Have you ever made an intention to change and not do it?
Do you tell yourself or your friends, “For now on I will be different. I will [substitute promise]?”
Then, two days later you are crying to them “I blew it again. I don’t know why I keep doing [opposite of promise].”
You make good intentions and firmly believe in it, but you still end up letting down or hurting yourself or someone you love with your empty promises.
As the cycle of good intentions and promises and no follow through and hurts repeats, you feel ashamed and disappointed. You end up losing faith in yourself. Your empty promises to yourself erodes your self-esteem and self-confidence.
You stop believing that you could change. You stop believing the future holds any good for you.
But, what you did not know is that setting good intentions is not enough to change. An intention without a plan is leaving the future to chance. Not having a plan means that we can improvise in the future, and when we are left to our own devices in the future, we revert to our default ingrained behavior and mindset.
If you want to change you have to know how to change, you need a plan.
Why having a plan reduces leaving your future to chance
The plan will be revised to accommodate how you will behave in different situations. Overtime, your plan will become your playbook. Otherwise, the future is likely to repeat the past.
Your plan will help you to identify tools and resources that will help you follow through. Sometimes keeping a list of potential choices helps.
You may need support from others to keep you on track or help change your thinking. Otherwise, when faced with unfamiliar circumstances, you will feel unprepared and default to your ingrained behavior which does not serve your new intentions or purpose.
Programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous works because it provides a plan for people on how to behave when triggered. It helps people to stop a destructive behavior and choose a positive behavior. It provides people with ways to follow through with the positive behaviors and provides support for the newbie when positive and negative actions occur.
It is not enough to declare “I’ll never overeat again”. If you don’t have a plan for situations that trigger overeating – soothing yourself by talking through the situation, choosing what to eat before getting to the situation – you will revert to old impulsive eating behaviors. That’s why people may initially lose weight on a crash diet but end up putting on more weight.
It is often said that an ounce of planning is worth a pound of luck.
How to create a plan that reduces leaving your future to chance
Your plan is a strategy for developing new positive behaviors especially when you need to act contrary to how you are currently acting.
1. Visualize your future
Start with the end in mind. What outcome do you want to have?
Close your eyes and picture how you want things to be.
At first your image will be hazy without the details. Add details to the picture. How do you look, where are you, what are you doing, what do you want to be doing, how do you feel and how do you want to feel?
Get as specific as possible.
Then, consider the different situations you have been in that triggered a negative response. Where were you and how were you feeling when you reacted? How do you want to react?
Record these visualizations. You can create voice recordings or write in a journal. Whichever one is best suited for you.
2. Learn what mindsets and behaviors with get you to your goal
Now ask how. Figure out exactly what you’ll have to do to get there.
Get some help from someone or a resource such as books, courses, and if needed, therapy.
Have someone help you to break down your goal into chunks.
What specific mindsets do you need to develop and what specific actions must you take to reach each outcome?
3. Visualize how you will use new mindsets and actions to get to your goal
Now visualize your outcome in step 1 and use one or two attitudes and actions in that scene. How will these new attitudes and actions get you the outcome you want.
This is how we double-check to make sure the plan is doable.
4. What support do you need?
Sometimes you will not be able to use the new mindsets and actions on your own. So, figure out what kind of help you’ll need.
Do you need a coach, support from family members, or money?
If your plan needs the support then to not leave your future to chance, you need to line up the support you need and ensure that you can access them.
5. How will you track your progress?
How will you ensure your plan is working for you? The best way to do this is to monitor your progress.
Monitoring can come in two forms: reflecting on your follow through (after taking action) and recording when you did or did not take action.
It is often said that that what gets measured gets improved.
You can use a calendar for tracking your behaviors or get help with creating a tracker for yourself.
6. How will you curb your impulses?
Sometimes just before taking action or in the middle of taking action, you may have the impulse to revert to default programming. How do you curb your impulses?
Hold yourself accountable.
Consider the consequences of backsliding and the consequences of following through with the new mindsets and behaviors. And, resolve not to give in. You have the power within yourself to choose the positive for you.
Also, make your plan public to people you trust and who can hold you accountable.
7. Visualize from beginning to end how you will not leave your future to chance
Consider each situation you find yourself in (See step 1) visualize how you will choose to respond. What will you say, do or feel? Think of how you will feel when you choose positively or negatively. Then choose your positive actions.
With the help of someone you trust, put yourself in a situation and follow through on your actions. Afterward, reflect on how you felt about the outcome and track your progress.
“Get Out of Your Own Way” by Mark Goulston and Philip Goldberg, Chapter 34 – Leaving too much to chance. Penguin Group (USA) Inc., New York, 1996.