Embracing Backslides, Relapses and Bitch Slaps on the Quest for Happiness

Doh!If necessity is the Mother of Invention, then I consider the quest for more happiness to be the Catalyst of Good Intentions. Think about all of the times a desire to feel better or alleviate a source of pain has prompted you to eat cleaner, start exercising more, tackle that mound of credit card debt or begin looking for a job you truly love.  Even with strong momentum and support though, the best intentions can be derailed. That’s why I wanted to share how embracing backslides, relapses and proverbial bitch slaps can ultimately help achieve your goals and claim a happier life.

1)      Understand that change can be hard. Even if you are the “little engine that could” surging forward against the odds, sometimes you may take a step backward before regaining your momentum.  Being aware of that fact can help keep deal with relapses.

“Change isn’t a one-off decision, it’s a commitment to a long-term process, warts and all,” says Psychologist Jenna Mayhew, cofounder and therapist of Write As Rain: Written Word Therapy www.write-as-rain.co.uk, an online therapy service for women that celebrates the benefits of writing. “It takes a lot of attempts and ongoing commitment to maintaining the change. However if you aren’t psychologically prepared for periods of relapse, any ‘mistakes’ can be experienced as failures, leading to decreased motivation and confidence, and in some cases, giving up.”

2)      Be prepared. More than just the lyrics from a popular Lion King song or the motto of the Boy Scouts, trying to be prepared for backslides or bitch slaps can help you minimize their damage.  Mayhew advises that relapses should be embraced by planning ahead for them. Her tips include:

  • Take note of times when you think you may be vulnerable to relapsing. Proactively build in strategies that outline how you will stay consistent and committed during these times.
  • If you do backslide, plan how you will deal with this. For example, after you inhale a dozen chocolate truffles at a dinner party after diligently eating clean for the past week, take a journal and write about it. Indentify what happened, the context, influencing factors and how you can prevent this from happening again.

“Willpower is like a muscle that needs to be strengthened over time,” she adds. “Expect backslides, plan, reflect, keep trying, and you’ll eventually master your change.” 

3)      Learn from the experience. Rather than being a linear path, life is often like a game of Candy Land (which I used to play frequently with my niece when she was five years old). The draw of a card can jump you forward towards Candy Castle or set you back into the midst of Lollipop Woods eating the dust of your opponent.  What matters is how you learn from challenges or backslides. Last year, a five year client of my PR/Branding consulting practice decided to take their communications in-house. At first, I was surprised and a little hurt. But stepping back, I realized that their decision made absolute sense, stopped taking it personally and began thinking more about the kind of business I actually wanted to focus on. That’s when I started honing in on clients that made the world happier, healthier or more livable, which was more strongly aligned with my personal interests. Soon enough, new business replaced the departed company that resonated stronger with my passions and now I carefully screen prospective clients to ensure a better fit.


Have you ever experienced backslides, relapses or even bitch-slaps from life? How did you handle the situation, and what did you learn from the experience?


  1. Oh man, not taking things personally is definitely something you learn from experience. Carefully screening clients takes guts but prevents a LOT of misery. I love the “be prepared” part of this too; in fact, one of my clients learned this as you know from my blog last week. And yeah.. since we’re throwing around the “b” word, change is a “bitch” ;). Thanks as always for your insights!
    Suzanne @WorkoutNirvana recently posted…Friday Roundup: A Client’s Journey to Muscle DefinitionMy Profile

  2. Always two steps forward and one step back. You hit it! And I’m going to use your Candy Land analogy with my clients.
    Pamela Hernandez recently posted…If It Fits Your MacrosMy Profile

  3. Great advice. Embracing backslides helps us learn. Learning allows us to move forward in life in a better position from where we were in the first place.
    Toni @ Runninglovingliving recently posted…Arriving in Bethlehem–>>Runners World BBQ at their HeadquartersMy Profile

  4. This is actually the topic of the week with my patients at work (I wonder what message the universe is trying to give me right now). As I point out to them although relapse is high in making changes in behaviors it doesn’t mean it has to happen and it doesn’t mean you give up. The old version of relapse prevention planning focused on making a list of activities or people to call (think sponsors) when the going gets tough. Then the focus began to change to say I need to look at what is going on in my life to cause me to trip up again and again? What do I need to change about my lifestyle to support me in my efforts so I don’t automatically reach for ______. Then I have to put it into practice and that is the key. I could go on and on, but absolutely if I make a mistake learning to let go of the negative self talk that can happen with that is important to make real long term change. Love this topic and this post!
    Jenn Speer recently posted…What doesn’t kill us makes us strongerMy Profile

  5. Have you ever experienced backslides, relapses or even bitch-slaps from life? How did you handle the situation, and what did you learn from the experience?

    YES!!! Way too many times & going thru it again at almost 56 – always tough.. always learning – not always fun for sure…
    Jody – Fit at 55 recently posted…I’m A Dancer; Time Off Felt Good!My Profile

  6. AT this year’s FitSocial, we learned to say “willingness” instead of “willpower,” and I like that, as most people view willpower as a battle against some sort of force. I believe thinking, “I chose to eat this” or “not do my walk” makes the person more in control than “I have no willpower” or “I lost my willpower.” From a counseling perspective, I think when people recognize that there’s no such thing as a straight path, and that it can be forward, then back, then forward, it’s more empowering and leads to more success. The illusion that our culture has put out there of going directly from 0 to 10 is so distressing. And generally not possible. Thanks for sharing these words of wisdom.
    AlexandraFunFit recently posted…Living Now Giveaway: Allergy-Friendly Grains & FloursMy Profile

  7. The idea of planning for relapses seems like really good advice. I have been trying to cut back my sugar intake for… I don’t know, maybe a couple of years now? And it seems like for every step forward it’s two steps back in the form of some kind of relapse (aka chowing down on a bag of chocolate chips). I need to plan ahead for other options and when it does happen, figure out why — stressed, tired, bored?
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