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Plan for Chaos: How to Stick to Your Health Goals When Life Gets Crazy

Plan for Chaos: How to Stick to Your Health Goals When Life Gets Crazy

I played baseball in college. During the offseason, my teammates and I would battle through friendly Strongman competitions where we would flip a giant tractor tire, drag a sled full of weights, and generally push, pull, and throw heavy, oddly-shaped things. Occasionally, there would be an event where someone would complain about “not being built for this” or about “not training for this type of thing.”

Eventually, my roommate responded to the whining with a simple phrase: “Train for chaos.” “Train for chaos” was a simple way of saying, “Don’t tell me that the circumstances aren’t ideal. Tell me that you’re going to make it your responsibility to be better prepared next time.”

You may not find yourself flipping tractor tires anytime soon, but you can adapt this philosophy from “train for chaos” to “plan for chaos.” I find that this mentality can be incredibly useful when it comes to sticking to your goals and living a healthy life — especially when life gets busy.

Here’s how you can use this idea…

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Plan for Chaos

Let’s say that you have a goal that you want to stick to consistently. For example, working out three times per week or meditating for five minutes each morning. If everything goes as planned, then sticking to your goal isn’t too difficult. If you wake up on time, then you should have the extra five minutes to meditate in the morning. If rush hour traffic isn’t bad, then you should be able to make it to the gym before going to your kid’s performance tonight.

Basically, if there aren’t any unexpected interruptions, then it just comes down to getting started. But when life gets busy and chaos starts to happen, that’s when we start to come up with excuses. Phrases like “I wasn’t expecting this to happen…” start creeping into your life and you end up pushing off the goals that you said were important.

The chaos and unpredictability of life is one of the factors that makes sticking to your goals difficult. Which brings us to the important questions…How can you stay consistent when day-to-day life is so unpredictable? How can you plan for chaos?

Reduce the Scope, Stick to the Schedule

My personal goal is to stick to a writing schedule that involves publishing a new article every Monday and Thursday.

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Last April, I was traveling internationally when I had a terrible case of food poisoning. I wanted to publish a good article that day, but this unexpected sickness made things difficult. So, I told myself, “If I don’t have a post written before 11pm, then I’ll publish one letting people know that it’s coming later this week.”

A few hours later, I published an article that said, “This post is coming!” I hated publishing something that wasn’t useful, but I still proved to myself that I could stick to the schedule even when the circumstances weren’t ideal. I’ve written previously about adopting the mentality of “reducing the scope, but sticking to the schedule.” The basic idea is that on any given day it is more important to stick to your schedule than it is to meet your expectations.

For example, my expectation is to write a useful article every Monday and Thursday. But it’s more important that I stick to the schedule and maintain my habit for the long-term than it is for every post to be incredible. In my experience, the If-Then Technique is one of the best ways to stick to your schedule when life gets crazy.

The If-Then Technique

The If-Then Technique is the perfect way to plan for chaos and stick to your goals even when life gets crazy. Why? Because it forces you to create a strategy for reducing the scope, but sticking to the schedule before you actually need to do so.

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All you need to do is complete this phrase: “If [something unexpected], then [your response].”

For example…

  • If I don’t wake up in time to run tomorrow morning, then I’ll run after work.
  • If I can’t make it to yoga during my lunch break, then I’ll take a stretching break this afternoon.
  • If I buy something unhealthy for lunch, then I’ll cook a healthy meal for dinner.

The If-Then Technique forces you to consider the unpredictable circumstances that so often enter our daily lives. And that means you have fewer excuses for doing nothing and more options for sticking to your goals.

You can also use this technique as a way to plan for poor performances as well. For example, a basketball player could say, “If I miss 10 free throws at practice, then I’ll visualize myself making 20 free throws before I fall asleep tonight.” It’s a useful way of forcing yourself to consider how you will practice deliberately rather than just putting your time.

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Where to Go From Here

Having a busy day, dealing with unexpected delays, getting sick, and traveling for work are just a few of the thousands of tiny emergencies that prevent most people from sticking to their goals. It doesn’t have to be that way, though.

If you choose to plan for chaos and use The If-Then Technique to outline ways that you can “reduce the scope, but stick to the schedule,” then you can find options for staying on-task even when your day gets off-course.

When you can’t do it all, do something small.

James Clear writes at JamesClear.com, where he shares science-based ideas for living a better life and building habits that stick. To get strategies for boosting your mental and physical performance by 10x, join his free newsletter.

This article was originally published on JamesClear.com.

Featured photo credit: Coba via flickr.com

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James Clear

James Clear is the author of Atomic Habits. He shares self-improvement tips based on proven scientific research.

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Last Updated on July 10, 2020

How to Take Control of Your Life with Better Boundaries

How to Take Control of Your Life with Better Boundaries

We all have them—those hurtful, frustrating, offensive, manipulative people in our lives. No matter how hard we try to surround ourselves with positive and kind people, there will always be those who will disrespect, insult, berate, and misuse you if we allow them to.

We may, for a variety of reasons, not be able to avoid them, but we can determine how we interact with them and how we allow them to interact with us.

So, how to take control of your life and stop being pushed around?

Learning to set clear firm boundaries with the people in our lives at work and in our personal lives is the best way to protect ourselves from the negative effects of this kind of behavior.

What Boundaries Are (And What They’re Not)

Boundaries are limits

—they are not threats or ultimatums. Boundaries inform or teach. They are not a form of punishment.

Boundaries are firm lines—determined by you—which cannot be crossed by those around you. They are guidelines for how you will allow others to treat you and what kind of behaviors you will expect.

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Healthy personal boundaries help protect you from physical or emotional pain. You may also need to set firm boundaries at work to ensure you and your time are not disrespected. Don’t allow others to take advantage of your kindness and generosity.

Clear boundaries communicate to others that you demand respect and consideration—that you are willing to stand up for yourself and that you will not be a doormat for anyone. They are a “no trespassing” sign that makes it very clear when a line has been crossed and that there will be consequences for doing so.

Boundaries are not set with the intention of changing other people. They may change how people interact with you, but they are more about enforcing your needs than attempting to change the general behavior and attitude of others.

How to Establish Boundaries and Take Control of Your Life

Here are some ways that you can establish boundaries and take control of your life.

1. Self-Awareness Comes First

Before you can establish boundaries with others, you first need to understand what your needs are.

You are entitled to respect. You have the right to protect yourself from inappropriate or offensive behavior. Setting boundaries is a way of honoring your needs.

To set appropriate boundaries, you need to be clear about what healthy behaviors look like—what healthy relationships look like.

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You first have to become more aware of your feelings and honest with yourself about your expectations and what you feel is appropriate behavior:

  • Where do you need to establish better boundaries?
  • When do you feel disrespected?
  • When do you feel violated, frustrated, or angered by the behavior of others?
  • In what situations do you feel you are being mistreated or taken advantage of?
  • When do you want to be alone?
  • How much space do you need?

You need to honor your own needs and boundaries before you can expect others to honor them. This allows you to take control of your life.

2. Clear Communication Is Essential

Inform others clearly and directly what your expectations are. It is essential to have clear communication if you want others to respect your boundaries. Explain in an honest and respectful tone what you find offensive or unacceptable.

Many people simply aren’t aware that they are behaving inappropriately. They may never have been taught proper manners or consideration for others.

3. Be Specific but Don’t Blame

Taking a blaming or punishing attitude automatically puts people on the defensive. People will not listen when they feel attacked. It’s part of human nature.

That said, you do not need to overexplain or defend yourself. Boundaries are not open to compromise.

Sample language:

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  • “You may not…yell or raise your voice to me…”
  • “I need…to be treated with respect…”
  • “It’s not okay when…you take things from my desk without asking…”
  • “I won’t…do your work…cover for you anymore…”
  • “It’s not acceptable when…you ridicule or insult me…”
  • “I am uncomfortable when…you use offensive language”
  • “I will no longer be able to…lend you money…”

Being able to communicate these without sounding accusatory is essential if you want others to respect your boundaries so you can take control of your life.

4. Consequences Are Often Necessary

Determine what the appropriate consequences will be when boundaries are crossed. If it’s appropriate, be clear about those consequences upfront when communicating those boundaries to others.

Follow through. People won’t respect your boundaries if you don’t enforce them.

Standing our ground and forcing consequences doesn’t come easily to us. We want to be nice. We want people to like us, but we shouldn’t have to trade our self-respect to gain friends or to achieve success.

We may be tempted to let minor disrespect slide to avoid conflict, but as the familiar saying goes, “if you give people an inch, they’ll take a mile.”

It’s much easier to address offensive or inappropriate behavior now than to wait until that behavior has gotten completely out of hand.

It’s also important to remember that positive reinforcement is even more powerful than negative consequences. When people do alter the way they treat you, acknowledge it. Let people know that you notice and appreciate their efforts.

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Final Thoughts

Respect is always a valid reason for setting a boundary. Don’t defend yourself or your needs. Boundaries are often necessary to protect your time, your space, and your feelings. And these are essential if you want to take control of your life.

Start with the easiest boundaries first. Setting boundaries is a skill that needs to be practiced. Enlist support from others if necessary. Inform people immediately when they have crossed the line.

Don’t wait. Communicate politely and directly. Be clear about the consequences and follow them through.

The better you become at setting your own boundaries, the better you become at recognizing and respecting the boundaries of others.

Remember that establishing boundaries is your right. You are entitled to respect. You can’t control how other people behave, but you do have control over the way you allow people to treat you.

Learning to set boundaries is not always easy, but with time, it will become more comfortable. You may eventually find that boundaries become automatic and you no longer need to consciously set them.

They will simply become a natural extension of your self-respect.

Featured photo credit: Thomas Kelley via unsplash.com

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