More or less, many of us are motivated to change, although the level of motivation and commitment will vary. Yet, overall, with the start of the New Year, many – once again – want to exercise more, drop a nasty habit, stop smoking, drink less, save more, be friendlier, more patient or less impulsive.

(You prefer watching videos, then don’t miss my „Let’s talk: behavior change – raw & honest“ series on YouTube.)

Failure versus sustainable behavior change:

Whatever the Goal – Only Few of Us Manage to Turn Motivation Into a Successful, Long-term Behavior Change.

Some say, reaching your goal is just like happiness – a piece of cake.

Clearly, they have no idea what they are talking about, nor about happiness, contentment, the difference and sustainability of it all.

Yet, in this article I will offer a few fool-proof solutions that work for me.

First, let me ask you:

  • Are you still on track with your New Year’s resolution?
  • Have you, for the past weeks and months been able to turn your motivation (to change) into your desired behavior OR have you given up because it’s too difficult?
  • Have setbacks thrown you of course?
  • How did you handle your setbacks? Have you thrown in the towel or did you find your way back on the road to success?


Failure versus sustainable behavior change:

Many of us desire to change. Yet, only few of us manage. 

  • Some reach their goal and are able to maintain their desired behavior. They have lots of battle stories to tell. Reaching your goal isn’t easy.
  • Many reach their goal but are unable to maintain their desired behavior. They get comfortable and fall back into old habits. Maintenance is an unexpected, real challenge!
  • Most never reach their goal. Their desired behavior doesn’t fit with their (current) lifestyle, their personality and/or their habits. Their motivation might back fire and lead them to drink or smoke more, eat more, stress more. Unaware, they might lack the ability, skill or know-how to change.


Which group do you generally belong to?

Why do you think some people reach (and maintain!) their goal (behavior) while others fail?

Do you think some people have it easier than others?

–> Well, keep in mind, life is never what it seems! While you might be able to easily manage their struggles, they might be able to deal with your challenges. At the end of the day, they still need to fight their battles and you need to fight yours. We know life isn’t fair but everyone fights their own demons. We just don’t acknowledge or see their fight!


If you belong to the second group (achieve goal but unable to maintain) or third group (unable to achieve your goal) listen up:

Your inability to achieve sustainable behavior change isn’t because it’s too hard or you are too weak. It’s because of your approach.

Failure versus sustainable behavior change:

Your Approach Does Not Support Your Desired Outcome!

You can look at your

failure as fatal


as having found 10,000 ways that don’t work

Failure versus sustainable behavior change:

Preparation is Key:

If you want to change your behavior take some time and think WHAT this desired behavior requires and HOW this desired behavior change will influence your (daily) lifestyle:

  • What do you need (to do) to reach your goal?
  • Just planning to work out, eat healthy, smoke less, walk more WILL NOT materialize itself. You have to put time, thought and effort into your plan.
  • Your plan should be realistic, and always include a back-up plan

For example, you want to exercise 3 mornings each week.

Yet, one morning

  • you are too tired
  • the weather is crappy
  • you overslept
  • there was an early work meeting

–> you get the gist. HOW will you assure you manage your desired 3 day per week workouts? Life will always throw us a curve ball.

Failure versus sustainable behavior change: Potential Solutions:

  • Bring your workout gear to the office and either work out during lunch break or right after work
  • Work out at night instead
  • Unless it’s pouring or super slippery (black ice or snow) there is no such thing as bad weather – get weather appropriate gear
  • Walk everywhere instead of using the tram and include an extra workout on the weekends
  • Don’t beat yourself up if you managed only 2 workouts; 2 is better than none!
  • But, you MUST start!


Failure versus sustainable behavior change: A Change is Required:

You (most likely) can’t change keeping all else equal!

change quote habitsJust imagine:

  • you love baked goodies and every time you pass a bakery or smell the scent of fresh baked goodies you start to grave it and give in to your cravings

–> do you really believe passing the bakery will support you in your desire to stop (or reduce) eating sweets and other baked goods? NO.

Failure versus sustainable behavior change: Solution:

Change your path, change which stores you pass, either walk another block (hence, more steps) or switch sidewalks.


  • you desire to give up smoking but many of your friends smoke and you like to hang out in bars

How easy will it be for you to quit if your friends offer you a cigarette or smoke around you, if you go out for drinks or food and they smoke around you?

Failure versus sustainable behavior change: Solution:

Share with them your desire to quit (if they are true friends they’ll support you).

Don’t go on smoking breaks with them, instead hang out with your non-smoking friends or if at work, engage in some strengthening & stretching exercises.

At night, try to hang out at non-smoking venues and find new hobbies or bars where drinking is not the sole center of activity.

Dancing classes can be a lot of fun and often, particularly Latin dance classes, aren’t about smoking nor drinking.

Be kind to yourself if you had a set back. A new day is a start to continue your mission.


  • you want to lose weight but your husband or children love unhealthy food & you fear a domestic strive

Communicate with them WHY it is important to you, what your goals are and how they can support you. That your healthy eating doesn’t necessarily forces them to eat healthy too but that you’d appreciate (and need) their support.

Failure versus sustainable behavior change: Solution:

Yes, at first it’s more work for you but in the long-term they too will benefit (and might change), and keep in mind healthy does NOT equal boring or bland.

