A Little Backslide…
Why? When I appear to be all about encouraging you to move forward and open yourself up to shifts in thinking and action, why am I offering you a chapter on backsliding? It’s a valid query and one that deserves a bit of discussion.
I have found very few universal truisms in life, but I am willing to commit to at least one. When changing ways of behaving or thinking, backsliding happens. I would go so far as to affirm that it is almost a necessary part of a change process. Without taking advantage of the opportunity to stall while making changes, we miss out on the benefits of taking stock of our progress and reassessing our goals. While in a period of backsliding, we can mindfully enjoy the gifts of humility, authenticity, imperfection, and self-compassion. Backsliding also allows us space to evaluate the process in which we have engaged, revise our actions and direction, and recommit to our goal. As I look back on what I have written, it almost sounds as though I am wildly in favor of a good backslide every now and again, doesn’t it? If I am being honest, I would say that I am totally in favor of it–as long as it is a slide and not a complete stop that includes the white flag of surrender.
Backsliding is an activity in which I unwillingly participate on a seasonal basis. I live on a hill along a dirt road in Northern New England. It is accurate to say that the road is, understandably, not at the top of the list for the town road department to plow and sand after a winter storm. Sometimes, when the road is more than a little slippery with new fallen snow or a bit of ice, as I attempt to go up my hill, I find myself unintentionally find that I am sliding backwards instead. This detour is neither planned nor desired. I usually just hang on, attempt to steer calmly so that I do not go totally off the road, and hope for a gentle stop. When the car finally comes to rest partway down the hill, I give myself a bit of time to reconnoiter the situation. Life, like that hill, may result in journeys that are not terribly linear. There are times when I find myself carefully backing the rest of the way down to the foot of the hill so that I can get enough momentum to start again. I have been known to hop out of the car only to find my rear tire soundly stuck in a ditch. Luckily for me, I have good-hearted neighbors with tow chains to help me get back on the road. There have even been episodes that resulted in just taking some needed time to enjoy not moving at all. I get out of the car, look at the stars, and take a breath. Plateaus can be restful and restorative. Often, we find ourselves so driven (I did that on purpose) that we miss the well-deserved opportunities to simply enjoy what we have already accomplished. My end goal of getting up the hill and into my yard remains, but now it is just a smattering more convoluted. Yes, indeed, that is what backsliding is like.
What about the backsliding that happens when working toward a goal or a transformation in thinking or behavior? From where I sit, the process isn’t that different from what I have experienced on the slippery hill in front of my house.
After doing a bit of research and collecting some information, it may feel right to establish a desired change with an end goal in mind. I am, personally, a big proponent of information gathering so that is usually my first step in an endeavor. Again, if I am being honest, there are many times that, what my father would have referred to as “wool gathering” takes over and I start to backslide. Wool gathering involves meandering along and collecting bits of extraneous information along the intended path; rather like picking the bits of wool from the brambles in a meadow where sheep are grazing.
Armed with information, I usually march off determinedly in a very linear fashion. The decision to undertake a change has been made, the necessary data has been collected, and it is time to crack on. Roadblocks, impediments, and loss of momentum aren’t on my list of considerations. And, then, real life factors into the equation with all of its twisting, hilly glory. My goal grows further away as I seemingly stop moving forward and begin to slide backwards.
This past year, I experienced this process in sparkling splendor. I made a decision to put time and energy into doing some work on gaining physical strength. In my research phase, I learned a great deal about aging metabolism, aerobic vs. resistance training, and an interesting variety of suggestions for accomplishing my end goal. I concluded that I very much needed to purchase resistance bands for doing some home exercises. Right now, you probably hear sheep bleating because that decision took me far away into the wool gathering activity of learning about multiple types of bands and exercise programs for them. Finally, I found a set that seemed perfectly ideal for helping me move on to my end goal. They arrived at the post office and I retrieved them with all the excitement of a puppy with a new squeaky toy. I tried out the exercise program right away. It was not even close to as much fun as the video had assured me that it would be! After a couple of days, I discovered that the resistance bands in their handy dandy storage bags had been relegated to the door handle of a room that I rarely entered. Since then, I have found said instruments of exercise torture helpful in a differently organized program with much more realistic objectives.
Sometimes, the process of backsliding helps us to re-frame our process and goals into much more manageable steps.
– What project have you been struggling to accomplish? – Has backsliding re-routed you?
– What is the original goal that you wanted to achieve?
– How would it make you feel to successfully reach your goal? How does it affect you if you do not complete the project? Be completely honest with yourself.
– Perhaps, giving yourself space to re-evaluate the original plan/goal has offered you a path leading to a different perspective. If that is the case, jot down a few sentences that describe this change and how it might influence your actions moving forward.