Dealing with bumps in the road

Budget that helps me pay off student loan debt and save aggressively for a house? Check. New fitness routine that satisfies all my goals? Check. Massive toothache requiring expensive surgery and energy-draining painkillers? Ch — oh wait. And then another health scare on top of that? Oh, right when my spouse is going out of town for three days?

One of the hardest things about any journey requiring discipline and routine — whether it’s paying off debt, staying on a budget, keeping papers organized, or monitoring diet and exercise — is that things are always going to come up that mess with the routine and make all your discipline look like wasted effort. Creating habits — as I’ve learned from The Power of Habit — is a bit like alchemy, and upsetting the delicate process can make everything fall apart.

That scenario above isn’t hypothetical. Faced with potentially thousands of dollars in treatments, I’m feeling like progress on my financial goals is going to grind to a halt. And in the past, that would have meant I’d be in danger of abandoning them altogether. Luckily, my budgeting habit is so thoroughly ingrained in every part of my life that I know that won’t happen. Even if I had to push back the timeline by months or years, I’d still keep tracking finances and pushing for those big-picture goals. And I don’t think that’ll happen in this case (fingers crossed for good outcomes on my upcoming tests and exploratory procedures) — it should only throw us off by a month or two (less if I can come up with ways of obtaining extra money).

But there are other routines that are more fragile and have been thrown off. For just over a month, I’d successfully added 5 minutes of weight-training to my morning and nighttime routines, but Vicodin proved stronger than habit and I haven’t done it for about four days.

Another big goal I’ve been striving for is zero food waste. But without my attention to the contents of our fridge — and with diminished appetite and chewing ability — I’m starting to see leftovers get thrown out, fruit slowly over-ripening in the fruit bowl, expensive organic milk curdle.

I feel like a failure. It only takes a couple days of neglect for it to seem like all my months of effort and progress have gone to waste.

So what’s to be done? Well, I can think of a few ways to alleviate the damage of a break in routine, but I’d love to hear other thoughts as well.

  • Don’t beat yourself up. These things do happen, and if you spend too much time scolding yourself about it, you might cause a spiral of self-hatred and defeatism that throws you even farther off-course. I’m going to have to accept the disposal of food I can’t save and get right back onto meal planning. At the same time …
  • Don’t give yourself a free pass to do just anything. Just because things aren’t going as planned, it doesn’t mean you should throw everything out the window. I stopped calorie-counting and weight-training for a few days, but I maintained my weigh-in routine. This helped me remember that on the other side of this crisis, I still want to pay attention to my weight and fitness. And I think that helped minimize emotional eating that would have really upset my efforts.
  • Minimize the damage. Both of the above can help you at least keep some parts of your routine. If you need to simplify your everyday life so you can deal with your crisis, try to take a moment to figure out what things you can let fall by the wayside and what things you really want to maintain. If you’re able to keep some things up, it’ll be easier to pick up where you left off when your life returns to normal (or, if it’s a longer-term crisis, when you start regarding crisis mode as the “new” normal — it’s amazing how quickly I got used to a throbbing tooth!)
  • Delegate. If you just don’t see a way of getting everything done, and you know that’s going to dampen your spirits even more, don’t be afraid to ask others to maintain some of your tasks for you. If you live alone and don’t have a spouse, parent, roommate or kid you can ask for help, go ahead and reach out to your friend network. You might be surprised at who’s willing to pitch in to help you.
  • Get back into the routine gradually. Today I’m facing a new, distracting health dilemma that’s sapping my energy in a different way than the dental problem did. But this morning I thought, “OK. Your tooth barely hurts at all, you’re not stoned on Vicodin, there’s really no excuse not to start up your weight training again.” I’m not going to try to calorie-count again until I have all the non-routine stuff out of the way; counting calories is time-consuming and takes more attention than I’ve got right now. But at least I did some crunches and push-ups today. Maybe things are starting to get back to normal.

Do you have any other bits of advice or encouragement for me and others facing a bump in the road?

Bump in the road

Image courtesy of phanlop88 /

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