Failure is Feedback

Failure is Feedback
By Dr Mendoza

In the model for change theorised by Prochaska and DiClemente a key part of how we make a behaviour change is relapse. Whenever we try to make some change in our lives things will generally go quite well in the early stages and we will be very confident that this is going to work. However, as time moves on ‘real life’ tends to get in the way and we have a relapse.
If you look at the model for change when a relapse occurs, you can relapse right the way back to pre-contemplation. This basically means you just give up on the change as it seems too hard. When you ask people about how their diet or new exercise regime is going you will often hear things like “I didn’t have the will-power to stick at it or it just didn’t fit my lifestyle”. There is an element of truth within this, but it needn’t be the whole picture. Part of the problem is the failure to plan for the relapse and part of the problem is an unrealistic expectation brought about by the lack of understanding and/or education.


I’ll tackle lack of understanding first. When you read any diet book the first chapter will always tell you how easy the diet is and how the weight will just fall off. It will more than likely also claim that 100s of people have successfully followed this plan and kept the weight off. Finally, it will also likely claim that you will never feel hungry and your new life begins here. You read this, and you think this sounds perfect (you’d perhaps be better off thinking this sounds too good to be true – but that’s a different blog). Effectively you are now comparing yourself to an unrealistic model that falls a long way short of the truth. Let’s face it, if it was this easy everyone would follow it and we wouldn’t have an obesity epidemic. If we were going to be honest in this book the second chapter would actually say “most people can’t stick with this diet and ultimately put the weight back on”. Of course, that chapter is never written. We do similar in gyms; we have a wall with pictures of ‘loser of the week (lost the most weight) or trainer of the week (greatest attendance)’. We look at these and think “how is it they can do this and yet I always fail”? The truth of the matter is these members are an anomaly. Most members don’t lose very much weight and most members struggle to attend regularly; but we fail to think about that. The common theme here is that in both scenarios you are comparing your results to an unrealistic model. Realising that this is the case is undoubtedly part of the battle when it comes to long-term behaviour change.

The next part of the failure is caused by the lack of planning about what to do when a relapse occurs, and it will occur. I always talk to clients very early on in the process about how they are going to deal with a relapse. This is a deliberate ploy as in these early sessions they will generally be very confident about their ability to sustain the change. I talk through the experiences of previous clients and also get them to draw on their previous experiences with diets. I try to address as many avenues for getting around the failure as can be thought of. The key message here is always “Do not treat this as a catastrophe”; this is in fact a learning opportunity. If at the end of the day you can sit down and analyse what happened and then think to yourself “what can I do to avoid this next time it happens” then providing you can come up with an answer this has been an invaluable experience. If you cannot see anyway around it then this is where my experience as a coach can be brought into play helping you work through the relapse. The key message here though is that if you have a relapse it is a natural part of change. As the title of this article states “failure is feedback. No one who is successful ever got it right first time, they had failures along the way. The difference with the successful individuals is that they saw the failures as an opportunity to learn whereas most of the population would have stopped at that point as it all seemed too difficult. If you want to be successful in sustaining a lifestyle behaviour change you have to accept that relapses are part of the process. Plan for when they happen and when they’ve happened learn from them. If you do this ultimately you will achieve the lifestyle change you desire.

In the model for change theorised by Prochaska and DiClemente a key part of how we make a behaviour change is relapse. Whenever we try to make some change in our lives things will generally go quite well in the early stages and we will be very confident that this is going to work. However, as time moves on ‘real life’ tends to get in the way and we have a relapse.
If you look at the model for change when a relapse occurs, you can relapse right the way back to pre-contemplation. This basically means you just give up on the change as it seems too hard. When you ask people about how their diet or new exercise regime is going you will often hear things like “I didn’t have the will-power to stick at it or it just didn’t fit my lifestyle”. There is an element of truth within this, but it needn’t be the whole picture. Part of the problem is the failure to plan for the relapse and part of the problem is an unrealistic expectation brought about by the lack of understanding and/or education.

I’ll tackle lack of understanding first. When you read any diet book the first chapter will always tell you how easy the diet is and how the weight will just fall off. It will more than likely also claim that 100s of people have successfully followed this plan and kept the weight off. Finally, it will also likely claim that you will never feel hungry and your new life begins here. You read this, and you think this sounds perfect (you’d perhaps be better off thinking this sounds too good to be true – but that’s a different blog). Effectively you are now comparing yourself to an unrealistic model that falls a long way short of the truth. Let’s face it, if it was this easy everyone would follow it and we wouldn’t have an obesity epidemic. If we were going to be honest in this book the second chapter would actually say “most people can’t stick with this diet and ultimately put the weight back on”. Of course, that chapter is never written. We do similar in gyms; we have a wall with pictures of ‘loser of the week (lost the most weight) or trainer of the week (greatest attendance)’. We look at these and think “how is it they can do this and yet I always fail”? The truth of the matter is these members are an anomaly. Most members don’t lose very much weight and most members struggle to attend regularly; but we fail to think about that. The common theme here is that in both scenarios you are comparing your results to an unrealistic model. Realising that this is the case is undoubtedly part of the battle when it comes to long-term behaviour change.

The next part of the failure is caused by the lack of planning about what to do when a relapse occurs, and it will occur. I always talk to clients very early on in the process about how they are going to deal with a relapse. This is a deliberate ploy as in these early sessions they will generally be very confident about their ability to sustain the change. I talk through the experiences of previous clients and also get them to draw on their previous experiences with diets. I try to address as many avenues for getting around the failure as can be thought of. The key message here is always “Do not treat this as a catastrophe”; this is in fact a learning opportunity. If at the end of the day you can sit down and analyse what happened and then think to yourself “what can I do to avoid this next time it happens” then providing you can come up with an answer this has been an invaluable experience. If you cannot see anyway around it then this is where my experience as a coach can be brought into play helping you work through the relapse. The key message here though is that if you have a relapse it is a natural part of change. As the title of this article states “failure is feedback. No one who is successful ever got it right first time, they had failures along the way. The difference with the successful individuals is that they saw the failures as an opportunity to learn whereas most of the population would have stopped at that point as it all seemed too difficult. If you want to be successful in sustaining a lifestyle behaviour change you have to accept that relapses are part of the process. Plan for when they happen and when they’ve happened learn from them. If you do this ultimately you will achieve the lifestyle change you desire.