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One of the most common times to change health behavior is at the beginning of the New Year- a phenomenon known as the “fresh start effect” (1). However, merely setting a goal is often insufficient for actual behavior change, as evidenced by the common phenomenon of unfulfilled New Year’s Resolutions, known as the “intention-behavior gap” (2). Bridging this gap requires acting on intentions, a challenging process that recent research on goal setting has addressed. 

In our previous posts, we introduced you to goal setting and provided you with more specifics on how to set effective goals. In this post, we are discussing the basics of action planning, strategies to implement action planning, and coping planning. 

Basics of action planning

Goals represent desired outcomes, and goal setting involves identifying specific objectives and devising strategies for their achievement (2). If we want to change something about our health behavior, we need to establish clear and actionable health-related action plans due to the many ways in which health can be improved. 

Action plans are like short-term roadmaps that show where, when, and how you’ll work on achieving your goal. They’re best when you create them yourself, as they need to reflect your desires and values. If a SMART goal is a big, long-term goal, an action plan is the small, short-term steps to reach that goal. It’s important to feel confident (self-efficacy) about carrying out your action plan, and if your confidence is low, it’s a good idea to choose a more doable plan. Action plans are short and regularly checked, showing if your plan is working or needs adjustments.

The action plan, much like the goals, must be formulated in a specific way. While it might seem like mere phrasing, there is scientific support for these principles.

1. The action plan needs to answer the following questions: When? Where? How? How often? (2),(3)

When you are composing an action plan by yourself, you need to make it as specific as possible. It is good to include as many details as possible. If your goal, for example, is to “Lose 5 kg over the next 3 months” supported by the mastery goals of “learning to cook nutritious meals and trying a new physical activity” then the action plan needs to answer questions such as:

  • How will I learn to cook nutritious meals? – Books, online, classes, friends, cooking shows, or a combination of the above?
  • When will I cook and how much time can I dedicate to it? – after work, on the weekend?
  • How often will I cook? – every meal, once a day, every few days or, on the weekend?

Furthermore, other considerations are needed:

  • When, Where, How, how often will I go to the grocery store?
  • What is my budget for groceries? 

One can go further and further in detail to really outline every detail that goes into the plan.

Similarly, the same questions need to be answered regarding physical activity. In terms of physical activities, the possibilities are endless, so the plan needs to be detailed enough to guide where, how, when, and how often the activities will be done. 

The action plan needs to answer the following questions: When? Where? How? How often?

The difference between creating and following your own action plan, and following an action plan with NEM:

As mentioned in our previous article, when it comes to setting goals, our primary focus at NEM lies in optimizing health through a proactive, personalized, and data-driven approach. Once we analyze our clients’ data in detail, we don’t simply present the lab results. Instead, we engage with our clients by providing medical treatment and educating them on the implications. This knowledge becomes a powerful driver for change that fosters intrinsic motivation. We then collaboratively set goals and agree upon the action plan aligning with clinical needs and client wishes. When we set up the action plan, we will follow the recommendations outlined in the article. It is essential to be clear on the action plan, timeframe, and how it needs to be accomplished. We are there for our clients every step of the way to provide support and guidance.

NEM action plan contains an overview of the clients’ health, vision and goals of the client, and the accomplished milestones. We then do into nitty-gritty details on interventions such as nutrition, exercise, sleep, stress and routines, supplements and drugs. We discuss each intervention considering the clients’ preferences. That is extremely important, especially when it comes to things such as nutrition and exercise. Once we go over the action plan, we agree on a follow up appointment. That motivates clients and they feel accountability to deliver.   

2. Consider the duration and the difficulty of the action plan 

If the SMART goal is considered a “long-term goal”, then an action plan is how to get there and typically consists of several short-term steps. If the action plan consists of long-term steps, it may be overwhelming, and discouraging or it may lead to procrastination. Additionally, the level of difficulty needs to be considered. One strategy for effective action planning includes discussion and rating the level of difficulty of actions, as well as discussing action plans with peers and family (3).

The plan needs to be of short duration, appropriate difficulty and, to allow for re-evaluation (2)

3. You need to be confident that you will be able to carry out the action plan

Having confidence in completing the action plans was linked to their accomplishment (4). Research shows that the completion of health action plans relates to enhancements in activity limitation, aerobic exercise, and self-efficacy. Frequently, individuals are requested to assess their confidence in executing their action plan on a 10-point scale. If their confidence rating falls below 7, it suggests the need to opt for a more attainable action plan (2).

