From Intention to Action: Turning resolutions into reality

It’s that time of year again. You’re either rolled up in fetal position on the floor or writing a list of New Year’s resolutions. Some of you writing resolutions might prefer to be rolled up in fetal position, and those of you on the floor wouldn’t change places with the resolution writers for a million dollars.

What is this compulsion that drives us every January 1st? How predictable are we that gyms do much of their advertising in January and then again a few months later when our bright, shiny beginnings have tarnished and crusted over and there is empty floor space to be filled.

For me, writing resolutions has always been a fun ritual. There’s something about writing a thought down on paper that makes it more attainable. That’s been true in many areas of my life. However, we all have those things that are especially difficult to achieve. Sometimes the writing of the goal isn’t enough to get us there. And our good intentions, no matter how strong, can’t motivate us to “Just Do It.”

That dilemma led me to think about how I had approached other goals in my life—ones that had been attained. For example, I hadn’t just thought about working for myself and ended up with a successful business. It was accomplished by breaking the goal into manageable chunks. Of course, I didn’t realize I was doing that 19 years ago, but in hindsight it’s obvious. So, why not do the same to finally achieve the goals that have been regulars on too many of my annual lists?

Writing “I will eat healthier, write regularly, and work out more” hasn’t been enough on its own to make those dreams a reality. But taking intermediate actions to bridge the gap between intention and action has proved to be successful.

For example, I’ve become quite regular with my exercise, following the “don’t skip more than 2 days in a row” rule. But sometimes, even though I know I’m going to feel great once I do it, I just don’t feel like working out. I’ve found a trick—something very simple—that gets great results for me. What do I do when exercise apathy hits?

I put on my workout clothes.


That’s it.

There’s something about the act of getting dressed to work out that begins the momentum. Once I’m dressed, I’m going to feel like crap if I take off my workout clothes without having exercised. I know it sounds crazy, but follow the logic. The act of putting on those clothes is a prerequisite to working out, so it gets me one step further along the path to actually performing the desired action.

I decided to try out this trick in another area of my life. After thinking for the umpteenth time that I needed to get to the library to do some writing, I packed up my Neo, a printout of my manuscript, and my supply case in a bag and left it by the stairs leading down to my front door. Every time I walked through the living room, I saw that bag. Eventually, I put on my coat, grabbed my bag, and WALKED to the library. How’s that for killing two birds with one stone? 😉

Which leads me to my “eating better” resolution. If you studied my eating habits on paper, you’d think you were looking at the records of two different people. From dawn till dusk, I am the model of good paleo nutrition. After the sun sets, it’s like my inner Carb vampire emerges. I want Cookies, or Cake, or ice Cream, or Chocolate. The letter “C” is evil, isn’t it? 🙂

So, I began questioning why it’s so easy to stay on track during the day. And I realized it’s because my breakfast and lunch are prepared in advance and carted to work and dinner is planned out as well. If I’ve carried meals with me, it’s unlikely that I’ll get something else at the cafeteria. And in fact, I don’t. So, the answer may be to plan and pack up a healthy snack for each evening so I don’t indulge by whim. Whim is a very bad thing when combined with food. At least for me it is.

If you happen to enjoy experimenting with yourself as the guinea pig, let me know how these ideas work out for you. Most important, keep it positive. Don’t focus on what you won’t do. Rather stay focused on what you will do. There’s a theory that your subconscious mind doesn’t recognize a negative. So, for example, if you say I will not eat cookies at night, all your mind hears is I will eat cookies at night. That minor design flaw has been wrecking diets around the world. Just to be on the safe side, focus on what you will do. “I will eat berries and Greek yogurt at snack time.” Or whatever your intention is.

Last but not least, be gentle with yourself. Life is a process. We get to grand places by taking little steps.

Happy New Year.

Feel free to share your tips and successes.

32 comments on “From Intention to Action: Turning resolutions into reality

  1. Melinda on

    Happy New Year!! I love the small steps approach. I think we tend to burden ourselves with a large goal and two days off it we count it as a failure and scrap it. Baby steps are harder to scrap and feel guilty over missing. I’m trying your workout clothes idea. I’m also going to baby step my blog articles over several days instead of feeling like its all at once or none. Excellent advice. May 2012 be extra good to you.

    • Margaret Reyes Dempsey on

      Thank you, Melinda. Happy New Year to you, too.

      Regarding the blogging baby steps, are you saying you sit down and write your blog posts in one sitting? If so, wow. My posts start with lots of thinking in the shower and proceed to a brain dump in Word. Then there’s lots of rewriting, rearranging, editing, fretting, snacking, more snacking until I hit the Publish button. Trade places?

