This is the time of the year when all of us are setting goals and resolutions for the months to come.

We start strong and committed but after a few weeks of the initial excitement and novelty begin to wear off, we aren’t as consistent anymore. We start to take a few days off. If we are not careful, those minor setbacks can snowball into completely quitting our goals.

Let’s make sure we stay on track. Here’s how to deal with setbacks and fool-proof your goals.

Prevention, Reaction, and Recovery.

Regardless of how much planning we do for our goals, things will go wrong. Life gets in the way, we break our practice routine, miss training days, take time off, etc. This is normal, and we shouldn’t beat ourselves up; we all fall off the path from time to time.

Instead, implement this 3-step strategy:

Prevention: Plan for it in advance to avoid problem situations as much as possible.

Reaction: Limit the damage if they do happen.

Recovery: Have a strategy to repair the damage and get back on track

In the book Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, Chip and Dan Heat give a great example of applying those three steps for avoiding car accidents and injuries. It will serve us as an analogy for our goals.

Most of the time we are relatively safe driving on the road, but accidents do happen, and people get injured. We want to bring those numbers to a minimum so we’ll plan for things going wrong at every step.

Our first line of defense is prevention–we want to avoid car accidents from happening in the first place. To achieve this, we light up the streets, make signs on the road clear and visible, we set speed limits, and we require people to take driving lessons before they are allowed on the road.

Despite all the preventive measures, accidents will still happen. So, we come up with reactive safety features to minimize the consequences. These include Airbags, seatbelts, safety glass windshields, etc.  They are there to lower the chances of getting killed or seriously injured.

Now we’ll take it one step further. Accidents happen, and sometimes the safety features on the road and in the car won’t be enough to avoid injuries. To deal with those situations, we create emergency response systems–ambulances, police, and hospitals. It’s also why we should have medical insurance.

This completes all three stages of dealing with problem situations: Prevention, Reaction, Recovery. We’ll use this model and apply it to our goals.

Here is an example for someone who wants to go for a run every weekday in the morning:

Prevention: Go to bed early the nights before, so you don’t feel tired and want to skip your run in the morning.

Reaction: If you went to bed late and felt tired the next morning make an effort to go for a run even if it’s for less time than usual.

Recovery: If you were too tired and you skipped your run, schedule extra time for the next day or an extra day over the weekend to make up for the practice you missed.

Here’s an example for someone wanting to eat healthier:

Prevention: Avoid going to a fast food restaurant even if your friends are going.

Reaction: If you end up at a fast food restaurant for any reason start with a salad, so you don’t overeat junk.

Recovery: If you couldn’t help yourself and ate a lot of junk food add an extra gym day to your week or don’t do a cheat day that week.

One of the benefits of planning for setbacks is that we avoid the “What the hell” effect. This is when you have a minor setback, like eating a chocolate bar on a day you were not supposed to, and therefore turn it into an entire week of unhealthy eating because “What the hell,” you already broke your diet.

Reaction and Recovery let you get back on track as fast as possible.

Keep in mind that your contingency could also be “not to be so strict and just enjoy that you ended up at a fast food place from time to time.” That’s fine.

Your plan can be whatever you want it to be as long as it aligns with the way you want to live your life. If you want to be relaxed about your rules, then make it so. But know it beforehand, so you don’t feel guilty at the moment or afterward.

Your goals will be different from the examples I gave you, but the principles of Prevention, Reaction, and Recovery remain the same. Now that you understand those principles come up with contingencies that are relevant to you and your goals. Planning for setbacks with this model is one of the best things you can do to make sure you reach any goal you have.

I wish you your best year yet.

Nick Velasquez

Nick Velasquez is a passionate learner and devoted student of Mastery. He writes about principles, strategies, and tactics to learn and master skills. He’s been featured in several outlets, and currently writes for his blog