Let’s talk through a possible scenario for a moment. It’s Friday night. You are so stinkin’ proud of yourself for making it through the week. You’ve had a busy and stressful week, but overall a productive one. Last Sunday you decided to start making some healthy changes in your life, you planned out your meals, prepped easy to grab healthy snacks, threw out all the junk food in the house, car, and office, and scheduled in time to workout a little bit each day. You have done amazingly well and just want to pat yourself on the back.
There were a few hiccups and bumps in the road. Those cookies your coworker brought in looked so mouthwatering-ly good and you forgot about your new healthy plan until you had already demolished your second one. And your husband came home late on Wednesday, so you missed your scheduled workout time for that day. But overall, you’ve had a really good week. You’ve stuck with your healthy plans, made some good strides toward achieving your goals, and your feeling confident that you just might be successful this time around.
Tonight is Friday though and you have a dinner party to attend with some of your most favorite friends. There will be massive amounts of food, adult beverages will be flowing, and someone mentioned bringing their world famous dessert that takes melt-in-your-mouth goodness to a whole new level. You are so excited for the party and the friends, but terrified of ruining all of your hard work and healthy choices this week.
You, my friend, need a plan. Last week we talked about developing willpower by distracting yourself and avoiding temptations all together. We remembered the importance of the old saying “out of sight, out of mind” to help us power through moments when our willpower is feeling weak. But sometimes avoiding temptations just isn’t possible. Sometimes you have to face your temptations head on and still hope you can muster up enough willpower to come out on top.
There will be parties to attend when you’re on a diet. You will have to go shopping for necessities when you’re trying to stick to a strict budget. You may need to look up something on the internet when you are trying to stay focused and off of social media.
In situations where temptations can’t be avoided, we must begin with a plan. Prepare ahead of time with specific strategies that you can implement to stick to your intentions. Scientists call this “implementation intention”. An implementation intention takes your goals to the next level.
You create a goal, whether it be for your physical health, your financial health, your productivity, it doesn’t matter. Your goal is simply a statement of what you intend to do. I intend to choose healthy foods, workout daily, and lose 50 pounds. I intend to stick to our written budget and avoid overspending. I intend to get X amount of work done each day. You can, of course, make these more specific, actionable, and include a deadline for them. But in the end, they are simply intentions, things that you hope to accomplish.
An implementation intention takes your goal and develops the when, where, and how details of actually achieving your goal. Your implementation intention is your plan. And not just a plan that says “I’m going to eat 5 servings of vegetables a day and workout at 6am every morning.” An implementation intention looks at obstacles and temptations that will inevitably come up and provides you with an opportunity to decide ahead of time what you will do in the moment to stick with your goal. Usually this is done through an “if/then” statement.
An implementation intention for your Friday night party says, “If someone offers me a glass of wine, then I will ask for a club soda instead.” Or maybe, “I will bring a bright and delicious fruit salad to the party, that way, if I see my friend’s mouth-watering dessert, then I will have a healthy option that I can enjoy instead.”
The key to developing a good implementation intention is to make sure that you include a stimulus for your decision that will help to trigger your brain to follow your already decided upon plan. “When I start brushing my teeth, I will pull out my dental floss to help me remember to floss when I’m done” can be a great implementation intention if you are trying to get into the habit of flossing your teeth more often. The habit that already happens everyday (brushing your teeth) acts as the stimulus to help your brain remember, “if I”m brushing my teeth, then I pull out the dental floss to use when I’m done.”
“If I find myself mindlessly scrolling through my Facebook feed when I should be working, I will immediately switch off my phone and put it in my purse or another room.”
“If I see a beautiful dress in the clearance section of the store, I will pull out my phone and look at the “vision board” style wallpaper I have saved on my home screen to remind me of the amazing vacation our family has planned (if we can stay on budget).”
“If my husband has to work late and I’m forced to miss my exercise class at the gym, I will grab the kids for a 30 minute dance party in the kitchen to make sure I still get a workout completed for the day.”
Stick to One Thing
I’m providing a lot of examples in a lot of different areas to help you think through some of the obstacles you might come across when working toward your own goals. One thing I would caution though is to keep your focus narrow. If your current goals include nutrition, exercise, finances, and productivity, you are stretching yourself and your willpower way too thin. I’ll talk more about this in future posts, but for now, make sure that you are not trying to change your entire life at one time. Pick the area that is currently the most important to you right now and set one main goal for that area. Once you tackle that area and develop some strong habits and routines, it will spill into the other areas of your life and you’ll be able to shift your focus a bit. But for now, just pick one thing.
With your one goal, develop a plan, consider your obstacles and temptations, and decide beforehand how you would like to respond in the situations you know will come up for you. While you are “in your right mind” and thinking clearly away from the temptation decide exactly what you want to do. Write that decision down, tuck it in your purse so you can review it when you need to, and then just follow the decision you have already made.
This will be a little difficult and challenging at first, but I promise it will get easier. When I set out to run a mile a day it was a huge struggle and I was constantly trying to “talk myself out of it”. But the decision had already been made. I was going to run at least one mile, every single day. There was no “drama” that I could have with myself. There were no questions of if I would get a chance to run today, I had already decided that I’d do it every day. The only question was when, sometimes that meant in the dark at 10 o’clock at night, sometimes that meant in a snow storm, sometimes that meant waking up early, sometimes that meant bringing my clothes with me to someone else’s house so I wouldn’t miss the chance. But the decision was already made, I would run, so I do. You can to.
Make a choice for how you want to implement your goals and follow your dreams and then just do it. If the decision has already been made ahead of time, there is no more drama. Decide, commit, and follow through.
What if/then statements can you come up with that will help you to reach your goals? Share with us in the comments.
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