How to Keep One Mistake from Derailing Your Day

So you just did something you wished you didn’t. Not huge, but not great. You snapped at your child instead of hearing him out. You lost an hour working on one thing only to find the time was wasted effort. You ate a huge piece of chocolate cake after a stellar week of lean proteins and fresh greens. Following on the heels of these snap, emotional decisions is a blend of guilt, shame, frustration. You think, I give up. Why even try anymore today? And you go ahead and snap at someone else; scroll through Facebook instead of do anymore work; cut yourself another slice.

Whoa there! The urge to throw in the towel after one slip-up is the bane of anyone who’s ever had a goal. But the truth is, one “bad” decision does not a crisis make. And no one ever makes their best, or even decent, decisions all the time. It’s just not possible. Instead of heaving all good work you’ve done toward your goal, here’s a four-step plan to help you focus on what comes next instead.

1. Acknowledge the situation
You made a not-so-great move that could trigger a great deal of stress (the guilt, the shame, the frustration, etc.). But you defuse the potential stress by owning up to what happened and consciously forgiving yourself. Yes, you feel crappy about what you did. You messed up. Welcome to the human race! It’s okay.

2. Weigh the real consequences
The emotional reaction to a poor decision is often much harsher than the decision itself. Once you’ve acknowledged the situation, take a minute to think about how ruined the world will actually be by what you’ve done. Chances are, the actual fallout is a lot less than what your emotions are telling you. This reality check is another chance to soothe the upset with some self-forgiveness.

3. Notice what your urge is
You know now that your emotions are at the wheel, not reality. So what are those troublesome feelings urging you to do? Give up? Drown the discomfort with more wasted time or baked goods? Follow your negative urges to more negative conclusions? This tends to make the situation worse, and they keep you stuck in the past, even if it was just two minutes ago. Awareness of knee-jerk reactions helps you gain control over them.

(Read more on turning bad habits into stress-reducing rituals.)

4. Focus on the best NEXT thing
This is where you shift from victim of your decision to master of it. Instead of looking backwards, put your attention forward to the best NEXT decision you can make. So, ok, you messed up. What’s the best next decision you can make? Perhaps it’s apologize or show kindness to the next person you see. Maybe it’s to get some fresh air. Or re-engage your focus and check one more thing off your list. You’re in control of what you do now; you have all the power. Forgiveness combined with empowerment helps you keep moving toward your goal, decision by decision, even if some of them are bad ones with high stress potential (and some of them absolutely will be).

It might take a while to shift your decisions, especially if they are tied to ingrained habits. But with practice, you will be able to notice the habitual act and say, what will I do now? instead of giving into the next kneejerk response. And then you can keep making the best next decisions that will help you eat food, spend money and time, and build relationships the way you really want.