The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.
In our first lesson for increasing your success, we discussed the two components of step one: getting specific about what you want, and using mental contrasting to link your goal with the actions needed to achieve it. In this lesson, we’ll cover steps two and three: deciding when and where to take action, and measuring exactly how much further you need to go to accomplish your goals.
Step two requires you to determine when and where to take action, a strategy known as if-then planning. Studies have shown that people who use if-then planning stick to their plans over 90% of the time, while those who don’t plan specific times or places for taking action will follow through in only 39% of cases.
An if-then plan can take several forms. Here’s one example: if I don’t finish this report by ten tomorrow morning, then I will skip lunch to complete it. Another form might be: if it’s Monday morning, then I’ll exercise for half an hour before work. According to Halvorson’s book, our brains are wired to remember contingencies. So if we plan using the format “If X, then Y,” we’re more likely to remember and take action on our plans.
Step three is to measure and identify exactly how far you have to go. To achieve any goal, we need regular monitoring of our accomplishments. Without feedback about the progress we’re making toward our goals, motivation decreases — and when you don’t know whether you’re on track, it’s not possible to adjust your plans accordingly.
Another danger is that we’ll look at how much progress we’ve made toward our goals and become complacent. We may start to coast toward the finish line. The solution is to stay focused on the finish line: know how much further you need to go.
At this point, you should have your written goals from step one. Make some if-then plans for when and where you’ll take specific actions toward your goals. My suggestion is to write out these action plans; writing things down eliminates wiggle room.
Also, decide on a feedback method so you can evaluate your progress; knowing that you’re on track will keep you motivated to achieve your goals. But remember to stay focused on how far you still have to go: don’t slow down until you’ve crossed the finish line.
In the long run, men hit only what they aim at.
Henry David Thoreau
1817 – 1862
Copyright © 2012 John Chancellor