By Leo Babauta

While it would be nice if our new habits always went according to plan, the reality is never so perfect.

The reality is that things get disrupted. Circumstances change. We aren’t as disciplined as we like. Our plans aren’t perfect.

Now the question is: how do we deal with that reality?

We can be rigid and expect perfection, and then fall apart when things go wrong. That’s how most of us handle disruptions, by feeling bad about it and getting frustrated and discouraged, and then quitting.

Or … we can be flexible.

Guess which works better?

The Importance of a Flexible Mindset

If you have a rigid mindset and hope that your plan will work perfectly, you will fail when things inevitably don’t go according to plan. Remember: our plans are just fantasies that we create, not based on reality. The reality is unknown, and will always be unknown until we actually encounter it.

But if we can expect disruptions, expect changes, expect plans to be imperfect … we can roll with the changes. We can mindfully watch the reality as it happens, and see that things are different than we expected. We can learn from the reality, and adjust based on that new learning.

This is the flexible mindset: expect disruptions and changes, mindfully learn from reality as it happens, and adjust. Continually.

If you can adopt this approach, you can’t fail. You’ll adjust to reality, so that no matter what reality comes up, you’ll be able to handle it.

You’ll learn from changes, rather than be frustrated by them. You’ll learn from your mistakes, rather than be discouraged.

You’ll never fail a habit change, because missing the habit is just another opportunity to be flexible and to adjust.

That’s what we want to develop this week: the flexible mindset, and the skill of constant re-adjustment.

If You Fall Off

While it might seem like I’ve been perfect with my habit so far (haven’t missed a day), the reality is that most habit changes, I miss more than one day. Sometimes, I miss a week. And that used to bum me out, but now I realize that this is how habit changes work. They will get disrupted, I will forget, I will procrastinate sometimes.

So expect this to happen sometimes, and don’t be terribly disappointed when it does.

The key is how you handle it. Here’s what I recommend:

  1. Notice when you fall off. Be mindful of your habit change each day, even when you miss.
  2. Be positive about it: you expected to miss a day, and that’s a great chance to practice the flexible mindset!
  3. See what happened: was it an unexpected disruption, or procrastination? Figure out the cause.
  4. Plan for what to do when that happens next time. Remember, this plan isn’t perfect either, but with this trial-and-error approach, you’ll eventually learn how to handle this kind of obstacle.
  5. Really focus on getting back on track. Give yourself extra incentives, put extra reminders, get extra accountability. Get back on track as soon as possible, so the disruption isn’t that big a deal.

This approach is flexible (doesn’t depend on perfection), and it allows you to make adjustments and get back on track. You’ll fail at this method too — that’s part of the learning process. No learning worth your time is going to be easy, and you’ll never be perfect at a new skill right away. See every failure as practice.

New Rule: Don’t Miss 2 Straight Days

Try to implement a new rule: from now on, do everything you can not to miss two straight days.

Now, I realize this seems like a very rigid rule (compared to the flexible mindset), but I recommend trying to adopt it and being serious about it. Why? Well, it’s flexible enough that you can miss a day now and then when things come up, but it gives you an incentive to get back on track as quickly as possible.

Add this rule to your habit plan. Now come up with a consequence for missing two straight days (no coffee for three days, or no TV, or no Facebook, or whatever you’d miss a lot). Tell your accountability group/partner about this rule and consequence.

This gives you a rigid line that is flexible enough to allow for disruptions, but rigid enough to make sure you’re back on track.

Action Steps

Today, I’d like you to take a couple of action steps:

  1. Adopt the new rule above.
  2. Think about how you’ve handled disruptions or missed days so far. Did you have a rigid mindset or a flexible one? How can you adjust based on this article?