Pathways to Wellness

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Planning to fail

Usually when we try to make a change, we imagine ourselves being successful.  For example, if we are trying to become more active, we see ourselves walking briskly up a hill or running along a trail.  If we are trying to stop smoking, we see ourselves as being more confident, less haggard, more fit and so on.  Thinking and imagining ourselves being successful is a good thing, but as surprising as it sounds, imagining ourselves failing can also help us to be more successful.  How does this work?

Whenever we try to make a significant change, we will encounter willpower struggles – the internal debate that goes something like, “should I have a piece of fruit or a chocolate bar?”  “Should I go for a walk, or just skip it?” or “Should I give in to the urge to smoke, or stay with the program?”  Although these struggles are inevitable and part of the change process, we are often unprepared and blind-sided by them.  Too often the end result is that we lose sight of the change we are trying to make, and give in to the momentary urge, craving, or desire.

The best way to mount a defense is actually to prepare for failure in advance.  Take time every day to write about the biggest obstacle that will prevent you from doing what you need to do to make the change.  Ask yourself?

  • What will stand in my way of making the change?
  • What will I be thinking or feeling when I am tempted to give in?
  • Where will I be, and who will I be with?
  • And, most importantly, what will I do about it?

Suppose you are trying to be more active by going for a 30 minute walk during lunch time 3 days a week.   Think about what will prevent you from doing this, and then problem solve what you will do when you encounter this obstacle.  For example: 



What I will do about it

I think, “It’s too cold out.”


I will keep an extra set of warm clothes in my office so I can layer up, and I’ll tell myself unless it’s -25 or colder, a 30 minute walk is do-able.

I think, “I don’t feel like it.  What difference does it make if I skip a day?”

I will tell myself, activity is energizing, and as soon as I get walking, it will be fine.  Every day I stick with my goal makes my will power stronger. 

My co-worker invites me to join her for lunch.

I will ask her if she wants to join me for a walk instead.  And I’ll see if she is available for lunch on one of the days I’m not scheduled to walk.

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