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What do you do when you make a mistake? or What's with the extra 'r' in February?

February has always struck me as an unwanted month, like the box of stuff at the back of the closet that you only keep so that you have a place to put stuff you don’t know what to do with.  (Am I the only one who has that?).  We throw in an extra day sometimes.  And an extra “r”.   It’s like the doldrums of winter for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere.  Stuck between the excitement of the beginning of the year and the coming end of winter, February seems dreary. It’s an easy month to let your mistakes overwhelm you, forget your goals, and give in to entropy. 


For these reasons, February may also be the make-or-break month for New Year’s resolutions.  A swimmer just told me that he couldn’t wait for mid-February when all the people who make resolutions to exercise gave up so that he wouldn’t have to worry about sharing a lane!


For me, the most important thing to remember when I am adding a new habit is that no matter how hard I try, I am going to make mistakes.  Sometimes things won’t go my way.  Life happens.  I will forget to set my alarm to wake up early for my work out.  The car won’t start.  Someone will call me right when I am trying to get out the door.  And sometimes, I just won’t feel up to it. 


One of our members is a champion swimmer, recently decorated with five medals and one world record.  (Since she doesn’t want a lot of attention about it, I won’t say who it is.)  I asked how she trains, how long and how hard she swims.  She said, “It depends on how I am feeling.”  That’s a healthy attitude for someone who goes out and wins races.  She appreciates how she feels when she swims and that drives her success, rather than the pursuit of a material goal, such as a medal or world record. 


I had a neighbor who woke up at 5am to run with a friend.  When I expressed my admiration, she said her friend calls and motivates her every morning by asking, “Do you feel better or worse after you exercise?”  The answer was easy for her. 


When you miss a day… that’s life.  Time to reset, remember why you started the habit, and re commit to it. Forgive yourself.  The proverbial “get back on the horse”.  And you do that as many times as you fall off.  “Success consists of getting up just one more time than you fall,” wrote Oliver Goldsmith.  (I like the sentiment, but don’t quite agree with the math!)


You may notice that I tucked “forgive yourself” into that last paragraph.  That may be the most important part.  Sure, take time to think about what happened -- “How could I have avoided it?”, “What will I do next time?”, etc., -- but don’t let beating yourself up take the place of reaching for your goals.  It’s easy to say, “I screwed up again.  I will never be able to do it.  I should just give up now.”  Then the part of you that doesn’t want to change doesn’t have to! 


If you can say, “I made a mistake.  I wish I hadn’t, but I did. I am still a good person.  I can still do this.  I am going to start now.”  And then set your alarm, make sure the car has gas, and silence your phone as you are walking out the door. 


Good luck with February!  Enjoy the extra day (and the extra “r”).


PS.  Funny thing about mistakes…. When I looked up that Goldsmith quote on the Internet, it’s attributed to William Wordsworth AND Oliver Goldman.  What I take from that:  Nobody is perfect!  Do your best. 


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