Welcome to episode number twelve. This is Kristi and today I’m talking about what happens when things don’t go as planned.
Welcome to Habits On Purpose, a podcast for high-achieving women who want to create lifelong habits and feel as good on the inside as they look on paper. You'll get practical strategies for mindset shifts that will help you finally understand the root causes of why you think, feel, and act as you do so you can learn to create habits that give more than they take. And now, here's your host physician and Master Certified Life Coach Kristi Angevine.
Hello, hello everyone. Today, you’ll want to stay tuned until the end of the episode, because today I announce the final thank you giveaway recipients, for those of you who have left a review of the podcast.
But for now, I want to dive right in. Today, we’re going to explore what happens in the aftermath of things not going as planned. What happens on the back side of a mistake? How you respond and talk to yourself after you fail, and don’t do as well as you’d like.
The way you talk to yourself, and treat yourself, in the wake of things not going as planned. Or, not as well as you’d like them to go, is one of the less talked about habits. But it’s really important to identify and understand, because it influences the ease with which we change our habits. This episode is a perfect companion to Episode 9, which is about Making Decisions Ahead of Time. If you haven’t checked that one out yet, I totally recommend that you go do it.
This episode was inspired by a post from one of the lovely members of the Habits On Purpose Facebook group. I’m going to read it to you, and then, we’ll discuss the topic. Hi Kristi, do you have suggestions about what to do when you don’t follow through with the plan you made ahead of time? For example, I now realize that I was using willpower. But I had started exercising three to four times a week for about a month. But then, I got COVID last week so I couldn’t exercise for about ten days. I think I can start again this week, but I’m already noticing negative self-talk around losing progress, going backwards, and also procrastinating. Like, I should wait until I feel 100%. I’m trying to change the script. But would also love to hear how you deal with bumps in the road, or mini roadblocks.
My reply: Good for you for realizing you were using willpower and for noticing the negative self-talk. First, I recommend you take a moment to acknowledge both of these. Just this alone is huge. Next, regarding bumps in the road, it sounds like you had a great reason for not following through on a plan you made ahead of time. In my opinion, COVID equals a great reason. For contrast, imagine if you had a decision ahead of time to swim outside, and then you cancelled because there was lightning In my opinion, lightning is a great reason to cancel. The way we talk to ourselves, in the aftermath of things not going as planned, is a window into our relationship with ourselves. In the Facebook group comment, I went on to offer her an exercise to try. After we discuss this topic, at length, I’ll share that same exercise with you here.
This is really an important topic that so many people grapple with. Consider, for a moment, what’s your personal response to yourself when you go off plan? How do you talk to yourself, in the aftermath of making a mistake? Or, not doing as well as you’d like. If you’re like many of my clients, you may notice you often beat yourself up or say things to yourself that seem totally reasonable, but that you would never say to someone you care about. Does this sound familiar? I can’t believe I did that. What’s my problem? I suck! How stupid! I’m never going to figure this out. Here we go again. I know better. I guess I’m just a person who can’t fill in the blank. I guess I’m just a person who can’t be consistent/follow through/be a good mom, etc.
This mean tone may have worked well in the past for that suck it up, buttercup type of paradigm, but it’s actually not effective. Let’s talk about why. I was scrolling Instagram and I saw this psychologist and parenting expert, Becky Kennedy aka Dr. Becky of the Good Inside podcast. She was doing a short reel about an upcoming podcast episode of hers. Quick side note, even if you don’t have children, you should follow her for all the juicy parallels between parenting philosophy and deliberately approaching your habits in your life. She doesn’t know it yet, since we’ve not actually met, but one day, Dr. Becky will be an interview guest on the Habits On Purpose podcast. In my fantasy, I see us discussing the psychology of her parenting approaches and how the way we parent relates to the relationship with ourselves and our habits.
