How to Make Your Good Intentions Stick

Losing weight. Exercising regularly. Drinking less alcohol and caffeine. Developing better time management habits. Keeping up with chores. Whatever it is, I bet you’ve got plenty of good intentions right now.

But however great your intentions, you might not succeed. Feeling motivated to change isn’t usually enough to get you the whole way there – as you’ll probably know, if you’ve ever tried dieting or quitting smoking.

How can you make sure that those good intentions stick?

Make a Plan

It’s easy to get gung-ho about a new plan; in that first flush of motivation, you feel so determined that you can’t imagine failing. The problem is, motivation doesn’t last. You’ll pretty quickly hit a point when you feel apathetic: maybe you’re tired and don’t feel like working out, or you don’t have any healthy food in the house.

By planning ahead, you give yourself a much better chance of success. Plans mean getting realistic about your dreams. Instead of vague ideas like “I should lose weight”, you’ll end up with specific actions that get you from where you are to where you want to be.

A plan doesn’t need to be complicated, or rigidly inflexible. You might, for instance:

  • Plan ahead so that you have the ingredients on hand to create healthy meals
  • Put your exercise sessions into your diary, so you don’t keep thinking “I’ll exercise tomorrow…”
  • Break down complex goals, like changing career paths, into smaller steps

Help Yourself

You might think that the best way to succeed is to have really strong will-power – but that’s not generally true. Relying on self-discipline alone is likely to leave you frustrated and exhausted: if you spend all afternoon resisting those double chocolate cookies in the cupboard, you might not have the reserves of will-power left to head to the gym.

So, make life easy on yourself. Find ways to turn the healthy option (or whatever supports your goal) into the easiest action. That might mean keeping junk food out of the house – so that you’d have to go to the store if you wanted cookies. It might mean putting your exercise kit on as soon as you get up – so that you’re ready for your workout straight away.

Little changes and tweaks to your environment can make a massive difference when it comes to changing your habits – you can read some great advice on this, backed up with scientific evidence, in Chip and Dan Heath’s book Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard.

Don’t Aim Too High

Have you ever had some huge, big goal – something dramatic and life-changing? We’re often tempted to aim high when we’re imagining our futures. And that’s fine – it’s fun to daydream about being a millionaire or a supermodel or a sports star.

In reality, though, we often need to take our dreams down a notch. I’m not saying that you should settle for second-best – but you should look at what’s realistic. If you aim ridiculously high (say, you’re deep in debt  and you want to be a millionaire within two years) then  part of you is going to know that you’ll never manage it – so you may end up making no progress at all.

When setting your goals, aim for something which feels like a challenge, but which you’re pretty sure you can reach.

Get Accountable

It’s awfully easy to give up on a goal if you’ve not told anyone about it. That diet you couldn’t stick to … that exercise plan which fell by the wayside … if no-one knows you’re even trying, you can just quietly drop it.

Accountability is an incredibly powerful force. Like it or not, you do care what other people think about you. If you tell friends or family that “I’m going to lose 40 pounds” or “I’m going to exercise three times a week”, you’re probably going to stick with it.

Not got anyone you can confide in? You could talk about your goal on Twitter, or start a blog to keep you on track. It can be really encouraging to know that a bunch of anonymous strangers are watching your progress and cheering you on.

What are your goals or resolutions at the moment? How will you make sure that all your good intentions stick?

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Erin shows overscheduled, overwhelmed women how to do less so that they can achieve more. Traditional productivity books—written by men—barely touch the tangle of cultural pressures that women feel when facing down a to-do list. How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.

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