By Dr. Steve Levinson
There’s so much we already know about what it takes to be healthier, and we’re learning more all the time. But the truth is, we benefit far less than we should from all this knowledge. It’s not that we don’t intend to make healthy changes. To the contrary, our good intentions come easily – very easily. What doesn’t come easily, however, is follow through. Although we know what we should do, and we truly intend to do it, we often don’t follow through on our good intentions.
Just imagine how much healthier you could be if you had the ability to always follow through. If you decided to eat better, you would. If you decided to get more exercise, you would. If you decided to get regular check-ups, you just would. You’d be able to turn whatever you know about what it takes to be healthy into tangible healthy behavior.
Why we don’t follow through
If you’re serious about being as healthy as possible, then you’re probably frustrated and a bit puzzled by your own follow through failures.
Although we humans are endowed with impressive intelligence that allows us to figure out what we should do to make our lives as good as they can possibly be, amazingly, there’s absolutely no built-in mechanism to ensure that our intelligence will actually control our behavior. That’s why you can intelligently decide at 2 PM to give up unhealthy snacks and then find yourself eating a bag of greasy chips by 3PM.
Yes, it’s an extremely inconvenient truth: Our behavior is often influenced more by what we feel like doing at the moment than by what we’ve intelligently decided we should do.
A simple cure for poor follow through?
The good news is, if you have the courage to embrace rather than ignore that inconvenient truth, you can dramatically improve your ability to follow through. Once you recognize that what you actually do may be driven more by what you feel in your gut than by your own good intentions, you’re just a hop, skip and a jump away from discovering the cure for poor follow through.
The cure is this: Deliberately create situations that make you feel like you must do the same thing you intend to do!
Let’s use a rather extreme example to illustrate how the cure works. Suppose you intend to get into the habit of eating an apple a day. Great idea. But let’s face it, intending – by itself – certainly won’t make you feel like you must eat an apple every day. But how about this? Suppose you write out a check for one thousand dollars to an organization you absolutely despise. You put the check in a pre-addressed and stamped envelope and ask a trusted friend to promise to mail it if you ever fail to notify her by 9 PM that you’ve eaten your daily apple.
So, what have you accomplished by creating a situation like this? You’ve replaced the easy to ignore “I really should eat an apple” with a fierce, gut-felt, truly motivating “I absolutely must eat an apple!” As a result, your healthy good intention will suddenly have all the power it needs to drive your behavior, and before long you will have created a healthy habit that otherwise would have remained just another good idea.
So if being healthy is truly important to you, isn’t it worth making a practice of deliberately creating situations that force you to do the healthy things you know you should do?
– Dr. Steve Levinson is a clinical psychologist, author and inventor who specializes in helping people follow through on their own good intentions. His work is featured at http://habitchange.com.