Anyways, in this video, I saw that she mentioned how shame and blame are not effective states from which to learn or change. Because, as she says, when we feel shamed or blamed, particularly as children, it creates the animal defense state of freeze. And no one learns when frozen. Her Instagram video was geared toward effective parenting, but the message is exactly the same when it comes to effective habit change. When we mess up, go off plan, or things don’t go as expected… if we punish ourselves by talking meanly to ourselves, by essentially shaming and blaming, we don’t learn faster. We don’t guarantee that we’ll do better next time. We simply spend time feeling really badly about ourselves.
When we feel really badly about ourselves, we’re experiencing emotions like discouragement, shame, defeat, embarrassment, insecurity, inadequacy. From these feelings, what do we typically do? From these emotions we usually shut down, withdraw, brood, stew, ruminate. We usually spin in thinking about how badly we messed up. We may recall other times we messed up, in a similar way. Or compare ourselves, very unfavorably, to others. You know how it goes. If you add social media to the emotions of defeat and insecurity, it’s like the algorithm gods will show you every post of people you know doing amazing things. These become evidence for all the things you’re not doing well.
When we feel discouraged and inadequate, we might time travel mentally to this imagined future where we keep messing up, or are friendless and penniless. When we feel badly about ourselves, we aren’t objectively evaluating or taking an audit of our actions. We’re not reflecting on obstacles or brain-storming solutions. We’re not likely to kindly consider what we could’ve done differently. Why is there a tendency to do this to ourselves?
I have a hypothesis. First, we’re just used to it. What we get used to we don’t think to question, no matter how badly it feels, or how ineffective it might be. Next, we may have heard it from others. Other people literally telling us critical things when we messed up. Or, we may have witnessed how other people treat themselves after messing up, and internalized then mimicked it. Next, it may have been an approach that worked well enough such that we never questioned it. Lastly, no one has taught us a different way, so we just keep doing more of the same. Since it’s not effective, let’s talk about an alternative, and exactly how to do it.
Imagine what it would be like if you knew that you were always going to be kind to yourself in the aftermath of not doing as well as you would’ve liked. What would this permit? What would this open up for you? It would permit you to cleanly feel things like disappointment or sadness, without slipping into self-judgment. It would allow you to go off your plan or make a mistake, and not make it mean anything about your worth. It would eliminate time and energy spent in discouragement, shame, and inadequacy. Imagine how much less time you’d spend feeling awful. How much less time you’d spend ruminating, fretting, feeling offtrack, comparing yourself to others, feeling like you’re going backwards.
If, when you’ve failed big-time, you were kind, validating, empathetic, imagine what you’d be willing to go for. Imagine if you knew you would not be jerk to yourself for every fail or misstep. Imagine how much bolder your goals might be. How much more grit and resilience would be easier to access. Consider how liberating it would be if your experience of messing up was just data and information to learn from and get curious about. Seriously, think about all the energy saved.
If this resonates, and you know you have the habit of talking meanly to yourself on the back side of messing up or going off plan, I have a homework assignment for you. Most of my listeners are consummate students and really love a good challenge. I think this will be perfect for you.
Here it is. Get a pen and paper, or use your laptop, or the note section on your phone, or the voice recorder option on your phone. I want you to bring to mind some time when something didn’t go as you had wished. It can be anything: running late, getting snippy, overeating, overdrinking, scrolling for hours past your bedtime, working when you said you’d unplug. Anytime where you went off plan, messed up, didn’t do as well as you wished you had, or you missed the mark, you failed, you flopped publicly. Once you have that in mind, I want you to either write down or dictate all the things you say to yourself afterwards.
What do you tell yourself after that happens? After you jot everything down, or dictate everything, I want you to then take a few minutes and read or listen to what you wrote or recorded. Note what emotion or feeling hearing these things gives you. The next part, which is super powerful, is bring to mind a person that you totally adore: a friend, a lover, a partner, a child, a colleague, a mentor, a sibling. Then, if you can, find a photograph of that person. If you want a little special twist on this, you can actually get a photograph of yourself as a small child. Then, what you do is… I want you to step into the second person. Take the statements you wrote down and turn them into you statements.
If, for example, you wrote down, I can’t believe I did that. I’m so lame. I’m just going backwards, as the thing that you tell yourself, when you convert that to the second person statement it will sound like, I can’t believe you did that. You’re so lame. You’re just going backwards. Then, imagine telling this person you brought to your mind, this person you adore or this little you in the photo, the things you are telling yourself. You might be inclined to skip this step, or just go through the motions mentally and imagine what it might be like, but I really recommend that you don’t skip this step.
The reason is that, typically, we are so accustomed to the mean tone we use with ourselves, we don’t really give is much thought. Once we put things in the second person it’s so obvious how mean and cold some of our statements are. There’s one final piece to this homework. After you write down what you tell yourself, think of someone you adore, and convert your statements to you statements, go through them one at a time directing them at that person. The next step is to rewrite the script. This part may feel awkward, at first, but take that as a sign you’re doing it right and you’re stretching yourself beyond your comfort zone with doing something new.
The way you rewrite the script is to consider: What do you need to hear instead of what you’re currently telling yourself? Meaning, when you had an exercise plan but you got COVID so you couldn’t exercise, but now you want to get back into it; what do you most need to hear? When you mess up or fail, what do you most need to know? Maybe it’s reassurance and validation, like, yes, that was hard and, yes, it did not go as planned. But it’s okay, you’ll figure this out. You’ve done hard things before. Maybe you need normalization to the tune of, everyone struggles in their first six months. Everyone needs rest after they get COVID. It’s not a sign that there’s anything wrong with you.
Consider for you; when things don’t go as planned, what do you most need to hear or know? Write that down. Then, read it back to yourself. Notice how if makes you feel. It should make you feel a step closer towards neutral or positive, compared to what the original statements evoked. This new script is, essentially, a set of intentional thoughts that are available to you every time things don’t go as well as you want. Please note, this approach is not coddling, and it’s not an effort to put your head into the sand and be oblivious or Pollyanna, or to find a silver lining without actually looking at the reality of a problem. This approach is not a way to create a pity party or to enable mediocre performance.
Although you may think that if you drop a stern narrative the pendulum will then swing all the way to the other end of the spectrum and you’ll stop striving for improvement, you’ll go belly-up, sit on your laurels, never make progress, get really lenient with your standards, become stale, or become stagnant, that’s actually not the case. That’s just all-or-nothing, black and white thinking coming on the scene. The more realistic, more nuanced perspective is that the mean self-talk, after messing up, is totally counterproductive. A more effective way is based on non-judgement, compassion, and curiosity.
When we approach ourselves with non-judgmental compassion and curiosity, we will set bigger goals, take more action, learn more and do it all more quickly, and with so much more ease. What might this look like in real-life? Fortunately for you, I have the perfect recent example from my own life. This example has to do with getting my kids and I out the door for soccer practice. For me, getting out the door with children is a circumstance that very quickly reveals lots of my own drama and self-talk. I’ve actually gotten to a place where I love getting ready to get out the door, to go places. Not because I necessarily enjoy the experience that I create when I do that, but because of what it reveals about what is going on in my mind that particular day.
This is the situation; my kids and I were headed out to soccer practice. Within a window of about fifteen minutes of beginning to get ready, there’s crying, there’s yelling, there’s rushing. Everyone is frustrated with one another. I’m overexplaining things; I’m being snippy. There are double knots that are not tight enough. Sunglasses that can’t be found. There’s more crying, apologizing, and then more crying. It felt like it was straight out of some comedy sitcom, but let me be clear, it was not fun. It was a total cluster. My experience of it, in real time, was, this is a huge mess and there’s nothing I could do to change it.
Nothing I said or did, seemed helpful. It was one downward spiral. Once we were actually at practice, I was reflecting on how things had gone. I could’ve blamed and judged my kids ruthlessly, and just sat there in the car brooding. I could’ve beat myself up for not being a serene parenting ninja. I could’ve made it mean all sorts of things about me as a person, and about me as a mom. For a few moments, I noticed that was exactly what I did. If you could’ve listened into my mind, it sounded like, what the hell was that? I know better. That was ridiculous, and so on.
