How to Deal With Major Disruptions to Your Routine

Post written by Leo Babauta. Follow me on Twitter.

We’ve all gone through times when major changes come along to disrupt our routines — the birth of a child, the death of a loved one, having to move, getting sick or injured, losing or changing jobs, and so on.

It throws us out of whack. Our goals get disrupted, whether they’re fitness goals or career goals or any other personal development routines. And getting back on track can be very difficult with these disruptions. How do you deal with them?

Recently reader Jon Pape asked:

I try to follow your advice a lot, setting small goals and living one day at a time. Recently, I had a baby and there are so many unknowns right now I’m not sure how to set personal small goals.

For example, I was going to the gym in the morning but midnight feeding and an ever changing schedule make that almost impossible. My child is only a couple weeks old so I realize there maybe there will be a routine some day but I do not foresee it.

I guess my question is, how should you adjust to big life altering changes? Change your goals? Change your schedule? Or, change your expectations?

I can testify firsthand that this ain’t easy. A few examples from my life:

These are just a few examples from my life — I’m sure I could come up with a dozen more if I thought about it, and I’m sure you have dozens of your own examples.

The question is: what to do about it? Are we going to stop with our fitness routines (or work routines, or any other routines, or our goals) every single time we face a major disruption?

No. Things will be disrupted, but if we really want something, we’ll find a way to get back on track.

I was able to continue to train for my marathon, and beat my goal during my Honolulu Marathon in December. I’ve gotten back on track with blog posts in Zen Habits after moving and going through my grandfather’s death and resultant memorial service.

How to Beat the Major Disruptions

So how did I do it? How does anyone beat these disruptions and get back on track? A few things I’ve found to be useful:

1. Expect the disruptions and accept them as part of life. I’m not saying you should expect death or the loss of a job or other tragic things to happen at any minute, but do know that there will always be disruptions to your routine. Consider them bumps along the road, a part of any journey, and something that you just need to deal with and then get back on track. If you allow these bumps to stop you every time, you’ll never get to the destination. But if you know, from the outset, that there are going to be bumps, and you know that it’s simply part of the journey and that you have to overcome them, you’ll get there eventually.

2. Always remember your motivation, and get excited. Why did you have the routine in the first place? It must have been something important to you for you to have taken the effort to make it a part of your life. If you were exercising, you must have enjoyed it and had a pretty important goal or reason to exercise. If you were saving money, there must be a strong reason to do so. Always keep your eye on that goal, remember why you were doing it, and get yourself passionate about the goal again. If you get excited enough about it, you’ll go back. It’s when you don’t really feel like doing it that you have a hard time re-starting.

3. Find a partner or a coach or a class. This is just one of the best motivation tips for any goal, but it’s especially useful when you’re trying to get back on track after a disruption. Having a partner, for workouts or any other goal, is a great motivation to get started. It helps that I have my sister to run with, because when we make a date to meet in the early morning hours, I don’t want to miss that date and leave her alone outside while the sun has barely started its first cup of coffee. With business projects, it helps that I have a partner, or I might never get started again when I get sidetracked. A coach or a class are just as good motivators, though personally I’ve found a partner to be more convenient.

4. Start small. Yes, you’ve heard this from me so many times it might as well be a mantra. :) But it’s good advice for trying to get back into the swing of things. Don’t expect to pick back up exactly where you left off, whether that’s with exercise or diet or work or anything else. For example, if you were running 30 miles a week, you might start out with just 10-15 miles a week — run 3-4 miles, three times a week. Just to start out with. It makes it easier to start out, and it’s something you can adjust to easier. Once you’ve adjusted to this lighter schedule, increase gradually.

5. Allow yourself a break without reproach. When I moved to a new home last week, I knew I’d have to take a break from workouts and work. It wasn’t a planned break, but once I realized how busy I would be, and how tired my body would be from all the lifting and moving, I knew I’d have to take an unplanned vacation. And I told myself, “This is a good thing. My body needed a break from training anyway, and my mind needed a break from work.” And so I took the break, knowing it was good, not feeling (too) guilty, and knowing that I’d get right back into it as soon as the break was over.

6. If all fails, start the habit again, the right way. If you’re just having a tough time restarting, you might need to start back from the beginning, with the basics: focus on just one habit at a time, for 30 days, making it public, giving yourself rewards, finding a trigger, being as consistent as possible. All of these are the effective habit-change principles I talk about in my book, The Power of Less. I highly recommend you read the book if you need help forming habits, and sign up for The Power of Less 30-day Challenge forum.

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