To achieve success in your New Year fitness or weight loss goal, it’s easy to think that all you need is motivation. Get motivated enough and you’ll do whatever it takes, right? If motivation is all you need, why do most New Year’s goals fail?
In reality, motivation is exactly what you don’t need.
Researchers have discovered that while many people are motivated about exercise, those who stick to their goals do one thing very differently from everyone else.
In a study published in the British Journal of Health Psychology, researchers measured how frequently people exercised over a 2–week period. 248 subjects were divided into three groups:
- Group 1 – the Control group kept track of their exercise frequency over a two week period.
- 38% of participants exercised at least once per week.
- Group 2 – the Motivation group also tracked their exercise, but they were given information and told about the benefits of exercise for reducing heart disease risk.
- 35% of participants exercised at least once per week.
- Group 3 – the intention group tracked their exercise, read and heard the same information as Group 2, and formulated a plan for exercise. “During the next week, I will partake in at least 20 minutes of vigorous exercise on [DAY] at [TIME OF DAY] at/in [PLACE].”
- 91% of participants exercised at least once per week.
Simply by writing down a plan that said exactly when and where they intended to exercise, the participants in Group 3 were much more likely to actually follow through.
Motivation without a plan of action had no significant effects on exercise behaviour.”
Most people talk about their New Year changes using words like motivation and willpower. But the truth is, we all have these things to some degree. Turning desire into action isn’t your level of motivation, but your plan for implementation.
What to do when plans fall apart
No matter how perfect your plan, sometimes things run amok. The solution? Use the “if-then” strategy, which provides for a clear plan to handle unexpected events.
- If I eat cake at Nanna’s birthday, then I’ll cook a lovely vegetable stir fry for dinner.
- If I’m running late and miss my workout, then I’ll wake up early tomorrow and go for a walk.
Put simply, planning the when and where of a specific behaviour turns your desire into a trigger for action. The time and place triggers your behaviour, not your level of motivation.
Motivation is short lived and doesn’t lead to consistent action. If you want to achieve your goals, then you need a plan for exactly when and how you’re going to execute on them.