I used to consider myself an active person, but having children really put the brakes on my physical activity levels. In fact, it took me a few years to get back into a regular physical activity routine. Falling off the healthy eating or physical activity wagon can happen to everyone from time to time. The key is to acknowledge why you fell off the wagon, put a plan in place to prevent a slip up next time, and get right back on. To get myself back on track, I had to really think about what was making me miss my workouts and come up with a plan to overcome these obstacles.

Two techniques that help us change behaviours and beat barriers are Problem Solving and Action Planning. These are the next steps of SMART goal setting, which has been discussed in a previous blogpost. SMART goal setting helps us outline specifically what we want to achieve, but problem solving and action planning can help us achieve our goals despite obstacles or barriers.

Problem Solving

This means analyzing factors that overcome barriers/obstacles or increase success. For example:

  • “What is preventing you from walking regularly?”
  • “What helped you meet your goal of walking 5 evenings this week?”
  • “What prevented you in eating 5 servings of fruits and vegetables today?”
  • “What helped you in meeting your goal of eating 5 servings of fruit and vegetables today?”

Action Planning

Once you have the answers from analyzing these factors, it’s time for Action Planning. Come up with a detailed plan of how you will perform your desired goal, including at least one of context, frequency, duration, and/or intensity.

Here are a few scenarios and examples:

Obstacle: I feel tired after work and I am not motivated to do my walk.

Action plan: “I will change into my walking clothes before leaving work and drive straight to the park where I’ll walk for at least 10 minutes and go longer if I feel up to it.”

The best part? You will most likely keep going as physical activity gives you more energy.

Obstacle: I didn’t have time to do my physical activity today.

Action plan: “I will take 10 minutes out of my lunch break today for a quick walk around the block. I will then spend 10 minutes doing super-charged house cleaning after dinner.”

The best part? You’ll get your heart rate up and clean the house at the same time!

Obstacle: I didn’t feel like eating vegetables today.

Action plan: “I will prepare veggie sticks on the weekend, to take in my lunch each day for a healthy snack.”

The best part? Pack some hummus for dip to improve taste. If your veggies are there and easy to eat, you’ll be more likely to eat them.

Obstacle: There were so many treats at the office today, I was too full to eat my veggie sticks I packed for lunch.

Action plan: “I will limit myself to 1 treat and eat my veggie sticks first, before I have any treats.”

The best part? Allowing yourself the odd treat is a more realistic and enjoyable way to live, and you can still meet your fruit and vegetable serving goal.


Click the links if you’re looking for more ideas to help with physical activity or inexpensive healthy eating. The Heart & Stroke Foundation also has an information packed resource on healthy eating and physical activity, which includes sections on goal setting, problem solving, and action planning. These 3 techniques work best when you write them down, so why not share some of your goals or plans on the blog. Let’s help motivate our Carrot community!

Leila Dale

Author Leila Dale

Leila Dale, PhD, is an expert in physical activity behaviour change and mobile health. She continues to conduct research through the School of Kinesiology at UBC and is a consultant for the World Health Organization. Aside from work, she is a mom of two and loves to run around with them outdoors.

More posts by Leila Dale

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