On Sundays, prep your food and have them help you cook healthy dishes, perhaps even for dinner.

If your family needs to have cookies and chips at the house, stash them in cupboards you will stay away from. Out of sight out of mind.

Don’t have unhealthy food laying around in plain sight. Store it in the back of the fridge so it isn’t the first thing you see when opening the fridge.

If you can’t smell it when they eat it, leave the room, listen to music or distract yourself otherwise. It does get easier with time; believe me! Recite with me:

„what is it I rather want? the cookie or reaching & sustaining my goals?“

What Do I Rather Want?

If you prep healthy meals, it’ll be easier for you to eat balanced throughout the week.

At night, make yourself healthier meals but portion sizes big enough to share (or use as left overs) and let them help you in making them. Be venturous and try new things, including vegetables, spices, and recipes. (Give this a try.)

Failure versus sustainable behavior change:

Don’t make eating healthy an issue – it should be the NORMAL way to eat. No nagging, no scolding, no defending.


View Set-Backs as an Opportunity to Learn:

  • things are really crazy at work?
  • your family is struggling with a sick family member – every free minute is spent at the hospital?
  • your hormones create insatiable cravings?
  • you injured yourself working out?
  • you are surrounded by smokers making it nearly impossible to quit?
  • you feel unhappy, grouchy and sad and bark at anyone throwing you a smile?

Do you think these are circumstances that only happen to you? Of course not!

Whatever happened that caused you to slip up is a blessing.

A blessing for you to learn more about yourself, your weaknesses, your comfort zone, your go-to pattern.

Take the time to analyze it, understand the triggers and how you respond and then change – change your surrounding, change availability, change your response.

Is it easy? NO – but who wants easy? Chris Plourde once said,

get comfortable being uncomfortable„. Start to love the challenge and view it as the thing that makes you stronger and better!

For example, you injured yourself working out:

Hence, you

  • are unable to work out
  • need to forgo participating in the sporting event you have been training for
  • are furious and irritated that weight loss will stall
  • fear weight gain
  • feel helpless, mad and frustrated
  • sooth your feeling by eating your favorite box of cookies, habitual almost every night while watching TV

Failure versus sustainable behavior change: Potential Solutions:

  • Depending on injury, do you need to forgo all kinds of exercise, including stretching or yoga? How about swimming?
  • If only one leg is injured, can you still get around by, for example engaging in upper body exercises and single leg exercises? (of course NOT with heavy weights but some exercise and muscle activation might be better than none – physically and mentally!)
  • Instead of weight loss shift your focus to weight maintenance
  • Skip feeling sorry for yourself and try to understand why you injured yourself: are there lessons to be learned so you don’t injure yourself next time? For example: hydration, stretching, being focused and concentrated, balanced nutrition, sufficient recovery….
  • Prep your work out plan for post injury. Don’t start at the level where you left off, gradually ease back into it but get excited to be able to restart
  • Use your „forced“ rest period to focus on other hobbies or goals


Don’t Be too Critical If Success Takes a While

You didn’t develop your undesirable behavior within a week or month. It didn’t take a month to gain 10 kg, to get out of shape or to become a shopping addict. Undesired behavior was reforced over and over again – partially due to the pleasure you experienced.

Hence, it will take time and energy and lots of reinforcement for your new behavior to become ingrained and automated, and at times for you to like the desired behavior.

  • Stop being so critical.
  • Stop expecting a change now.
  • Stop beating yourself up (or would you really say the things you tell yourself to your best friend? Most likely not, you’d be kind – so what’s wrong with you being kind to yourself?)

Failure versus sustainable behavior change: Potential Solution:

Focus on:

  • small successes
  • what you DID achieve, not on what you didn’t achieve
  • other aspects that benefit from your new behavior
  • how you feel and how you have changed
  • the road you have traveled and what you have learned
  • the road you have travel, your ups and downs so you can look back and view your progress with pride and sense of accomplishment

Failure versus sustainable behavior change:

Once You Have Reached Your Desired Goal – It’s Not Over: You Enter a New Stage, a New Phase, a New Challenge

You have reached your goal? Congratulation – celebrate and be proud of yourself but don’t get too comfortable. Comfort is the enemy of achievement.

Depending on your desired behavior, your challenge will vary. Maintaining weight loss, maintaining a balanced, active, healthy lifestyle will for many be a challenge. Staying off of your vice or choice of drug will be a challenge – a life-long challenge but not an unwinnable challenge.

  • Keep your guard up.
  • Identify your cravings and causes of your cravings.
  • Identify if and why your desired behavior starts slipping.
  • Be aware of your behavior & actions, and compensatory mechanisms.

Most of all be kind to yourself and understand WHY you wanted to change in the first place and why you want to continue with your desired behavior. Why it matters to you. How this new behavior influences you, your health, your mood, and your daily life.


Failure versus sustainable behavior change:

We all suffer set-backs. But they are just that:

Set-backs: A period with an expiration date. At the end, we determine which direction we’ll take our life: backward or forward?  

I choose forward. I most certainly will encounter many detours – but let’s be honest, a straight road is boring! The many adventures we experiences on a detour shape us, our character and make us richer!

Thank you for reading! Please don’t forget to like, share and comment.

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