Have you ever started out the day with the best intentions to do something, but then one thing after another came up and those intentions just didn’t get around to happening? You get to the end of the day and didn’t get in a walk, or didn’t clean the bathroom, or didn’t call your mother? What went wrong? Clearly, intentions alone won’t make something actually come to life.
As I like to say,
Good intentions need to be backed-up with a rock-solid plan.
When I was early in my journey to quit sugar, I would set the best of intentions — having a really clear thought and feeling that I wasn’t going to cave into an 11:00 am piece of chocolate — only to be derailed by a craving or a strong desire to procrastinate.
I thought just having the strong intention, with the determination to push through, would do it. Resolve is super-important for any behavior change, as is the trust of keeping your word to yourself. But these thoughts and feelings alone were no match for my habits and cravings.
This is when I started learning that intentions, even intense ones, aren’t enough, especially when one is not in the habit of keeping one’s word to yourself.
Two important steps for setting intentions are:
1) thinking about the desired action, and
2) and feeling the result of the desired action.
But, unless one also previews the process it is highly likely that a new behavior will replace an old one.
Here’s an example. Let’s say I have the intention of not having a piece of chocolate at 11:00am. To successfully disrupt the momentum of habit, accompanied by low blood sugar, I will need to come up with an alternative action — something my brain and body can DO instead of standing in front of the pantry closet trying not to eat chocolate.
Giving your brain a command to NOT do something is not very effective for a primary reason:
The brain is action-oriented and a negative command doesn’t tell it what to do.
That’s why suggestions for behavior change are stated in the positive: “don’t eat that” doesn’t tell the brain to do instead. It is more effective to say “eat more vegetables,” or better yet, “When you want to have a piece of chocolate at 11:00am, make a cup of chai tea instead.”
This brings us to the third important step; visualizing or previewing the process. It is one thing for an Olympic athlete to visualize themselves on the podium, it is a whole other thing for them to visualize themselves nailing every turn in the course. They can’t get to the podium unless they successfully navigate and optimize every step along the way.
The same is true of our intentions for healthier habits. Instead of just setting the intention not to have bread with dinner, for example, preview what you WILL do or have instead. Maybe have some homemade seed crackers (reach out and I’ll send you the recipe).
This approach is especially helpful when going our or going to someone’s house to eat. Try not to just hope that there will be something appropriate for you to eat there; do some investigating or bring something you know you’ll want to eat to stay on protocol.
In the next installment of the Intentions series, I’ll discuss micro- and macro- intentions.
To your health!