What Does Getting “Off Track” Really Mean?

One small thing doesn’t go according to plan and suddenly we’re “off track.” But, this ideology over-simplifies our amazingly complex journeys. Through confining ourselves to this idea of a singular, internationally applicable “track,” we fail in recognizing the value in mishaps and the individual definitions of success we all possess.

Defining “Off Track”

Let’s first take a look at what “off track” means to us. Whether referring to a diet, job-search, or relationship, “off track” signifies deviation from however we define acceptability. While we may perceive these notions as individually formed, they undoubtedly garner massive influence from society at large.

Illustrations of the how, even the smallest aspects of our lives, should function surround us. We style our hair, eat our meals, and pick our footwear based on images we wish to cultivate. Images created and defined by others, for the most part.

There’s nothing wrong with this as everyone discovers who they are through the trial and error of mimicry. However we often take this to a level deeper than our outer exteriors. We use others’ lives as a bench mark of how we should live our own.

Think of what an “on track,” successful life looks like to you. How has that changed over time? Where did you get these ideas of success?

After generally pinpointing the root of why certain types of living take precedence over others, we can redefine our mindset regarding what “off track” really means.

Everything Serves a Purpose

Let’s say you ate a piece of cake even though you swore off sugar, took a sick day and missed an important meeting, or slipped up in an angry fit with your partner. All of these things could easily be deemed as getting “off track,” but in reality they only represent the meaning we give them.

It’s easier, in retrospect, identifying the how your struggles accelerated your growth. However, through becoming present within the tiny (or big) slip-ups in our daily lives and seeing their value, we can let go of this perfectionist, on/off track state of being.

Never are we “off track” because we solely define who, what, and where we are meant to be. This inadequacy-ridden mindset only haunts us when we give it permission to. We fall victim to this abstract idea of what constitutes “on track” through comparing our lives to others.

You eat cake because it’s delicious and in celebration of your best friend’s birthday. That sick day from work allowed you to recharge and work even harder for that promotion the next day. The mean comment you uttered to your parter during last night’s fight, now brought you closer together through expressing the insecurity at the root of your anger.

Those three scenarios we immediately assigned negative meanings to. Through even the slightest pause and reflection we can see the power we hold in defining our lives.

It’s also easy falling victim to the elusive “track” on our quests toward self-improvement. During this time, these deviations from linearity serve as the most important parts of our journey.


Self-Improvement Pit Stop

You’ve been working out every day, maintaining an unshakeable air of positivity, or have been calling your loved ones every week. Then one day you slip up and that day turns into a week and that week turns into a month. Suddenly, panic strikes. You’re off track again.

First and foremost, any facet of self-improvement is not linear. If changing our ways were as easy as doing it one time and then continuing forever, uninhibited, we’d all be perfect. It’s slipping up (maybe several times), forgiving yourself, and moving forward. 

You don’t “get back on track” where you were before, because that route didn’t take you to the destination you wanted to be at in the long haul. It didn’t create the lifestyle you desire in a sustainable manner. So, you make some adjustments and keep moving forward in whatever direction you’re now facing.

I often get down on myself when I find I haven’t been meeting personal standards in one component of my life. It’s easier to immediately think of ourselves as failures for messing up. It’s much harder digging deeper to find the reason why you messed up and how you can avoid that in the future.

Rather than giving yourself the black and white option of on or off track, learn to appreciate all you encounter. Define each success and struggle in the light of your long-term aspirations. Acknowledge your discomfort and know it means you’re doing something right.

Don’t take the easy way out of confining yourself to one definition of success or one route toward self-improvement. Pave your own unique path and cherish every turn.

Also published on Medium.