What to Do When You Get Off Track

So far on the blog, we've talked about setting goals, finding your motivation, and how preparation and small wins trump the mythical willpower when it comes to long-term success.  Hopefully you've used those lessons to get yourself started on your health and lifestyle journey - but what happens when you get off-track?  Are you one of those people who goes completely off the rails (like I used to be!), or just make a minor course correction and carry on?  Today's article gives you some tools for dealing with those inevitable times when things don't go according to plan.

Don't Panic

Understand that the world will not end if you eat a cookie or have a glass of wine with dinner.  If you miss a workout, sure it's not ideal, but let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater.  As long as you've got a towel, everything will be just fine...

"Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" references aside, seriously, one slip up doesn't have to ruin your day.


I, personally, have been notoriously bad in the past for making the mistake of thinking, "Well, I've messed up a little already, so I might as well just REALLY blow it up good."  So, one irresponsible order of chicken wings at the restaurant turns into the double-cheese-and-bacon-and-mushroom burger meal, and heck, why not have poutine instead of fries, and a milkshake, and...what's for dessert?

A good process to use in overcoming missteps along the path is to Recognize, Accept/Acknowledge/Allow, Investigate and Non-Identify - known collectively as "RAIN".  This is a mindfulness concept introduced by Michele Macdonald, and is applicable not just to fitness and nutrition, but to all areas of life.

The steps below are adapted/paraphrased from this excellent summary of the RAIN process.

RAIN - Step 1:  Recognize

The first step in the process is to Recognize that a difficult situation and/or emotion is present.

  • Recognizing involves pausing and asking yourself, "What am I experiencing right now in my body, thoughts, emotions and situation?"
  • Recognizing prevents denial or avoidance because you are bringing what is unpleasant or perhaps unwholesome into your field of awareness so that it can be seen and dealt with.
  • Brain imaging studies have demonstrated that recognizing and labeling (AKA "Noticing and Naming") emotions actually reduces activity in the emotionally reactive regions of our brain.

Recognizing is simply being mindful enough to identify that something is not quite right.

RAIN - Step 2:  Accept/Acknowledge/Allow

The second step in the process is to Accept/Acknowledge/Allow to acknowledge what is present in this moment, accept that it has already happened, and "allow what is already here to be here."

  • It is important to note that accepting or acknowledging something is present does not mean that you agree with or support it - you are simply acknowledging what is present right now.
  • It is also important to be aware of any thoughts or emotions, such as resistance or aversion, that may arise when you recognize what you are experiencing.
  • Notice any subtle or unconscious forms of resisting your emotions, such as trying to "accept" them so that they will go away.  See if you can truly allow what is here to be here, and let the emotion(s) run its course and leave naturally.

As you Accept/Acknowledge/Allow, you are essentially just saying, "OK - that just happened/is happening," and preparing to move forward in dealing with it.

RAIN - Step 3:  Investigate

Now that you've Recognized the issue and Acknowledged its presence, it's time to Investigate your internal experience of the situation.

It is crucial to bring an attitude of kindness, curiosity and compassion to your investigation.  This includes having kindness and compassion for yourself, instead of beating yourself up!

  • Investigate three primary facets of your internal experience:
    • Physical sensations
      • Notice what sensations are present in your body, including their textures, layers, changing nature, and anything else that occurs.
    • Emotions
      • What is the basic feeling tone of your experience (positive, negative, or neutral)?
      • What emotions are present?  There may be a number of different emotions present at the same time.
      • Ask yourself, "What does this feeling want from me right now?  What is it trying to tell me?"
    • Thoughts
      • Notice what thoughts are passing through your mind.
      • Perhaps ask yourself, "What stories am I believing right now?"

Again, the Investigation stage is not about blaming yourself, or even really about trying to find a root cause of the issue (I.E. something that "triggered" the behaviour), but rather taking a deeper look at your physical and mind states while you are IN the experience.

RAIN - Step 4:  Non-Identification

The final step in the RAIN process is to understand that the situation or emotion(s) are not "you" - it/they do not define your existence.

  • Non-Identification means not taking emotions or situations personally, and understanding that "your" emotions or the difficult situations in which you find yourself are not really "yours" - I.E. they are not something uniquely inherent to you as a person.
  • The emotions you experience are also not unique to you, but instead are shared and experienced by all humans.
  • It can be helpful to label the situation or emotion you are experiencing as something that is present in this moment, but not enduring.
    • E.G. Instead of saying, "I am a weak-willed chocoholic," you could reframe it more accurately by saying "I am experiencing a moment of weakness and eating chocolate right now."

It is very important to understand that Non-Identification does not mean surrendering all responsibility for our actions, and that we are just subject to the whims and circumstance of others.  As mentioned above, it is instead about understanding that situations and emotions do not define you as a person - I.E. you are not a bad or weak person for experiencing these issues.

Moving Forward

The RAIN process can help give you some clarity and objectivity about the situation in which you find yourself if you've gone off-track.  When you reach that point, it is a matter of making the decision to move forward in a positive manner from there, and get back on track at your next opportunity.  Don't let one mistake snowball into several in a row - Recognize, Acknowledge, Investigation, Non-Identify, and move on! 

It can help to focus on achieving a Small Win (remember that lesson?) to get you back in a positive frame of mind.  Here's an example of the process:

  • You Recognize that, without consciously thinking about it, you've ended up having a decadent dessert when you're supposed to be keeping that stuff to a minimum to reach your goals.
  • You Acknowledge - "OK, that happened."
  • You Investigate your physical and mind states - you're feeling a little buzzed since you haven't had any refined sugar in a while; overall, the emotional experience is pretty neutral - you aren't eating the dessert out of any emotional need or strong physical craving, just habitual/social normative behaviour because you're out to dinner with friends, and oops - it happened.
  • You Non-Identify - you're not a dessert addict, and you don't "need" dessert to feel good about yourself.  The dessert does not define who you are as a person.
  • You move forward with a Small Win - you finish half your dessert and really enjoy it, and decide to stop there or share the rest with your friends.  You've won by not consuming the entire dessert.

The Precision Nutrition team has also come up with a great resource to help with this process of recognizing and dealing with situations where you might not have made the best choice.  This "Behaviour Awareness Worksheet" can help you and your coach figure out the patterns, triggers or other factors surrounding incidents of non-optimal decision-making.

Here's the worksheet:

Behaviour Awareness Worksheet

Hopefully you can use the RAIN process and what we discussed here to help when you feel like you're getting off track both on your fitness/lifestyle journey and in other areas of your life.

We hope that we've given you some valuable info to help you on your journey, or at the very least given you something to think about!  If you like what you see, please let us know and help spread the word by liking and/or following us on Facebook and sharing this with your friends.  Thanks!  ---Coach JP