5 Tips to Push Through Setbacks on the Way to Your Health Goals

Life doesn’t always go the way we think it’s going to go.

The journey toward your health goals definitely doesn’t always go the way you think it will go. If it did, there wouldn’t be so many blogs and books out there devoted to improving health and fitness.

Life would be much easier if things always went your way.

In my health counseling, things often don’t go the way a client and I plan for them to go. We leave our session with a strategy and specific steps to put this strategy in place to push their comfort zone and make progress, but things don’t always go they way we imagine.

Something gets their way– stress, the wrong kind of motivation–and the grand plan we had starts to unravel.

Unravelings are mental set backs that happen when you feel like you’ve been doing everything right, but nothing is changing– like you’re not seeing any progress.

These unravelings are ultimately good things because we can learn something from them, but experiencing multiple unravelings in the pursuit of your goals is really hard.

If you unravel enough, there’s no doubt you’ll be drawn back to your old habits. You’ll want to give up and go back.

Old habits are our comfort zone. Old habits sometimes help us feel in control.

Take me as an example: stress is always behind my reverting back to old habits. When I’m stressed I start to feel like things in my life are out of control– like there’s nothing I can do about anything that’s happening. When I feel out of control in my life, I search for a way to get that control back. Usually, this is with my diet. I start to feel like the food I eat is one of the only things over which I have control. So I either start counting calories and grams of protein to get control, or I stop wanting to eat all together.

While all of this is happening, there’s a part of me that knows I’m reverting back to old habits and that these old habits were ultimately destructive, but sometimes the need for control overrides this nurturing voice and I continue to revert. No matter how much I tell myself that the old habits are no good and that I deserve better, I can’t seem to pull myself out of that negative-feeling-funk.

Recovering from unraveling after unraveling is tough. So how do you keep yourself positive and pushing your comfort zone instead of reverting back to old habits?


Here are five tips to push through setbacks so that you can continue to make positive progress toward your goals:

1. Take a deep breath or two.

In that moment when you feel like you don’t want to do this anymore–like you want to give up start doing what you’ve always done–take a deep breath. Deep breathing has a tranquil effect on your nervous system– it can calm your body even when your mind is less than calm.  It’s a great way to calm yourself in the moment– acute stress relief, if you will.

My favorite breathing exercise is Dr. Andrew Weill’s 4-7-8 exercise:

  • Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound.
  • Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four.
  • Hold your breath for a count of seven.
  • Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of eight.
  • This is one breath. Now inhale again and repeat the cycle three more times for a total of four breaths.

Dr. Weill says “this exercise is subtle when you first try it but gains in power with repetition and practice.” He recommends doing it twice a day, and no more than four times in a row…or you might faint.

2. Smile.

It might surprise you to know that even faking a smile can help you feel better.

Facial expressions don’t merely reflect emotions, they also influence emotions. In “facial feedback,” studies show, the mere act of smiling makes people happier — even when they smile mechanically, as I’m doing, or when they’re asked not to “smile” but rather to contract specific facial muscles. (Source)

When you’re feeling defeated and like nothing you’re doing is working, smile.

3. Look to a visual affirmation.

Find a picture that reminds you that everything is going to work out in the end. A picture that reminds you that if you continue to have faith in yourself and push your comfort zone, amazing things will happen.

photo When I’m stressed, I’m in constant need of that reminder so I put my visual affirmation somewhere I’ll see it all the time. Like as my phone or computer background picture. Whenever I see it, I’m reminded, and I smile.

4. Give in to those “old habit feelings” for 5 minutes, but only 5 minutes.

Seriously– set a timer and allow yourself to feel for 5 minutes. Give yourself permission to whine, to cry or to express those feelings in a way that feels natural and authentic to you.  Sometimes acknowledging those feelings helps you to move on more quickly– have you ever not allowed yourself to cry? Isn’t that much harder and more traumatizing than actually crying? When the timer goes off and your 5 minutes is up, take a deep breath, look at your visual affirmation and smile.

5. Reach out for support.

The journey toward your health goals is filled with ups and downs. Having support through the “downs” can make a huge difference in how quickly you reach your goals. It makes a big difference when you have the support of someone that understands what you’re going through. That’s what I do as a health counselor— I support you through the “downs” so that you can use them as a positive learning experience and get back to pushing your comfort zone and making change. Having the support of someone who can identify with what you’re going through (no matter how crazy it may seem) is invaluable to the process of reaching your health goals.

How do you stay positive in the face of a setback? Feel free to share in the comments below.

Feel like you could use some support to reach your health goals? Let’s talk it out. Email me at Allison@friskylemon.com

4 Responses to 5 Tips to Push Through Setbacks on the Way to Your Health Goals

  1. smileysummer August 19, 2013 at 8:16 AM #

    Good day to you Allison, hope you had as good of a weekend as I did.

    I get up every morning saying to myself that no matter what today is going to be a good day and it always turns out wonderful! I feel that if you live in a positive life you will reap positivity always, it will glow out through your skin and set the rest of your days ahead with more happy reactions than you could possibly imagine. Before I quit smoking I had to change things in my life and the only way was to adopt a new way of being happy, positive, motivated..etc..so now I wake up every morning and say that today is going to be a great day and I plan on making one person smile by giving a hug, even to a complete stranger, and I have accomplished this and will continue, it not only makes me feel good..but I have surprised many..you just never know what someone else is going through. My new adventure into life as non smoker has given way to a better me..Life is just amazing, full of hope and surprises!!!

  2. smileysummer August 19, 2013 at 8:17 AM #

    P.S..so sorry I forgot to add this, your articles are a fantastic read, they help me alot..so thank you!!


    • Allison August 19, 2013 at 1:20 PM #

      Theresa! This is amazing! Would you mind if I shared some of this comment with my Facebook Peeps?

      • smileysummer August 19, 2013 at 1:51 PM #

        Absolutely Allison. .have a blessed day.

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