Three groups of people were given the following instructions:
Group One: Track how often you exercise.
Group Two: Track workouts and read articles on the benefits of exercise.
Group Three: Track workouts, read articles on the benefits of exercise, and formulate a plan for when and where you will exercise the following week.
Which of the three groups got fitter? Here are the results as reported in James Clear’s Atomic Habits:
- Group One: 35-38% exercised at least once per week.
- Group Two: 35-38% exercised at least once per week
- Group Three: 91% exercised once per week.
The third group had more than twice the success of the other two groups. A plan for implementation is clearly essential for habit change.
The third group were helped towards implementation by completing the following sentence:
“During the next week, I will partake in at least 20 minutes of vigorous exercise on [DAY] at [TIME] in [PLACE].”
The implementation plan includes two key details: the when and the what, when and where to act. The general format is:
I will [BEHAVIOR] at [TIME] in [LOCATION].
Clear comments: “The punch line is clear: people who make a specific plan for when and where they will perform a new habit are more likely to follow through” (70-71).
So, if you want to change habits you need more than: “I’m going to read my Bible more often,” or “I’m going to keep in touch with friends this year,” or “I’m going to pray for my pastor,” or I’m going to love my wife better,” or “I’m going to get my children to learn the Shorter Catechism,” or “I’m going to read more.”
If that’s all you’ve got, you’ve got a 35% chance of success. Want to almost guarantee it?
- I will read my Bible at 6.30am every morning in my bedroom.
- I will meet with a friend for breakfast every Friday morning at 7am.
- I will pray for my pastor every Saturday evening at 9pm.
- I will dedicate every Friday evening entirely to my wife.
- I will teach my children the Shorter Catechism every Sunday at 12 noon for 30 minutes.
- I will read a book every evening from 9.30pm to 10 pm.
Obviously the Christian will want to add (D.V.) to each of these plans, but James 4:15 is no warrant for failing to plan. As Clear says, “Many people think they lack motivation when what they really lack is clarity. It is not always obvious when and where to take action.”
Another benefit of such clear implementation plans is that we can more easily say no to whatever might hinder our progress. Clear again: “We often say yes to little requests because we are not clear enough about what we need to be doing instead” (72).
With the Lord’s blessing and help, I would hope we can get the success figure up to 100%.