Walking Backwards

Person walking in a dry field - only their lower legs and hiking boots are visible. They've just passed a little clump of purple wild flowers.
  • September 24, 2021

I walked backwards today. Not literally, because I’m not confident I could gracefully do that for long. As I headed out the door for my morning walk, I decided to take my usual three-mile route backwards. It’s amazing how different the world looks going the other way. I noticed houses that I’ve never seen, appreciated landscaping from a different perspective, and went down the hills I usually climb up. Amazing.

Habits serve us well. By living on autopilot, we don’t have to exert much mental energy to make things happen. Brushing our teeth. Driving the same roads to our destination. Preparing the same handful of recipes. For repetitive areas not serving us well, applying the walking backwards concept can stimulate our awareness and foster a healthier mindset.

Visualize the Desired Outcome Like It’s Already Happened

For changes we need to make, how do we walk backwards with fresh eyes? If we start with the outcome we want, the first step back is having a clearly defined “why.” This is the underlying reason for change and provides the foundational strength to stay focused. By mentally picturing our “future-self,” it helps us perform the desired behaviors. Done consistently, these new behaviors can evoke an increased energy, peace of mind, and greater comfort in our own skin.

The next step back is making sure we know what to do. If we’re making the effort to change a behavior, we want to have the necessary information and clearly understand the behaviors that we’re working toward. For example, if my goal is to increase my upper body strength, I need to know the right exercises, the proper amount of weight to use, and the frequency to achieve my desired result.

Knowledge Alone Doesn't Change Behavior

But unfortunately, knowledge alone doesn’t change behavior. How many times have you said or overhead people say, “I know what to do, I just don’t do it?” By approaching this comment from a different perspective, we can embrace the fact that we have the required knowledge. We know where to focus our efforts. Now we simply need to decide how to change.

Replacing Magical Thinking with Nudges

Waving a magic wand and making our goals instantly come true sounds lovely – but sadly this doesn’t work.  Making small, measurable steps helps set us up for success. If we establish specific, measurable, action-oriented weekly goals, this helps us learn what works and what needs tweaking. Small, consecutive successes increase our confidence and belief in our abilities to change. The concept of a ‘nudge’ captures the spirit of making small changes in our physical or social environments that makes a behavior more likely.1 Blocking our calendar for walking time, replacing soft drinks in the fridge with fruit-infused ice water, and spending 10 minutes a day outside to breathe deeply are examples of healthy ‘nudges’ in the direction of healthier behaviors.

Try and Learn Opportunities

Having clearly defined goals that we can monitor provides a tracking system to help measure progress toward our weekly goals. Self-guided change by using behavioral strategies such as countering – replacing (versus eliminating) a behavior with a more desirable one can be helpful. Mobile apps and record keeping diaries have also proven to be effective in facilitating health-related behaviors for a significant number of people.


Lastly, we need to practice self-compassion because it’s natural and common to have setbacks. If we approach these stumbling blocks with a ‘try and learn’ mentality, we gain insights that may help us approach our goal a different way than first imagined – just like walking backwards.

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