How To Stop Falling Off The Wagon

Wagons come in all shapes and sizes.

Some are sexy.

Some are rugged.

And some are in the shop for repairs.

But for some reason, over and over again, we all tend to fall off of them.


Let’s take a look.

Then I’d like to propose a novel solution so you’ll never fall of a wagon ever again.

The Anatomy Of A Wagon

The phrase falling off the wagon has come to stand for “I screwed up… again… despite my best intentions.”

It’s most often used in with regards to health and fitness. “Darn it, I fell off the wagon again and ate a box of donuts. My diet is ruined.”

But it can also be applied to any number of other areas of life that we are looking to conquer: finances, personal relationships, careers, sex life, addictions, personal hygiene, and productivity being just a few notable examples.

When we talk about “falling off the wagon” how often have we stopped to think, if ever, what wagon we’re actually trying to ride on?

Quite frankly, the act of writing this article is forcing me to actually think about that question – I’ve never really given it much thought before today.


Have you?

A wagon is a proverbial fast track to success. It’s that path of least resistance that we expect to ride on along the way to freedom from whatever it is we’re fleeing.

It is pulled by horses much stronger than ourselves. And it moves swiftly. But falling from it can be unforgiving, especially if we end up on the side of the road, dusty and bruised, in uncharted territory – somewhere we never could’ve reached outside of the wagon’s ability to transport us there.

Here’s how it all happens:

Stage 1: Deny Thyself

The first step toward falling off the wagon is over-devoting yourself to its success.

The wagon is moving steadily, covering ground every day. It is consistently driving forward… and that small amount of success becomes intoxicating.

So you devote yourself to making it go faster.

And this always involves denying yourself creature comforts that to this point have made your progress sustainable. You start chucking everything off of the wagon in an effort to make it lighter. Pretty soon it’s just you, the wagon, and the horses.


Stage 2: Second-Guessing 

You expected things to be moving faster than they are.

You shed all excess baggage – everything that could possibly slow down your progress. You make sacrifices to stay on the wagon.

But it’s still not moving quickly enough.

Did you do something wrong?

Did you throw off something that you might have needed?

Uh oh.

Now you’re in uncharted territory. You’re making so much progress, but it doesn’t feel like you thought it would. You’re actually kind of scared. Because you’re alone.

You start second-guessing decisions. Do you really want to go where you’re headed? Is the sacrifice really worth it?

Stage 3: The Binge

The wagon is still moving forward at a solid clip – but you fail to notice. You’re no longer celebrating. Your head is spinning.

You’re trying to figure out how to bail. This is all so much more than you thought it would be.

All of a sudden something catches your eye off to the side of the road. You long for it – a temporary escape. Just seeing it causes intense feelings of nostalgia – old emotions from the life you’re leaving behind – and you want it back.

In the heat of the moment you jump from the speeding wagon to retrieve it.
You hit the ground running and sprint to embrace it, only to find that the old comfort is no longer present – you just don’t feel the same.

And you’re unsatisfied.

Stage 4: The Freakout

You turn and look up the road, dust billowing as the wagon disappears into the distance.
“Oh my gosh, what have I done?!” you think.

You panic and start running after the wagon. You run and run and run, until you’re completely exhausted. You trip over your own shoelaces. Then you give up.

“I guess I’ll just wait for the next wagon,” you think, dripping wet with disappointment as the skies open up and guilt rains down.

How To Stop Falling Off The Wagon 

I have a simple proposition: don’t get on a wagon in the first place. Walk.

Yes, it will take a lot longer to get where you are going, but you’ll also learn and adapt along the way. You will grow stronger as you travel.

Traveling on the main roads with all the other wagons may seem like the fastest way to get around, but is faster really better?

Sometimes the scenic route is much more fulfilling. You can’t stop to smell roses while you race along on a wagon. And even if you decide to jump off the wagon to smell a patch of beautiful wildflowers along the side of the road, that decision will likely be steeped in guilt as you look up and watch the wagon vanish, leaving you behind.

The problem is not the wagon – it’s us. We are clumsy. We are not equipped to ride on wagons – we’re meant to walk. Putting yourself on a wagon takes everything out of your control. You trust your situation to an inanimate object, pulled by beasts.

It will only move as quickly as you drive it to – through force.

Eventually, if you drive it hard enough for long enough, the horses will get tired and try to buck you off.

They may take a path more rugged than your wagon is designed for and the wheel might break. Or a sudden jolt will leave you covered in dust and full of bruises on the side of the road with the wagon disappearing into the distance.

Emphasize the Journey

Not speed.

Take the time to truly learn as you head toward your goal. Develop sustainable habit patterns. And enjoy the process.

Life is not so much about reaching goals as it is about the process.

So stop desperately grasping for wagons long gone. Stop waiting around for another one to arrive.

And start walking.

Written on 3/6/2013 by Christopher Walker. Christopher Walker is the editor at, an inspirational fitness psychology blog. Connect with him on Twitter. Photo Credit: 

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