Advertising
Advertising

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).

Advertising

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.

Advertising

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!

Advertising

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.

Advertising

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

More by this author

Willpower equals strength The Ultimate Trick for Starting a Healthy Habit Without Willpower

Trending in Productivity

1 11 Reasons Why We Fail to Achieve Our Goals 2 How to Set Goals Effectively And Grow Continuously 3 How Not to Feel Overwhelmed at Work & Take Control of Your Day 4 13 Work Life Balance Tips for a Happy and Productive Life 5 How to Commit, Achieve Excellence And Change Your Life

Read Next

Advertising
Advertising
Advertising

Last Updated on July 13, 2020

How Not to Feel Overwhelmed at Work & Take Control of Your Day

How Not to Feel Overwhelmed at Work & Take Control of Your Day

Overwhelm is a pernicious state largely caused by the ever-increasing demands on our time and the distractions that exist all around us. It creeps up on us and can, in its extreme form, leave us feeling anxious, stressed and exhausted.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed at work, here are 6 strategies you can follow that will reduce the feeling of overwhelm; leaving you calmer, in control and a lot less stressed.

1. Write Everything down to Offload Your Mind

The first thing you can do when you begin to feel overwhelmed is to write everything down that is on your mind.

Often people just write down all the things they think they have to do. This does help, but a more effective way to reduce overwhelm is to also write down everything that’s on your mind.

For example, you may have had an argument with your colleague or a loved one. If it’s on your mind write it down. A good way to do this is to draw a line down the middle of the page and title one section “things to do” and the other “what’s on my mind”.

The act of writing all this down and getting it out of your head will begin the process of removing your feeling of overwhelm. Writing things down can really change your life.

2. Decide How Long It Will Take to Complete Your To-Dos

Once you have ‘emptied your head,’ go through your list and estimate how long it will take to complete each to-do.

Advertising

As you go through your list, you will find quite a few to-dos will only take you five or ten minutes. Others will take longer, often up to several hours.

Do not worry about that at this stage. Just focus on estimating how long you will need to complete each task to the best of your ability. Here’s How to Cultivate a More Meaningful To Do List.

3. Take Advantage of Parkinson’s Law

Now here’s a little trick I learned a long time ago. Parkinson’s Law states that work will fill the time you have available to complete it, and us humans are terrible at estimating how long something will take:((Odhable: Genesis of Parkinson’s Law))

    This is why many people are always late. They think it will only take them thirty minutes to drive across town when previous experience has taught them it usually takes forty-five minutes to do so because traffic is often bad but they stick to the belief it will only take thirty minutes. It’s more wishful thinking than good judgment.

    We can use Parkinson’s Law to our advantage. If you have estimated that to write five emails that desperately need a reply to be ninety minutes, then reduce it down to one hour. Likewise, if you have estimated it will take you three hours to prepare your upcoming presentation, reduce it down to two hours.

    Reducing the time you estimate something will take gives you two advantages. The first is you get your work done quicker, obviously. The second is you put yourself under a little time pressure and in doing so you reduce the likelihood you will be distracted or allow yourself to procrastinate.

    Advertising

    When we overestimate how long something will take, subconsciously our brains know we have plenty of time and so it plays tricks on us and we end up checking reviews of the Apple Watch 4 or allow our colleagues to interrupt us with the latest office gossip.

    Applying a little time pressure prevents this from happening and we get more focused and more work done.

    4. Use the Power of Your Calendar

    Once you have your time estimates done, open up your calendar and schedule your to-dos. Go through your to-dos and schedule time on your calendar for doing those tasks. Group tasks up into similar tasks.

    For emails that need attention on your to-do list, schedule time on your calendar to deal with all your emails at once. Likewise, if you have a report to write or a presentation to prepare, add these to your calendar using your estimated time as a guide for how long each will take.

    Seeing these items on your calendar eases your mind because you know you have allocated time to get them done and you no longer feel you have no time. Grouping similar tasks together keeps you in a focused state longer and it’s amazing how much work you get done when you do this.

    5. Make Decisions

    For those things you wrote down that are on your mind but are not tasks, make a decision about what you will do with each one. These things are on your mind because you have not made a decision about them.

    If you have an issue with a colleague, a friend or a loved one, take a little time to think about what would be the best way to resolve the problem. More often than not just talking with the person involved will clear the air and resolve the problem.

    Advertising

    If it is a more serious issue, then decide how best to deal with it. Talk to your boss, a colleague and get advice.

    Whatever you do, do not allow it to fester. Ignoring the problem will not make it go away. You need to make a decision to deal with it and the sooner you do so the sooner the problem will be resolved. (You can take a look at this guide on How To Make Good Decisions All The Time.)

    I remember long ago, when I was in my early twenties and had gone mad with my newly acquired credit cards. I discovered I didn’t have the money to pay my monthly bills. I worried about it for days, got stressed and really didn’t know what to do. Eventually, I told a good friend of mine of the problem. He suggested I called the credit card company to explain my problem. The next day, I plucked up the courage to call the company, explained my problem and the wonderful person the other end listened and then suggested I paid a smaller amount for a couple of months.

    This one phone call took no more than ten minutes to make, yet it solved my problem and took away a lot of the stress I was feeling at the time. I learned two very valuable lessons from that experience:

    The first, don’t go mad with newly acquired credit cards! And the second, there’s always a solution to every problem if you just talk to the right person.

    6. Take Some Form of Action

    Because overwhelm is something that creeps up on us, once we feel overwhelmed (and stressed as the two often go together), the key is to take some form of action.

    The act of writing everything down that is bothering you and causing you to feel overwhelmed is a great place to start. Being able to see what it is that is bothering you in a list form, no matter how long that list is, eases the mind. You have externalized it.

    Advertising

    It also means rather than these worries floating around in a jumbled mess inside your head, they are now visible and you can make decisions easier about what to do about them. Often it could be asking a colleague for a little help, or it could be you see you need to allocate some focused time to get the work done. The important thing is you make a decision on what to do next.

    Overwhelm is not always caused by a feeling of having a lack of time or too much work, it can also be caused by avoiding a decision about what to do next.

    The Bottom Line

    Make a decision, even if it is to just talk to someone about what to do next. Making a decision about how you will resolve something on its own will reduce your feelings of overwhelm and start you down the path to a resolution one way or another.

    When you follow these strategies to can say goodbye to your overwhelm and gain much more control over your day.

    More Tips for Reducing Work Stress

    Featured photo credit: Andrei Lazarev via unsplash.com

    Read Next