Whether we’re talking about our fitness, our careers or even our relationships, goals are important. But when we talk about goals, the first thing that often comes to mind is motivation. If we don't accomplish said goal, we believe that somewhere along the line, 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.”
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 British study measured how frequently people exercised over a two-week period. The subjects were randomly divided into three groups. The first group was the control group. They simply were tasked with tracking how often they worked out over the two-week period.
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.” That information further boosted their motivation to get fit.
And then 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 tasked with making a plan for when and where they would workout 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]."
Surprisingly, after two weeks, the motivation had little to no effect. In the first and second group, nearly 40% of people worked out just once per week. But an incredible 91% of subjects in group three worked out - more than double the normal rate.
Setting an intention is making a plan. And by simply writing down a concrete plan, stating exactly when and where they intended to work out, 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.”
*Further Reading: “Intentionality fuels the master's journey. Every master is a master of vision.”
George Leonard, Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fulfillment