How to Make a Willingness & Action Plan

“First say to yourself what you would be, and then do what you have to do.” – Epictetus

When we are setting goals and making plans for the future, for what kind of person we wish to be, and what values we wish to live by, psychological barriers can threaten to get in way of taking effective action.  Some of those barriers include fear of the unknown (even when it is likely positive), unrealistic or excessive goals, avoidance of discomfort, and straying from values.  For many people, there is a tendency to abandon positive changes and values-based goals when barriers emerge.  It is precisely these times when it is most important to recommit yourself to your goals through the creation of a willingness and action plan.

One of the most effective ways to handle psychological barriers to action is to anticipate them.  When you are prepared for barriers to arise, you have a plan already in place of how you will deal with those barriers. Recognize that we all break commitments at times – to ourselves and to others.  This is part of being an imperfect human being.  When you become paralyzed by the fear of failure, you are less likely to take action and are more likely to remain stuck in a rut.

It is more realistic to become prepared for failure and become more masterful at how to handle failure effectively when it does happen.  When you become “better at failing,” you are more mindful of times when you are veering off your chosen path and better prepared to learn from mistakes.  Consider the multitude of lessons to be learned through failure.  It is only a true failure when no lessons have been learned and nothing has changed.  If berating yourself for failures was effective, wouldn’t you be “better” by now?

2 Main Commitment Patterns

Pattern 1:  Make commitment… break commitment… give up.

Pattern 2:  Make commitment… break commitment… lick your wounds… pick yourself back up… learn from the experience… get back on track… make new commitment.

People who identify more with pattern one tend to feel perpetually “stuck” and unable to effectively learn from failures and adapt their future behavior accordingly.  Those with pattern two are on a path towards continual growth and learning.  Rather than expecting yourself to be “perfect” and succeed at every commitment that you make, instead consider that failures do happen.  How are you going to handle them when, not if, they occur?

Willingness & Action Plan

You can learn from failures and be more successful in maintaining commitment to your goals through making a deliberate willingness and action plan (Harris, 2009):

My goal is to:

Values underlying this goal:

Specific actions I will take to achieve this goal:

My thoughts, feelings, sensations, and urges that I’m willing to make room for to achieve this goal are:





It would be useful to tell myself that:

If needed, I can break this goal down into smaller steps.

Smallest, easiest step is:

Time and day I commit to taking this step is:

Choose to create a specific plan for what your personal goal is, what values are beneath it, and how you will handle the inevitable psychological barriers that will arise.  When you are mindfully aware of what your goals and values are, what actions you need to take to reach those goals, and how to deal with barriers to your goal, you are placing yourself in a position to successfully reach your value-based goals and dreams.

Expect setbacks to happen, but don’t invite them through careless actions.  Be prepared to handle failures and mistakes when they do occur.  Choose to have a specific plan in place for how to learn from those mistakes and get back on track towards reaching your most important goals.  No one can do this for you… you have to make the choice.

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If you are interested in downloaded, printing, and utilizing this willingness and action plan, it is available for free: The Willingness & Action Plan.

Harris, R. (2009). ACT made simple. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

Featured image: day155/”im singing in the sun…” by the half-blood prince / CC BY-ND 2.0

About Laura K. Schenck, Ph.D., LPC

I am a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) with a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from the University of Northern Colorado. Some of my academic interests include: Dialectical Behavior Therapy, mindfulness, stress reduction, work/life balance, mood disorders, identity development, supervision & training, and self-care.


  1. Aaron Baldwin on December 10, 2017 at 10:03 am

    Thank you for this valuable information!

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