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Plans, not Motivations or Habits

How can we motivate ourselves to action?

Motivation Science

Everywhere I look I see habit. (There it is again.)

The power of compounding habits or starting habits young. There are money habits. Sleep habits. Workout habits. Morning routines.

The book Atomic Habits wasn't a best-seller for no reason.

But habits need backup. And while I'm forced to reset a lot of my habits and life, I've been thinking about motivation.

A study by the British Journal of Health set out to determine the source of motivation by answering the question: what motivates someone to real action?

The researchers worked with 248 people to build better exercise habits. The subjects were divided into three groups.

The first group was the control group. They were asked to track how often they exercised.

The second group was the “motivation” group. They were asked not only to track their workouts but also to read some material on the benefits of exercise. The researchers also explained to the group how exercise could reduce the risk of coronary heart disease and improve heart health.

Finally, there was the third group. These subjects received the same presentation as the second group, to ensure equivalent external motivation. However, they were 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].”

Groups 1 and 2 had near-equal levels of exercise. (Clearly, wanting to do something just isn’t enough.) Group 3 had nearly triple the participation.

The study found that motivation had almost no significant effect.

Motivation is nothing without a plan. It is just step number one in formulating the goal, the plan will help you get there and carry you through the hard times.

A Plan

A 10-year-old wanders the neighborhood for Halloween candy. Wandering aimlessly house to house. That's the easy part. By the end of the night there will be some candy in the bag.

The process behind achieving a goal or developing a habit is the difference. If you want the most candy, plan a route. Run through some backyards; jump some fences. Strategize and lay the framework for how to get there.

To start this newsletter, I made a plan for how often and when to dedicate time for creation. When it’s finished, I check the box. (How to create a plan you can enjoy over and over again is a topic for another time.)

As I formulate a plan for the upcoming weeks, I'm working to bring the habits and motivations with me to reach the goals I've set. I'm using tools like writing out the plan in Notion to bring the plan to life.

If you want to have a conversation about planning or motivation, set it up here.