I mentally congratulated myself. Same with finishing a writing session.

Maybe you prefer tangible rewards, e.g, treating yourself to a nice meal after ‘x’ amount of workout sessions, or buying something cool at the end of the month after publishing four articles.

Whatever you need to do to facilitate the positive feedback loop, do it. This doesn’t mean you have to create some elaborate scheme, just be conscious of how the feedback system works and do what you can to move it forward.

Celebrate every single win you get along the way until winning becomes habitual for you.

You can also use different little cues to drive positive feedback loops:

  • Keep a calendar and mark an ‘x’ after you successfully complete the habit for the day. Seeing a long chain of ‘x’s will remind you of how far you’ve come, thus keeping yourself from quitting
  • In the book Can’t Hurt Me, David Goggins talks about using post-it notes in your bathroom mirror for goals you want to achieve or areas you want to fix.
  • Don’t get too crazy with the trackers, but apps like my fitness pal will send you little notes and congratulations for successfully logging food intake

The Ultimate Underlying Rule for Habit Formation

You can use all the routines in the world. There are great books like Atomic Habits and The Power of Habit that dive deep into the process of habit formation.

I’m no habit expert. I just know simple rules of thumb and techniques I’ve learned along the way.

Ultimately, I reach the same conclusion about habits that I do about pretty much all self-improvement topics. You have the place where you’re at right now, the place you have to accept at the moment. Then, you have the future.

Ask yourself what your life will look like if you continue to go down the path you’re on right now and see how that answer makes you feel. When I found myself in a spiral of terrible habits, I looked at my future if things stayed the same and it scared me. Terrified me.

Some say you shouldn’t be too negative. I say negative emotions can drive real change. Accept the present, forgive yourself, yes, but understand the long-term implications of your bad habits and bring them to the forefront now.

Bad habits can literally kill you. They can rob years and decades of your life. They can leave you looking back at your life with regret. I can’t fight that war in your head for you, but I can tell you that it’s possible because I used to be one of the laziest people on planet earth.

And then one day, I no longer was that person. You can’t see it right now, but there’s an entirely different version of you out there waiting for you to take the first step.

Your move.


About the Author

Ayodeji is the Author of Real Help: An Honest Guide to Self-Improvement and two other Amazon best-selling titles. When he's not writing, he enjoys reading, exercising, eating chicken wings, and occasionally drinking old-fashioned's.