When intentions don’t match results: why well-being plans fail

FirstlineFirstline March/April 2021
Volume 18
Issue 2

Find out why your plan to improve personal well-being isn’t working, and learn how to tailor your strategy for success.

Dragana Gordic/stock.adobe.com

Dragana Gordic/stock.adobe.com

It had been 28 days since I had pondered wearing jeans—scrubs are so comfortable and don’t judge my waistline. After finally getting into my jeans, I was out of breath and feeling extremely uncomfortable. Then it hit me: I wasn’t myself. I was beyond stressed not just from weight gain, but also from my high workload, late hours, and exhaustion.

I always thought I was good at managing stress, but my poor quality of life told a different story. So what did I do about it? Like many veterinary professionals, I attended a well-being lecture. Afterward, I was inspired and ready to tackle the world—or so I thought.

That Monday morning, I strolled into the clinic, prepared to take my life back. I was going to stay focused and positive and leave on time. But 4 hours into my shift, after several frustrated clients and emergencies, I felt like all the strategies I learned during the lecture went right out the door. My old habits began to take over, and I wondered why my new well-being plan didn’t work.

If this scenario sounds familiar, it’s time to adjust your approach to well-being. Here are my top 3 reasons why well-being plans fail, plus some strategies to help you succeed.

1. You may have unrealistic expectations

It’s easy to visualize the end result of a well-being plan, but the choices, sacrifices, and willpower it takes to follow through don’t get nearly enough attention. At the beginning of my well-being journey, I was told I would have to make changes. My first impression was that it wouldn’t be too hard or take too long, but boy I was mistaken.

I quickly realized that I was in a toxic friendship and needed to reevaluate my inner circle. After feeling inspired by the well-being lecture, I was finally ready to let this friend go. I tried weaning myself off the relationship by telling myself why it didn’t work. Then I asked myself what it would mean if I let her go. If she wasn’t around, I reasoned, I would be bored and lonely. Once I confronted these underlying assumptions, I was able to release my grip. I trusted that I could connect to more positive individuals in the future. This process took more than 6 months, but with practice, the time frame for making change happen will get shorter.

Write it down

To help identify—and overcome)—subconscious assumptions about your well-being plan, ask yourself these questions and write down your responses:

  • What expectations do I have about this well-being plan?
  • What will I need to give up or add to my life to make this plan work for me?
  • What areas of my life will I have to reevaluate to improve my well-being?

Talking about or writing down your assumptions can help put your journey into perspective. We might think we make perfect sense, but when we share your thoughts with someone else or write them down, we might notice that some of our well-being goals are unreasonable.

2. You want a quick fix

Well-being workshops can help inspire change. They provide lots of useful information but no real-world practice. I can tell someone how to place a central line catheter and give tips for troubleshooting problems, but until someone tries it for themselves they won’t know how to overcome obstacles.

When coaching veterinary professionals, a majority of my time is spent troubleshooting. For example, one of my clients wanted more balance in her life. Although she loved her job and colleagues, she also valued her personal time and often felt guilty about leaving work on time. We found a way for her to uphold her boundaries and her work values. It took weeks to develop a successful strategy. In the end, the solution included a combination of letting go of what others thought about her, improving her time management skills, and communicating with her teammates. The bottom line? Well-being is not black and white—every situation comes with unique challenges.

“Semper Gumby” is an unofficial US Marine Corps motto that means always flexible. Practice being strong and flexible during this well-being journey. You will try, fail, grow, and repeat. It's all part of the process.

3. You are looking for comfort

When a dog has a fever but no other obvious signs of illness, we know there’s more going on than what meets the eye. Feeling uncomfortable is similar because it can help us to identify some trouble areas in our life.

For example, boundaries are especially hard for me. I still feel stressed when someone repeatedly pushes my boundaries. I once had a boss, Sally, who asked me to confront another coworker, Becky, about an opinion she expressed about me. I felt it would be death by communication if I started a conversation that sounded something like, “I was told that you thought I was mad at you 2 weeks ago.” The thought of having this conversation made me cringe.

I was aware that Becky and I did not get along, but I had a plan to help rebuild our relationship. When Sally pushed me for the third time, I was ready to blow. Instead of caving on my boundary, I sat with the problem and processed the situation. This helped me realize that I never told Sally what I planned to do about Becky.

I reassured Sally that I had already started a process of trying to improve my communication with Becky. Without taking the time to sit in my frustration, I might not have upheld my boundary and could have been resentful later.

The next time you feel like your only choices are to uphold your well-being or cave in, remember there is a third option. Sit with the discomfort and ask yourself: What am I supposed to learn?

The bottom line

Most people are doing their best to be happy. It is hard to play the long game when you can make decisions in the moment that will give you relief.

Expectations can sneak up on you in the form of feelings such as discomfort, disappointment, or self-criticism. If your well-being is low, the journey back to happiness will have moments of triumph alongside struggles.

Viewing your path to better well-being as a journey with twists and turns will help set realistic expectations and allow you to roll with the punches. Let’s face it. Improving your well-being is hard, but it can help you live a healthier and happier life—one that you’re genuinely excited about.

Kristina Guldbrand worked as a certified veterinary technician for 12 years before becoming an account manager for Veterinary System Services, where she discovered her love of leadership and well-being. She has received training through the International Coaching Federation and provides workshops, leadership, and well-being coaching, as well as teambuilding for practices.

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