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  • Barbara Mayfield, MS, RD, LD, FAND

Want to create habits to achieve your goals? Make an action plan.

Updated: Jan 18


Hands holding a planner and a pen to write down plans.

What have you wished for that hasn’t come to fruition?


Stop and think – did you have a plan in place to make that wish a reality?


Likely not. Wishes that come true without a plan are only in fairy tales.


Let’s explore why plans are essential and how to make them work for you.


Have a goal? Make an action plan for creating habits.

We’ve established that habits help us reach our goals. So... how do we successfully create habits? With a plan.


Planning is like a road map. It takes you from where you are now to where you want to go. Without a plan, you’re likely to wander aimlessly, get distracted or derailed, and never reach your destination. You may even forget what your goal was.


Include these 3 components in your plans for creating habits.

An effective plan for creating habits includes these three essential components: scheduling, monitoring, and consistency. Let’s look at what each one entails.


Scheduling

Author Michael Hyatt said, “What gets scheduled, gets done.” A schedule determines how we spend the finite resource called time. A schedule is not meant to be rigid and confining but to be flexible as well as structured.


As Annie Dillard puts it, “A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time.”


Author Stephen Covey emphasized scheduling our priorities, “The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.” What is most important needs time allotted on your schedule to be accomplished.


Using a schedule for creating habits creates routines within your days and weeks. Your schedule follows a pattern that becomes a habit. Routines systemize our schedules and free up brain space for creativity, decision-making, and problem-solving.


In our post about beginning with foundational habits, we explored the example of achieving the goal of more balanced meals. We determined that the first habit to attain was having regular meals.


Scheduling this priority by scheduling our meals helps make it a habit. A follow-up habit that can be scheduled and systemized is meal planning, determining what to eat in addition to when.


Monitoring

Once a schedule is in place, the next essential component of an effective plan is monitoring. Monitoring is simply recording that your action steps have been accomplished. It is checking things off a to-do list. It is measuring the result of your action steps.


“Work implies not only that somebody is supposed to do the job, but also accountability, a deadline and, finally, the measurement of results —that is, feedback from results on the work and on the planning process itself,” Peter F. Drucker wrote in Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices.


Create your schedule and systems with a plan for how to measure or monitor the results. Determine what is considered completion of a task. Depending on the task, perfection is rarely the goal, but rather progress. Refrain from being obsessive, just consistent.


After all, as Albert Einstein wisely said, “not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” Allow for interruptions. Be flexible.


Consistency

Habits are created from repetition. Whatever behavior or skill you are striving to make habitual, the important thing is practicing it routinely. In the same way that our brains create muscle memory to help us remember dance moves or memorize playing a score of music, our brains can help us create habits through consistent repeated practice.


Looking to create a writing habit? Schedule time to write. Every. Single. Day. Set daily and weekly writing goals. Monitor your progress. Become a writer.


Looking to create a better nighttime ritual and improve your sleep? Schedule and monitor factors such as evening use of screens and time to go to bed and time to rise. Follow your plan consistently.


Your turn to make an action plan for creating habits.

Want to make an action plan? If you’ve completed the initial steps outlined in the post Do First Things First, you are ready. For each goal and habit you want to create, determine the steps needed, when to do them (scheduling) and how to measure completion (monitoring).


There are so many helpful tools to assist you. Digital or print planners are a must. I’m a fan of print, I prefer writing my to-do list and checking tasks off as I finish each one. My husband prefers entering his action steps into an app on his phone. Which method works best for you?


The next post in our series will explore ways to make our habits easy and convenient.


“A goal without an action plan is a daydream.” ~ Nathaniel Branden


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