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You hit a setback: Which path will you take?

Oh, the dreaded setbacks: weight plateaus, having one (or ten) more cookies than intended at a party, following a plan all week only to “blow it” one night after a stressful day at work. We fear them – before they even happen.


In truth, setbacks will always occur in some shape or form for everyone. Two steps forward, one step back. Yet it’s not so much the setback that is the issue but rather the human response. The poet Robert Frost wrote of a road diverged in the woods. Perhaps a setback is where this road diverges: you can choose to let it get the best of you or you can choose to learn from it. The latter, quite often, is the road less traveled.


What if, rather than chastising yourself for making a mistake or “slipping” – but really, for being human – what if you chose to learn from it and press on? Even when you feel like you are on repeat, constantly making the same goals, same mistakes – there is something to be learned. In fact, some of the greatest achievers and minds of our time have experienced setbacks in their own way and chose to learn and persist:


1)      J.K. Rowling. Perhaps you’ve heard of a little series of books and movies starring Harry Potter. Of course you have. Everyone has. But when J.K. Rowling first attempted to publish her book she was repeatedly turned away – “too long” or “it won’t make enough money”. But she knew her path and persisted, all the way to a multi-billion dollar brand.


2)      Sir James Dyson. Founder of the Dyson Company, Sir James Dyson spent 15 years going through 5,126 iterations of his famous vacuum cleaner before finally creating one that worked. Each version was another lesson in how to tweak his plan, and he never gave up.


3)      Michael Jordan. The great basketball player was cut from his high school team and once quoted as saying, “I have missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. On 26 occasions I have been entrusted to take the game winning shot, and I missed. I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”


Now this isn’t about achieving fame-dom so much as it is about having some perspective on setbacks or failures – whether it’s dealing with yet another failed vacuum cleaner or after another bingeing episode. Because after all, it’s not so much the event that impacts your life but how you react. It sets the tone for the immediate (and long-term) future. So let’s take a look at how this can relate to weight and nutrition setbacks:


Setback: The scale says you gained 4 lbs over the holiday season.

Common Reaction: Oh crap, here we go again. Why can’t I just stick with my plan? Might as well enjoy the rest of the cookies tonight and get started on my diet tomorrow. No more sugar. Ever.

Alternate Reaction/Lesson: Well, I gained 4 lbs. And now I’m noticing how upset I am because of it – but if I hadn’t stepped on the scale I actually wouldn’t have noticed at all. My weight doesn’t define me as a person, and beating myself up over it really won’t help. Perhaps this is an opportunity for me to check-in with what I changed over the holidays: was I less active? Did I notice eating beyond comfortable fullness? Did I show up to parties starving? What could I do differently next time?


Setback: You ate ½ the prepared cookies while you were baking them.

Common Reaction: Ugh. I literally just gained 10 lbs from those cookies – I feel like I have chest pains from trying to process all the fat and sugar. Or is it just a broken heart because I DID IT AGAIN! Might as well just finish them all off right now and start fresh again tomorrow since I’ll never eat another cookie.

Alternate Reaction/Lesson: My stomach feels pretty full, and a dozen cookies isn’t the most balanced meal, but eating more at this point won’t make me feel any better – physically or emotionally. What could have triggered this? Was I really hungry while baking – would it have helped to have eaten first? Was I thinking I wasn’t allowed to have any cookies at all, thereby avoiding enjoying 2 or 3 with a glass of milk afterwards and instead sneaking a bunch of them while I was baking? If I was being mindful would I have noticed a point when the cookies no longer tasted as good or I was getting too full?


So it’s not really a matter of if we’ll fail but when, and how we’ll respond. And perhaps you may even need to redefine your definition of failure. There is always something to be learned – the question is, will you look for it?


“The best thing for being sad…is to learn something. That’s the only thing that never fails.”

T.H. White, The Once and Future King

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