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The Ultimate Trick for Starting a Healthy Habit Without Willpower

The Ultimate Trick for Starting a Healthy Habit Without Willpower

As you probably know, we all have a limited supply of willpower available to us – unfortunately, there seems to be an unlimited number of decisions to make each day. What should I eat for lunch? Should I go to bed now, or binge watch the rest of Supernatural? Should I work on my project or scroll through Facebook? And on and on…

How can we stop this avalanche of decisions from crushing us and conserve our existing willpower at the same time? Easy- pre-make some choices using implementation intentions.

What are implementation intentions?

Implementation intentions are simple instructions you write for yourself on what to do in a given situation. They are backed by tons of studies, including a few that show that their use leads to a more than 2X success rate!

They are usually written in an “If/Then” (or “When ____ happens/I will ____”) format, as in “If I want to sit down and watch TV when I get home in the evening, then I will wait 10 minutes before I do”. Then, you just read your intention at a strategic time (in the previous example, right before you leave work to go home would be a good time).

While you can use implementation intentions for specific, one-time events (“if I make a toast at the wedding, then I’ll make no mention of that wild trip to Vegas the groom and I went on”), they work extremely well for establishing healthy habits.

You can also strengthen an implementation intention by creating a second, interrelated one (see the alarm clock example below).

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Waiting for 10 minutes between impulse (I want to watch TV) and gratification (Yay! I’m watching TV!) is a great way to increase the size of your willpower reservoir.

Implementation intentions are similar to affirmations, but only superficially. For example, affirmations are usually visionary in nature providing direction. However, they also usually have no concrete plan in place for making it happen. Implementation intentions are more tactical and should be very specific and clear with what you should do when a situation arises. Personally, I use both: affirmations for the goal and direction, and implementation intentions for the specific methods and strategies.

Converting your goals into implementation intentions

The method for turning a regular goal into a much more effective implementation intention is very simple. Just figure out some concrete way you can work towards or achieve your goal and when and where you can do it. Here’s an example:

Goal: Exercise at least twice a week.

So, let’s say you have a gym membership and know you will have time in the evening on Mondays and Wednesdays to work out. In that case, you could structure your implementation intention like this: “If it is Monday or Wednesday at 8 p.m., then I will go to the gym and exercise for at least 20 minutes”.

Implementation Intentions in Action

Here’re a few examples of how you can use implementation intentions to achieve or work towards several common goals. Each includes the if/then statement to write and when to read the statement each day. Feel free to use these yourself, just modify it as necessary to fit your unique situation.

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Eating less

If/Then statement: “When I want to eat something, I will first put it on a plate and take a picture of it”.

When to read: First thing in the morning or before your first meal or snack.

This establishes the habit of taking note of everything you eat. Even if you never share your pics with anyone or look at them yourself, this practice has been shown to decrease the amount you consume and improve the quality of what you do eat. Present state awareness is a powerful thing.

Get up the first time your alarm clock sounds

If/Then statement: “If my alarm clock goes off in the morning, then I immediately get out of bed!” plus the related “If I want to hit the snooze button, then I will get out of bed immediately anyway!”

When to read: In the late evening or right before you go to sleep at night.

I use these on a daily basis myself. Since I started, I have yet to fail at getting up on time!

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Meditation

If/Then statement: “When I wake up each morning, I will sit still and meditate for at least five minutes”.

When to read: In the late evening or right before you go to sleep at night.

Meditation is one of those things that everyone knows is good for them, but few people stick to it over the long term. A lot of people might find it difficult to meditate even with implementation intentions. In that case, I would suggest looking into binaural beats, a type of sound that is proven (by numerous studies) to modify your brainwaves in a way that supports meditation.

Exercise

If/Then statement: “When I arrive at work in the morning, I will take the stairs instead of the elevator.”

When to read: In the morning before work.

Of course, this one only applies if you work in an office building (and not on the first floor). If you work too high up to feasibly take the stairs all the way up, get off several floors below yours and hoof it the rest of the way.

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These are just a few examples. Implementation intentions can be used for pretty much anything where you can specify a when, where and how. Just make sure that any implementation intentions you make are SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. The ones you really want to focus on here are specific and achievable. The rest of them usually fall into place by themselves due to the nature of implementation intentions.

Finally, a word of caution: if you suffer from socially prescribed perfectionism (you believe others have unrealistically high expectations for you), implementation intentions might not be good for you. A recent study found that this tool had a significant negative psychological impact on people in this group.

For everyone else, though, implementation intentions have been shown to increase goal attainment very significantly.

So, write your first implementation intention now, and save your willpower for the difficult, unexpected decisions that life throws at you! As Mahatma Gandhi said, “Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will”.

Featured photo credit: www.strengthoverego.com via strengthoverego.com

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Last Updated on November 19, 2019

7 Signs That You’re Way Too Busy

7 Signs That You’re Way Too Busy

“Busy” used to be a fair description of the typical schedule. More and more, though, “busy” simply doesn’t cut it.

“Busy” has been replaced with “too busy”, “far too busy”, or “absolutely buried.” It’s true that being productive often means being busy…but it’s only true up to a point.

As you likely know from personal experience, you can become so busy that you reach a tipping point…a point where your life tips over and falls apart because you can no longer withstand the weight of your commitments.

Once you’ve reached that point, it becomes fairly obvious that you’ve over-committed yourself.

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The trick, though, is to recognize the signs of “too busy” before you reach that tipping point. A little self-assessment and some proactive schedule-thinning can prevent you from having that meltdown.

To help you in that self-assessment, here are 7 signs that you’re way too busy:

1. You Can’t Remember the Last Time You Took a Day Off

Occasional periods of rest are not unproductive, they are essential to productivity. Extended periods of non-stop activity result in fatigue, and fatigue results in lower-quality output. As Sydney J. Harris once said,

“The time to relax is when you don’t have time for it.”

2. Those Closest to You Have Stopped Asking for Your Time

Why? They simply know that you have no time to give them. Your loved ones will be persistent for a long time, but once you reach the point where they’ve stopped asking, you’ve reached a dangerous level of busy.

3. Activities like Eating Are Always Done in Tandem with Other Tasks

If you constantly find yourself using meal times, car rides, etc. as times to catch up on emails, phone calls, or calendar readjustments, it’s time to lighten the load.

It’s one thing to use your time efficiently. It’s a whole different ballgame, though, when you have so little time that you can’t even focus on feeding yourself.

4. You’re Consistently More Tired When You Get up in the Morning Than You Are When You Go to Bed

One of the surest signs of an overloaded schedule is morning fatigue. This is a good indication that you’ve not rested well during the night, which is a good sign that you’ve got way too much on your mind.

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If you’ve got so much to do that you can’t even shut your mind down when you’re laying in bed, you’re too busy.

5. The Most Exercise You Get Is Sprinting from One Commitment to the Next

It’s proven that exercise promotes healthy lives. If you don’t care about that, that’s one thing. If you’d like to exercise, though, but you just don’t have time for it, you’re too busy.

If the closest thing you get to exercise is running from your office to your car because you’re late for your ninth appointment of the day, it’s time to slow down.

Try these 5 Ways to Find Time for Exercise.

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6. You Dread Getting up in the Morning

If your days are so crammed full that you literally dread even starting them, you’re too busy. A new day should hold at least a small level of refreshment and excitement. Scale back until you find that place again.

7. “Survival Mode” Is Your Only Mode

If you can’t remember what it feels like to be ahead of schedule, or at least “caught up”, you’re too busy.

So, How To Get out of Busyness?

Take a look at these articles to help you get unstuck:

Featured photo credit: Khara Woods via unsplash.com

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