Actor Michael J. Fox said, “There’s always failure. And there’s always disappointment. And there’s always loss. But the secret is learning from the loss, and realizing that none of those holes are vacuums.”
Nowhere do we seem to get sucked into a vacuum of disappointment more than when we slip a bit on an exercise regimen or workout program. While Fox might argue that any disappointments or failures are the time to get up and dust yourself off, it is tough to pull yourself out of that “all or nothing” way of thinking that leads so many to throw in the towel.
Realistically, it doesn’t have to be that difficult. While a disappointment, whether small or large, can stop us in our tracks, it doesn’t have to permanently derail us from reaching a goal. It doesn’t have to, as Fox said, suck us into a place where we remain stuck or lost.
Allow me to use the story that a friend just shared with me to illustrate this point:
“Diane” (this is not her real name) was doing spring-cleaning and decided to take her summer clothing from storage. Holding up her favorite items, she thought it would be a good idea to try on a few things to be sure they fit properly. “After all,” she said to herself, “You didn’t exactly visit the gym every day this winter.”
As she heaved on the waistline of her cutest shorts, unable to get them over her hips, she felt a sinking feeling inside. Was it really that bad? Had she really packed on so many pounds? Several garments later, she realized that she had gained a substantial amount of weight and that she would have to shed some a lot of it if she was going to avoid a costly shopping trip to replace all of her usual wardrobe items.
She committed herself, that instant, to a rigid diet and exercise plan. She felt that she would jump start it by being super vigilant for the first two weeks, and then ease her way through the rest of the diet plan. “I’ll be able to drop at least five to seven pounds right away, and then take a month or so to get rid of the rest,” she reassured herself.
The thought that summer might be halfway through before she would be comfortable with her figure and her clothing was a bit of a bummer, but she wanted to diet the healthy way.
Two weeks went by, and she was extremely dedicated to the diet and exercise plan. She didn’t get on a scale or try on the clothes during that time, and only when 14 days had passed did she return to the closet and pull out the shorts. Struggling into them, she realized that she had barely shed any weight at all – maybe two to three pounds!
She was emotionally devastated, having worked so hard she was sure she would feel a huge difference. What was she going to do? One of the first thoughts was to throw in the towel and head to the kitchen to eat all of the things she had been craving.
It was that instant, as she later shared with me, that she understood that food as a coping mechanism is what led her to that moment in the first place. But, it was also that she had usually refused to face disappointment, opting instead to let it become a place where she just got stuck… a vacuum.
Learning from Disappointment
“I decided just to feel what I was feeling,” she said. “I wasn’t going to blame this or that, but just be honest about my disappointment and upset.” She credits that moment of acceptance as the reason she was able to then gain a more accurate perspective. “I had not lost a lot of weight,” she recalled, “but I had to remind myself that I was losing it.”
Confirming that she hadn’t actually failed, but had not had the precise results she wanted, eliminated the self-doubt that might have normally let her reach for the nearest pint of ice cream. “Usually,” she explained, “I would have thought something like ‘Well, it isn’t going to happen, so I might as well enjoy life.'”
Naturally, that was not a workable solution, but seeking out the proverbial “silver lining” (that weight loss was very slowly occurring) allowed her to grab tight to the positive, to the actual success. “This disappointment allowed me to re-examine my priorities and realize that I was acting like someone who had become miserable because they took home a second or third place… I mean,” she said laughing, “I was succeeding, right?”
Instead of allowing an initial disappointment or challenge to work like a vacuum and suck all of the positivity out of her success, she took a few moments to learn from it, adjust her perspective, and continue forward. This is the best way to supercharge workout motivation, but it is also the perfect attitude for any moments when disappointment or failures are holding you down.