Rate confidence in carrying out the plan- if not confident- re-valuate

4. The action plan needs to include coping planning

Coping planning is closely connected to action planning (2). It involves anticipating potential obstacles and challenges that could disrupt action plans and creating strategies to overcome these challenges. While action plans focus on initiating desired actions, coping plans are intended to protect action plans from distractions and setbacks.

There are different aspects to why a goal is not achieved and an action plan is followed. Some of them include a lack of commitment and motivation, fear of failure and self-doubt, external pressures, procrastination, and time management issues. These aspects can be considered and addressed in the coping plan. For example, suppose someone has an action plan to walk around the neighborhood for 10 minutes after dinner every evening, bad weather could easily disrupt this plan (2). However, if they have a coping plan in place (such as using a treadmill, following an exercise video, or doing a 10-minute routine with resistance bands or weights) prepared ahead of time for bad weather, they are less likely to deviate from their main goal of increasing physical activity (2).

Importantly, studies have shown that incorporating both action and coping plans for health behavior change provides more significant benefits compared to relying solely on action plans (5).

The action plan needs to include coping planning

In conclusion, action planning is a critical aspect of achieving health-related goals. These short-term roadmaps, when created thoughtfully, offer a structured approach to realizing objectives. A well-formulated action plan, similar, to SMART goals, requires specific answers to questions about when, where, how, and how often. Considering the duration and difficulty of the plan is vital to prevent overwhelm and procrastination. Confidence in carrying out the action plan is a key determinant of success. Additionally, incorporating coping planning, which addresses potential obstacles, enhances the effectiveness of action plans. In this way, the regular assessment and adjustment of action plans contribute to successful behavior change, promoting overall well-being.

How NEM360 clients engage with health goals and action planning:

Upon onboarding, clients undergo a standardized process involving a comprehensive health questionnaire, blood testing for various biomarkers, DNA analysis, and a biological age assessment. Our licensed physicians meticulously analyze the data, identifying areas for improvement. Subsequently, in the initial consultation, we discuss results with clients, considering their needs and desires. Goals are tailored based on findings, shaping a detailed action plan. Even for clients who are fit and feel “fine,” there is a need to maintain and optimize health. We establish follow-up intervals collaboratively with our clients, where we collect biomarker data and monitor progress.

Our approach works because of:

1.Data-driven precision: We observe biomarker responses to interventions, providing tangible evidence of progress.

2. Empowered clients: Witnessing positive shifts in biomarkers and experiencing improved well-being empowers clients, providing a sense of control and motivation.

3. Accountability: Setting goals and creating action plans fosters a sense of accountability, motivating clients to meet objectives. They feel responsible for their well-being and genuinely want to do well. Their partnerships with our physicians add to their commitment and create a rewarding health experience.

4. Ongoing support: We stand by our clients at every stage by providing them with continuous guidance and ensuring they never navigate their journey alone. Despite the abundance of online tips for weight loss, exercise, stress reduction, or better sleep, many clients share their previous challenges in adhering to various methods. Upon joining NEM, our clients gain invaluable support from our licensed physicians, ensuring they have readily available access to medical assistance and trustworthy clinical resources.



Silviya Demerzhan, Ph.D.

Chief Scientific Officer, Nordic Executive Medicine
Medical review by: Dr. Mahir Vazda MD

  1. Dai H, Milkman KL, Riis J. The fresh start effect: Temporal landmarks motivate aspirational behavior. Manag Sci. 2014;60(10):2563–82. 
  2. Bailey RR. Goal Setting and Action Planning for Health Behavior Change. Am J Lifestyle Med. 2017 Sep 13;13(6):615–8. 
  3.  Lenzen SA, Daniëls R, van Bokhoven MA, van der Weijden T, Beurskens A. Disentangling self-management goal setting and action planning: A scoping review. PLoS ONE. 2017 Nov 27;12(11):e0188822. 
  4.  Lorig K, Laurent DD, Plant K, Krishnan E, Ritter PL. The components of action planning and their associations with behavior and health outcomes. Chronic Illn. 2014 Mar 1;10(1):50–9. 
  5. Kwasnicka D, Presseau J, White M, Sniehotta FF. Does planning how to cope with anticipated barriers facilitate health-related behaviour change? A systematic review. Health Psychol Rev. 2013 Sep 1;7(2):129–45.