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What to Do When You’re Off Your Regular Routine

Between fighting a nagging cold and moving into a new house, to say that I’ve been off my regular routine is an understatement. I’ve been painting, packing and unpacking instead of getting fluids and rest, I haven’t been going to the gym, and late dinners have become the norm.

Of course, it doesn’t always take a big event to knock someone off their regular routine. Even something as small as a traffic jam or sleeping in on the weekend can throw a wrench in the best laid plans.

What to Do When You Feel Like You’ve “Fallen Off Track” or “Fallen Off the Wagon”: The 5 A’s

1. Acknowledge that Change is a Part of Life

Many of us say that we like, or even thrive, on change, but it’s often with the unspoken caveat that it’s change that is expected and/or we have control over. When change is unexpected or feels like it’s happening “to us”, it’s natural to want to regain control, or to return things to the way they were. To “get back on track” or “get back on the wagon”, so to speak.

When Benjamin Franklin said that there are only two things certain in life—death and taxes—he forgot a third: change. While we try to take as much control as we can with our plans, schedules and calendars, the reality is, there will always be parts of our lives that we don’t have control over. As long as parts of our life are outside of our control, can we really say there is a “track” or a “wagon”?

2. Approach with Curiosity, not Judgment

For many of us, self-judgment comes almost naturally – we celebrate being “good” for “eating or not eating XYZ” and berate ourselves for being “bad” for “doing or not doing ABC”. Instead of immediately placing a moral value on the situation and your reaction (which often leads to a downward spiral of self-flagellation), I invite you to hold judgment for a bit and instead step back and get curious. Some questions to help you get started:

  • What are the circumstances that led to this situation/change?
  • What thoughts, emotions, or self-talk are coming up in response to this situation or change? What sensations or behaviours are coming up?
  • What in this situation/change is within my control? What isn’t?
  • In the grand scheme of things, what is the significance of this situation?
  • What are the different ways I can respond or react to this situation/change? Will it serve me to respond in a similar way that I have to similar situations, or in a different way? What if I don’t respond or react?
  • Am I doing my best in this situation, even though my current best may look different from what “my best” might look like at a different time, and/or the outcome might not be what I initially intended?

Approaching any situation with curiosity instead of judgment allows space for it to be a learning opportunity and experience instead of a failure or dead-end.

3. Appreciate the Unpleasant

Appreciate the… wha? It can feel unpleasant or uncomfortable when we’re off our regular routine. At the same time, it’s often in these unpleasant moments where we do the most learning.

Sometimes the “unpleasantness” shows up in unexpected ways – vacations and holidays are generally not considered unpleasant, but perhaps there is some unpleasantness or discomfort in travelling to a place with unfamiliar foods, or eating with extended family during the holidays instead of in the comfort of your kitchen table. Instead of thinking of unpleasantness as “bad” and trying to avoid it, the discomfort can be a cue that it’s an opportunity to step back and notice.

Appreciating the unpleasant can also help us better appreciate the little things that we take for granted. Emotional eating can feel unpleasant, but it may also be an opportunity to feel grateful that food is easily accessible and abundant.

In my example, I noticed that being sick is/was unpleasant, especially since I felt like I couldn’t give my all to the whole moving process, let alone my business, but it allowed me to be more appreciative of the help and support from family and friends, and the fact that I am at a place where I’m financially stable enough that it was OK to take a break from work.

4 & 5. Adjust & Adapt

In Step #2, perhaps you had the opportunity to consider the different ways you can respond or react (if at all) to the situation at hand.

Even though some situations are temporary and/or fleeting, it may be unrealistic to expect things to just “go back to the way they were”, and striving for this may lead to more struggling and discomfort.

I know that I won’t be fighting this cold or unpacking forever, but I also know that it’s not realistic for me to just jump back in with both feet right away, as I’ll probably have some catching up (and letting go) to do. You will probably notice too that depending on the situation, it might just mean pushing the timeline a bit, or it may be a bigger adaptation to a “new normal”.

What did you do the last time you were off your regular routine? Please share your thoughts and insights in the comments below!

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