The key is, I caught myself doing that. Because I’ve done this work long enough, I caught myself ruminating and feeling terrible, even when the circumstances had totally shifted. I could see both my kids running around, smiling, engaged in the present moment fun of practice. When I caught it, when I caught myself ruminating feeling terrible, I thought to myself, Hm, I’m beating myself up right now. I’m sitting her ruminating. What I most need right now is reassurance. It wasn’t fun to leave the house in that way, but it’s going to be okay. I might not be able to see it right now, but there’s something to learn here. When I do this simple reframe, instead of feeling judgmental or judged or defensive or incompetent, I simply felt more settled.
From that feeling of being more settled I was able to reflect on what went well, what didn’t go well, and think about what I could do next time. I noticed with this reframe that I’m not painting this gorgeous picture and pretending I had some amazing experience that I didn’t have. I’m simply finding a place, in my mind, that’s more neutral. And, from that neutral place looking at my situation.
To bring it full circle, Dr. Becky Kennedy, who I mentioned at the beginning says, “Parenting with validation, empathy, and firm boundaries is sturdy parenting.” Despite my personal, real-life examples that involve my kids, this is not a podcast about parenting. It’s a podcast about habits. I mentioned that quote from Dr. Becky Kennedy because the exact same things apply to creating intentional habits. When you have the habit of approaching yourself with validation, empathy, and boundaries that’s how you create sturdy habits. And a sturdy relationship with yourself.
Let’s recap; the way you talk to yourself, and what you tell yourself in the wake of an error or things not going as you planned, is a habit in and of itself. Most high achieving perfectionists aren’t so nice to themselves after a fail. This habit of mean self-talk after messing up is unhelpful for learning, and unhelpful for long-term change. It simply slows you down. To shift this habit, you must first become aware of it. That homework exercise I walked you through, is perfect for making a shift. When you do the homework exercise bring what you find to the Facebook group, where you’ll get support from me and the others in the group. The group is called Habits On Purpose.
Now, we’re at the part of the podcast where I’m so tickled to announce the recipients of the remaining thank-you gifts which are Audible gift-cards and a Day Designer planner. To everyone who has listened, has reached out to me, or left a review, thank you so much.
The recipients are Rachel Vinson, Caroline Denwood, and Meredith McNamara. Hopefully, I said your names correctly. If I did not, please forgive me.
Rachel wrote, “such a wonderfully thought-out podcast that is helping me guide my journey on changing thoughts and habits that don’t serve me. I can’t wait for more.” Caroline wrote, “This is the podcast I recommend to my physician friends. Habits On Purpose is a cogent, compassionate distillation of thought work and is, quite honestly, life-changing. Thank you, Dr. Angevine.” Meredith called it a “must-listen” and wrote, “Thank you for such an accessible and lovely wealth of guidance. Krisi is the best and this podcast has quickly made its way to the top of my regular rotation.”
Rachel, Caroline, and Meredith’s names were drawn randomly. Their reviews really do represent exactly what I want this podcast to be: A helpful guide that’s accessible, that’s distilled, and that makes it to the top of your regular rotation.
Even though the incentive for writing reviews is over right now, I still welcome your input and feedback, in the form of reviews, on iTunes. If you haven’t yet let me know how you’re liking it… If you leave a review on iTunes, I will be so happy. For those of you who have found value in what you’re learning, if you’re called to share this with others, that would also mean so much to me.
That’s a wrap for this week and I’ll see you in the next episode.
If you want to learn more about how to better understand your patterns, stop feeling reactionary, and get back into the proverbial driver’s seat with your habits, you’ll want to join my email list which you can find linked in the show notes. Or, if you go to www.habitsonpurpose.com you’ll find it right there.
If you’re serious about taking this work deeper and going from an intellectual understanding to off the page implementation, I offer coaching in two flavors: individual deep-dive coaching with the somatic and cognitive approach, and a small group coaching program. The small group is currently for women physicians only, and comes with CME credits. You can be the first to learn more about the individual or group coaching options by getting on the email list.
Thanks for listening to Habits On Purpose. If you want more information on Kristi Angevine or the resources from the podcast, visit www.habitsonpurpose.com. Tune in next week for another episode.