31 Days

Day 2

The Trick to Achieving Your Goals

We've all got goals—especially going into the new year. And often, when we talk about goals, the first thing that comes to mind is motivation. If we don't accomplish said goal, we often believe we somehow became less motivated. But according to James Clear, the bestselling author of Atomic Habits, motivation isn't the problem. What you need, far more than motivation, is a clear intention. "The best part," he says, is that "this highly practical strategy has been scientifically proven to double or even triple your chances for success."

Target and arrows
Target and arrows

Take, for example, a common goal: Getting fit. Motivation isn't really an issue, is it? A softer belly, tighter waistbands or a lack of definition around your pecs is enough to motivate you. James Clear points to research that proves how intention outweighs motivation. What researchers found is that while most of us have the desire to get into shape, success is achieved by those who set their intention.

A study published in the British Journal of Health Psychology measured how frequently people exercised over a two-week period. The subjects were randomly divided into three groups. The first group was the control grouping. They simply were tasked with tracking how often they worked out over the two-week period.

Target and arrows
Target and arrows

The second group was the "motivation" group. They also tracked their exercise, but were tasked with reading a pamphlet on the benefits of exercise for reducing the risk of heart disease. Participants were also told, "Most young adults who have stuck to a regular exercise program have found it to be very effective in reducing their chances of developing coronary heart disease." This was essentially to boost their motivation to workout.

Finally, there was the third group—better known as the "intention" group. They read the same motivational pamphlet and got the same encouragement as the second group. However, this group was also asked to formulate a plan for when and where they would exercise over the following week. Specifically, each member of the third group completed the following sentence: "During the next week, I will partake in at least 20 minutes of vigorous exercise on [DAY] at [TIME] in [PLACE]."

Target and arrows
Target and arrows

Surprisingly, after two weeks, the motivation had little to no effect. In the first and second group, 35 to 38 percent of people worked out once per week. But an incredible 91 percent of subjects in group three worked out—more than double the normal rate.

By simply writing down a concrete plan stating exactly when and where they intended to exercise, the participants in the "intention" group were all but guaranteed to follow through. Or, as the researchers put it in blunt scientific truth: "Motivation ... had no significant effects on exercise behavior."

James Clear compared these results to how most people talk about making change and achieving goals. "Words like motivation, willpower and desire get tossed around a lot," he says. "But the truth is, we all have these things to some degree. If you want to make a change at all, then you have some level of desire."

Track Your Progress

Author James Clear collaborated with Baron Fig for a combination dot grid notebook, daily journal and habit tracker.

$28 at Amazon