Have you Fallen off the Wagon? Practical tips to get back on track and sustain your wellness plan

The area of psychology that I am most passionate about is wellness and the mental approach to optimising one’s physical health and fitness goals.  The mid-way mark in the year provides the perfect time point for all, from recreational to elite athletes, as well as corporate professionals to review their health and fitness goals and reflect on the lifestyle habits most individuals have seemingly involuntarily adopted as the year passes by.  It is typical to reflect on the goals you set at the beginning of the year and realise you have fallen off the wagon.  It is also common for many of us to surrender these goals to our hectic schedule and look forward to the following January when we can fully commit to the cause.

Based on my experience as a wellness coach and psychologist, I would like to share with you a common unproductive mindset in approaching health fitness goals that I have found to be the number one cause of continued failed attempts.  I would also like to provide effective strategies to help you hit your target that I have seen work tremendously for the busiest of corporate clients as well as reluctant athletes.

In taking a closer look at your approach and attitudes in building optimal health habits, start by answering yes or no to the following questions:

Do you typically begin your new program on a Monday?

Do you go from ‘Turbo’ to ‘Idle’?

Do you use the words good and bad to describe certain foods and your eating behavior?

Do you typically want to speed up the process by eating less than your program suggests to reach your goal?

Do you expect to suffer, feeling starved and deprived?

Do you expect to completely eliminate your favorite foods?

Do you fall off the wagon and throw in the towel after making just one unhealthy food choice?

Are you convinced that past failed attempts were due to lack of or drop in motivation?

All-or nothing mindset

If you answered ‘yes’ to most of these questions, your approach in optimising health and fitness is likely powered by the ‘all-or-nothing’ mindset.   Similar to perfectionistic achievement striving, the all-or-nothing mindset is result-oriented and leaves no room for error.  For instance, individuals with this approach only see whether they are making progress in terms of performance and are quickly discouraged when they are not winning.  These individuals fail to acknowledge or even reject the steps they are making, and the indicators of improvement along the way.

Typically with an all-or-nothing approach you believe you must exercise full control and be restrictive; expecting to have no fun in the process of reaching your target.  It is this mindset that prompts people to start a new regimen on Monday and treat the weekend like their ‘last hurrah’.  The slightest ‘slip-up’ can cause total relapse, hence shifting gears from ‘Turbo’ to ‘Idle’ in your implementation intentions.

Recent research examining wellness implementation plans found that 68% of people interviewed for the study started their weight loss diet on Monday.  From that group 34% had quit by Tuesday night!  The bottom line is; if you do not allow room for error and expect to suffer in your wellness journey, it is almost impossible to sustain your action plan.

Altering your mindset is the first step to achieving your positive health habits.  The second step in developing a sustainable long term action plan is to identify the daily hassles or events that frequently act as road blocks or obstacle to achieving consistent positive health habits.

Essentially you need to determine the triggers that throw you off course.

Once you have identified your triggers you can then develop a contingency plan to combat the most disruptive daily hassles and events.  From my experience, the secret to an effective contingency plan is not to plan ways to stop the daily hassles from occurring, but to plan a more productive response when it happens.  As a young wellness and fitness coach, I spent a lot of time charting my clients’ triggers then setting up contingency plans to reduce the likelihood that daily hassles would occur.  For example, getting to bed earlier if you keep missing your morning workout.  However, it’s important to recognise that daily hassles are inevitable, often unavoidable, and most of the time unpredictable when they will pop up.  Therefore if you want to create the most effective contingency plan,


Common triggers that have the potential to throw people off course:


My default response

My new positive response to avoid total relapse

You miss your workouts for approximately one week

Be self-critical, completely lose all motivation to exercise, drag yourself back to the gym three months later.

Take action the very next day by starting small and easy.  Enjoy it!

The weekend ends

Monday blues begin to set in, over indulge Sunday night.

Change the meaning of Sunday. Monday should not be the day of total restriction.

Late night munchies

Raid the cupboard, plan to have a few bites but eat the whole box.

Have at hand an easy, low calorie replacement snack.

These examples highlight how changing your mindset and altering your actions will keep you on track.  Most importantly, the charting exercise is all about recognising that there is no perfect process in reaching your health and fitness goals.  You must be ready and willing to compensate and adjust with the ebbs and flows of your lifestyle.  You have the power to take control of your response.

Top four tips on how to release yourself from the ‘all-or-nothing’ mindset and build positive health habits in the second half of the year:

Start new health habits on the very next day: Start on the very next day rather than starting on Monday.  Take small steps and make small changes on your very next meal or workout.

Know your triggers and plan a more positive, alternative response: This will prevent you from becoming completely derailed when daily hassles pop-up.

Balance does not mean you are always in equilibrium: Match up your health and fitness goals with the demands in your career in your life at the time and allow yourself room for error when these demands are high.

Develop a reward plan: Reward yourself when you achieve small steps in progress and along the way and do not deprive yourself of recognition until you reach the end result.  This will help you to feel accomplished and keep you motivated to continue on your journey toward a healthier, fitter you.

Dr Jay-Lee Nair | Psychologist MAPS