How To Stick To A Plan

By Dean Yeong on January 26, 2015

How many times you make a plan, feeling motivated and carries them out for the first week, then starting to slow down, and then fall out from that plan. From working out 3 times a week to watching TV on the couch everyday; from writing a blog post weekly to browsing Facebook news feed.

It’s not just about a new behavior you plan to pick up; it can be a new career, new skills or even a new business. The biggest failure usually is the inability to continue, to stay on track; in another word, you only fail when you give up.

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This isn’t About Goal Setting

I believe we all know some method of goal setting, but I am not going to write about that. I tried a few different ways to set goals; setting a big goal, breaking them down into small goals, and then read them out loud every morning. It just doesn’t help.

I am not saying that goal setting is useless. A goal is a destination and gives us direction and reason to make some change in our life. But keep thinking about out goal doesn’t help along the progress; it might even demotivate us at some point.

Motivational Videos Didn’t Help

Before telling you about another form of goal setting, let’s talk about motivation. We always thought we need the motivation to keep us going in a life changing journey, but is that true?

My best experience on this is about my fitness goal and journey. I was overweight 2 years back, and I decided to change. I enroll into a gym and start working out day in and day out. Watching Youtube videos all day long, especially those motivational fitness videos.

It kept me on track, but not for long. I started to fall out from the routine, giving myself excuses to not working out and controlling my diet. Get serious again and fall out from my routine again.

I believe this sounds familiar to some of you. What I like to say here is motivation doesn’t work all the time. You see, motivation is something that goes up and down; it’s emotional-based and fluctuating all the time. And you shouldn’t depend your greatest goal on it.

Reminder Instead of Motivation

Let’s look at a better approach to building up a repeatable plan or habits.


Concept based on Charles Duhigg’s “Habits Loop” in the Power of Habits.

Instead of using motivation to get us moving (New Year is a form of motivation, that’s why it doesn’t last), we should set up a reminder for our routine. A reminder can be anything: an alarm, a call, and etc. But the best reminder will be your existing habits or routine. For example:

  • Meditate [routine] in the morning after brushing your teeth [reminder].
  • Take a walk [routine] after your dinner [reminder].
  • Say “I love you” to your husband/wife [routine] once you get home from work [reminder].

Building our routine on a reminder, especially using existing routine/habit, as one will move you forward automatically. It takes out the emotional part from the habits-building equation.

Setting Measurable Parameter

Now you know how to setup a reminder instead of using motivation as the fuel to get started, let us talk about another way of goal setting. It’s in the same habits formation flow:

Reminder > Routine > Rewards (Repeat)

Instead of reminding ourselves of our goal every single day, a reward is a better way to keep us going. When the reward is positive, we are more likely to carry out our routine when the reminder gets triggered the next time.

Again, I am going to use my experience on lifting in the gym. The main reason why I kept going in and falling out from the routine is because I didn’t see any change in my body shape. The reward I got after so much works I put in was negative.

Lets me explain this further. I got to the gym after my work, I had a proper reminder set up, but the mistake I made here is the reward parameter I used. I didn’t see change on body shape because that usually comes last.

After a lot of reading and understand more about lifting, I change my progress parameter from change of body shape to the weight I lift. With this, I get the positive reward even though my body shape doesn’t change, because I know I lift heavier every time.

Revise Your Goals

We all know what we should do, in another word, we all know about our routine. Then we feel guilty when we fall out from our routine or procrastinate. The problem is actually on the reminder and reward.

Use this simple method to revise your New Year resolution, feel free to comment to let me know your opinion or results.

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