By: Ben S. Fogel
“This year will be different” is what we told ourselves back in January 2020.
“I will stick with my resolution through the entire year!”
“I will workout more.”
“I will eat healthier.”
Do these statements sound familiar? They may, and that is ok. I am here to tell you that sticking with a New Year’s resolution (or even a new month’s resolution, or a new weeks goal) doesn’t need to be so hard. What if I told you if you just implemented 2 simple steps, you would be more ahead for this new year than you have in any year in the past! Would you keep reading?! Well, I am here to tell you that it is that easy – but you HAVE to follow through with these 2 steps first. Deal? Ok, here we go!
Let’s start with a quick study to highlight step #1:
Back in 2001, researchers from Great Britain worked with 248 people to build better exercise habits over the course of 2 weeks. The subjects were divided into 3 groups:
- The first group was the control group. They were asked to simply track how often they exercised
- The second group was the “motivation” group. They were asked not only to track their workouts but also to read some material on the benefits of exercise. The researchers also took the time to explain to them the benefits of how exercise could reduce the risk of Coronary Heart Disease and improve heart health.
- The third group received the same presentation as the second group, which ensured they had equal levels of motivation. However, they were also told to formulate a plan for when and where they would exercise over the following week. More specifically, each member of the third group completed the following sentence: “I will partake in at least 20 minutes of vigorous exercise on [DAY] at [TIME] in [PLACE].”
Here were the results:
In the first and second groups, 35-38% of people exercised at least once per week. (surprisingly, the motivational presentations given to the second group seemed to have no meaningful impact on their behavior.). But 91% of the third group exercised at least once per week – more than DOUBLE the normal rate.
It was the sentence with the statement that they filled out that made the difference.
This statement is what the researchers called an “implementation intention.” This is defined as a plan you make beforehand about when and where you will act. More specifically, it is how you intend to implement a specific habit.
Why does this work?
Well, there are many cues that can trigger a particular habit – like your phone buzzing in your pocket, your alarm going off in the morning – but the two most common cues that will help you implement a habit and help make it stick are time and location.
There have actually been hundreds of studies of how the implementation intention works and how effective it is to help people stick with new habits and goals, whether it is writing down the exact time you will work out or recording the time you will go to your dentist appointment.
The evidence is clear – people who make a specific plan for when and where they will perform a new habit are more likely to follow through. Many people make the wrong choice when they work on, say a new years resolution. We end up telling ourselves “I will eat healthier” or “I will start to workout more” but this just leaves the habit up to chance, and when our motivation is high enough, then we will follow through.
There IS a better way.
You think you lack motivation, but what you truly lack is clarity. It is not always obvious on when and where you should take action. That is where the implementation intention comes into play.
Follow your pre-determined plan by filling out this implementation intention statement for whatever habit/resolution/goal you would like to accomplish:
I will [BEHAVIOR] at [TIME] in [LOCATION]
It is that simple. The harder part – actually DOING IT!
Here are some examples:
Exercise – I will exercise at 6 am at my local gym.
Eating healthy – I will eat one serving of vegetables at lunchtime at my office.
Meditation – I will meditate for 2 minutes at 6am in my kitchen.
BONUS!! The best time to start a new habit like this is usually the first day of a new week, month or year. Congratulations, 2021 is right around the corner and you can start with ONE implementation intention statement to start your new year off right.
The big goal here is to make the time and location of your new habit so obvious that with enough repetition, you get an urge to do the right thing at the right time! As writer Jason Zweig said, “Obviously you’re never going to just workout without conscious thought. But like a dog salivating at a bell, maybe you start to get antsy around the time of day you normally work out.”
There are so many ways to use implementation intentions in your life, and just starting with one area of your life and one statement can be a great start! In the second part of this 2-part series we will talk about on of my favorite approaches to using the implementation intentions – HABIT STACKING!! Stay tuned…
Ready to learn more about how we use the implementation intention at Epic Fitness, and how to make this a part of your weekly habit? You can apply NOW for a few spaces we have left for our New Year New You Challenge starting on Monday, January 25th! Check it out below: