In his book Atomic Habits writer James Clear describes a study where researchers wanted to help 248 adults build better exercise habits. They pided the subjects into 3 groups. The first group was asked to track how often they exercised. The second group, the “motivation group,” was asked to track exercise and also to read material about the benefits of exercise. The third group tracked and read motivational material, but also was asked to formulate a plan. Specifically they were asked to complete the following sentence: During the next week I will partake in at least 20 minutes of vigorous exercise on [DAY] at [TIME] in [PLACE].
Compared to the first two groups, where 35-38% of the subjects exercised at least once per week, in the group that completed the plan, 91% of people exercised at least once per week, more than twice rate of the other 2 groups.
The sentence the subjects completed is known as an implementation intention, a plan you make beforehand about when and where and how you will act. The format for creating an implementation intention is:
- When situation X arises, I will perform response Y
Multiple studies have shown that implementation intentions are useful to help you stick to your goals. They do so, in part, by increasing the visibility of a cue for your behavior, that is a trigger that initiates a response (you may recall the term cue from the Habit Loop popularized by author Charles Duhigg). In particular, implementation intentions leverage 2 of the most common cues – time and location.
The punch line is that people who write down their plan for change are more likely to succeed than people who don’t. I encourage you to take some time to write down your plan for changes you want to make:
- Monday, Wednesday and Friday I will exercise for one hour after work at 5 pm at the gym
- After dinner each weeknight I will leave the kitchen at 7 pm and go read in the living room
- On Sunday at 1 pm I will go to the grocery store to buy food for lunches during the week
- Between 1 and 2 pm, when my child is fussy before her nap, I will be patient and loving to help her wind down and go to sleep.
You get the idea. Try picking one change you desire to make and try this out. Spend a few moments thinking about when and where you feel you can best succeed, and then write it down.
What change are you trying to make this week? Take a moment and write down your plan to implement this change. I will [BEHAVIOR] at [TIME] in [LOCATION].
Dr. Topher Fox
P.S. If you’d like more training about using intention setting as part of a morning routine, click here