How to respond when you don’t follow through on a habit: three simple steps

How should we respond if we intend to do something daily, and we miss a day?

Consistently executing on healthy habits is a crucial part of an effective lifestyle strategy. But with any habit, we’ll probably miss a day now and then.

We might skip a workout to have drinks with coworkers, or we might give in to the temptation to eat junk food rather than cooking a healthy meal.

How we respond when this happens goes a long way in determining whether the healthy habit will stick.

That’s why I’ll share three simple steps you can take when you don’t follow through on a given day. These steps will help the habit stick, while making sure you are kind to yourself.

Three steps to take after you didn’t follow through on a habit

The first step is to admit to yourself that you didn’t follow through today.

While this sounds easy, it often isn’t. It’s natural for us to look for reasons why we didn’t succeed today.

We might tell ourselves, Well, given the circumstances, it makes sense that I didn’t follow through on my intention.

But when we do this, we try to shift the responsibility to someone or something else.

Instead, take responsibility for the problem. Think, Whatever the circumstances were, it’s my responsibility to make sure I do follow through tomorrow.

Taking ownership of the problem this way will put you in a constructive frame of mind.

The second step is to be kind toward yourself.

Even though it is our responsibility to make time for the things we want to do, that doesn’t mean we are at fault for not following through.

It’s not constructive to focus on the reason that caused us not to follow through, or on whose “fault” it is. If we focus on that, we might only feel worse, creating resistance to the habit.

Instead, be kind to yourself. Say, Regardless of what happened today, I’ll focus on how to succeed tomorrow.

Then, take that final step: set yourself up to succeed tomorrow.

In other words: help Future You out.

If you didn’t follow through on a habit today because you couldn’t find the time for it, schedule time for it on your calendar for tomorrow.

If you had the time, but you just couldn’t make yourself do it, ask someone to remind you to do it at a specific time tomorrow. If you were too tired, go to sleep earlier.

Setting yourself up to succeed tomorrow is really just another way to be kind to yourself.

You’re not alone

I’m sharing these steps with you because I struggle with following through on my habits all the time.

In fact, this topic came to my mind last Friday morning, when I sat down to write. Unfortunately, I hadn’t decided in advance what to write about.

That’s a big writing no-no and, predictably, it led to a total disaster. I couldn’t pick a topic I felt like writing about, so I started browsing the Internet, messaging people, doing the dishes…

Like I said, a total disaster.

So how did I deal with it? I followed the three steps.

First, I admitted to myself that my writing session was a failure. Then, I told myself it was okay—that this happens sometimes.

And then I immediately took action to help Future Peter out. Right then, I set a topic for the next day’s writing. I also made a note for later to decide not just on the next day’s, but also the next week’s writing topics in advance. And then I moved on with my day.

The next morning, I knew what to write about, and the writing session went well.

These steps worked for me and I think they’ll work for you.

So next time when you don’t follow through on something you intended to do, try using these three steps. They will let you be a little kinder towards yourself, and set you up for long-term success.

2 thoughts on “How to respond when you don’t follow through on a habit: three simple steps”

  1. Peter, your article reminds me of my year many moons ago in the novitiate. Everyday at noon we met in chapel for an “examination of conscience”. A time to personally review what we did and didn’t do the previous day in light of the opportunities that would present themselves the coming day. I think the three steps you write about are highly recommended.


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