How to Double Your Chances of Reaching a Challenging Goal

Mike Foster/ Pixabay

Mike Foster/ Pixabay

Got a big challenge?

Silly question. Of course you do. Everybody does. What flavor is yours? Business? Fitness? Academic? Perhaps you’re having trouble getting started. Perhaps you start but don’t stay on course. You’re George Constanza, who declared, “I’m a great quitter. It’s one of the few things I do well.” 

Research reveals a way to make big challenges much smaller. The bigger the challenge, the better it works. It’s not writing your goal in fat red Sharpie, or Instagramming your goal to the world. It’s not tapping your inner grit. That has value, but determination and resolution can only take you so far. Doubling down on determination has been shown to improve your chance of success by about 20 percent. But this simple tool improves your odds by more than 100 percent.

It’s preloading.

Robust golf clap for Chip and Dan Heath’s “everybody-ought-to-read" book The Power of Moments. In Chapter 9, the brothers Heath discuss preloading and refer to the original research of Dr. Peter Galloway. Preloading, also called Implementation Intentions, was shown to more than double the success of dieters. Preloading was equally powerful when facing the challenges of drug rehab and recovery.  Preloading helped people bounce back from joint replacement and helped college students complete assignments well and on time. Preloading was shown to be effective for six-year-old children, seniors with dementia, as well as people with frontal lobe brain injuries. In other words, preloading will help almost anyone do almost anything. Let’s break it down.

1.  Preloading is a type of if/then plan.

You might not be familiar with the phrase “if/then plan,” but you are already an expert. Your kindergarten teacher taught you. She called one if/then plan a fire drill. There’s a catalyst moment followed by automatic and unhesitating action.

Here’s an example: two months back, we were anticipating the arrival of our second grandbaby. Her parents executed Marine-style, all-hands birthing drills. The most difficult was the What If Baby Comes in the Middle of the Night Drill.  This drill was complicated by sleepy grandparents and a sleeping, soon-to-be big brother (age 2). Every detail was scripted. If this should happen, then start this exact sequence. Yes, ma’am.

2. Preloading gets the start button out of your hands.

Let’s consider your if.  Not any if will do. Don’t use these:

•  If I get around to it…

•  If I feel like it…

•  If I have time…

These “ifs” make you press the start button. Preloading takes the start button out of your hands. You’re not relying on feeling ready or able to take on your challenge. You begin because some outside force or situation is in charge.

One powerful force outside of your control is the ticking clock. Baseball great Wade Boggs ran wind sprints on game day at 17 past the hour. That’s a simple strategy that works. If at some point during my day the time is 3:17, then I exercise.

Your if doesn’t have to be time; it can be any predictable action or event. I recently preloaded expressing gratitude. My if was starting my car’s engine. If I start my car’s engine, then I think of one thing for which I’m grateful.

3. Preloading removes game time decisions.

Can you imagine if your boss called you every month to ask if you would like to contribute to your 401(k)? That would be terrible. You would contribute far less. You want it to happen automatically.

The if part of your plan takes the start button out of your hands: a time or event is the catalyst for when you begin. But what, where, and how? The then part of your plan should resolve these questions, setting up your automatic and unhesitating action. Remove game time decisions.

I preload running. My if is a set time. My then includes a drawer with shoes, socks, shorts, shirt, earbuds, armband for phone, as well as a predetermined starting line, finish line, and podcast. All I have to do in the moment is run.

4. Preloading works, so include a micro celebration.

Consider one finishing touch to your preloading. A micro celebration. A little something you repeatedly do to mark your accomplishment. We are a ceremonial species. Our spirits are lifted by repeated celebrations, even small ones. Shout something. Throw up your arms. Do a little dance. Play your favorite song. Hug your dog. Crack open a LaCroix. (The best one is LaCroix Pamplemousse.) Repeat the micro celebration each time. Life’s short. Celebrate everything.