      • Melinda on

        That’s why yours are better. ha ha!! I think it comes from the mentality of I have to finish something or it hangs over my head. I need to learn to (a) drink less coffee and (b) sloooowww down a bit. FYI you probably have been nominated 100 times, but I nominated you for the Versatile Blogger award. 🙂

  2. Richard on

    So, let me get this straight, all I have to do to motivate myself to get more exercise is put on your workout clothes? Can you mail them? 😀

    I tend not to make New Year resolutions. Or at least, I don’t refer to them as such. That’s a label that is just begging to fail. I just decide that the New Year is a nice, clean place to start implementing new behaviours. It’s like a convenient cut-off point.

    And it still fails. 😐

    Great post, Maggie. 😀

    • Margaret Reyes Dempsey on

      That’s right. My black lycra pants are kind of like the red shoes. Once you put them on, all other distractions fall away, and you will be compelled to run, run, run. Bye bye screenplays, bye bye blogging. 😉

      Of course, this will cause other people to run, run, run as well as they see you coming at them in black lycra pants. And that’s probably a good thing as we can all use a bit more exercise.

      Happy New Year, Rich. Hope 2012 brings you all good things.

  3. rebecca @ altared spaces on

    I adore Greek yogurt and berries. I also love cookies and cake. I make deals with myself like…you can have all the cookies you really, truly WANT after you really, truly ENJOYED some Greek yogurt.

    I have discovered it’s the enjoyment I’m really craving. When I take the TIME and mindfulness to indulge in those berries….the cookies often loose their allure. Not always and then, of course I really enjoy those as well. 🙂

    Love the baby step approach. I’m a believer!

    • Margaret Reyes Dempsey on

      I also use your approach when it comes to eating. I’m a firm believer in eating a healthy meal before indulging in a decadent snack. Sometimes, as you say, the craving goes away. I’ve also found to be true the theory that thirst sometimes masquerades as hunger. A glass of water often does the trick as weird as that sounds. And when it doesn’t, COOKIES! 😉

      I found myself chanting “body compass, body compass” over the holidays and it didn’t turn out too bad for me. 😀

  4. Lisa Creech Bledsoe on

    Workout clothes… great idea. I also like new workouts — am I the only one who gets bored doing the same thing all the time?

    I’m with you, the planned/pack-your-lunch approach is wonderfully effective, but now that I work full-time from home, I have to NOT purchase the Cs! Cs are wicked, wicked. (And so delicious.)

    I’m SO craving berries and Greek yogurt now. That’s probably my favorite snack… (We must be snack sisters.)

    • Margaret Reyes Dempsey on

      When it comes to walking or running I don’t get bored. I think it’s because my mind is elsewhere, writing, while I’m working out. However, doing the same exercise videos with the same annoying leader screaming the same annoying commands turns me into Herbert Lom of Pink Panther fame (you know, in the straitjacket with the crayon between his toes, writing KILL CLOUSEAU over and over again on the wall of his padded cell). Can you tell I’ve watched that one a few times over the holidays with the kiddo?

      I also don’t get bored eating the same thing day after day. Case in point, breakfast has been 1/2 Greek yogurt, 1/2 pear, blueberries, and almonds every morning for the past 2 years with rare exception. I feel so good after I eat that. Rebecca of Altared Spaces (life coach extraordinaire), who commented above, has taught me the value of paying attention to my body compass, something that’s been very difficult for a head dweller like me. 😉

      Happy New Year, snack sister.

    • Margaret Reyes Dempsey on

      I know what you mean. My childlike sense of awe and wonder sometimes has me jumping in full speed ahead. Once again, I have Rebecca to thank for her insightful observation of my modus operandi and her suggestion to consider whether that new exciting thing is something I want to be doing for a while. It often isn’t. That seemingly simple advice has forced me to slow down enough to analyze whether it’s just another shiny new thing for my inner Magpie or something I want to devote time and energy to.

  5. Jess Witkins on

    I love that getting dressed rule. I’m so adopting that rule. I think it will really help me get to the gym more. As for the eating better, I found starting out in the produce section is the best. I look at what deals there are and I’ve been stocking up on veggies and apples. Then I commit one day off to chopping all the veggies up and I eat those instead of chips. The apple I’ve been taking for breakfast cause it’s not messy and still filling. It’s a small change, but a good one.

  6. mommarge on

    Your idea is definitely worth trying. I’m especially interested in the after dinner part (the fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree) and I’d also like to exercise more than the three days I do now. Thanks for always thinking things out for me.

  7. bronxboy55 on

    It always surprises me how difficult it is to start doing certain things, and how much less effort it takes to keep them going. You’ve provided some great advice for taking that first step, Margaret. Thank you.

    Happy New Year!

  8. Snoring Dog Studio on

    This is absolutely essential reading for the new year. I was so inspired by your business story – setting goals in small chunks. My sister and I had that conversation yesterday! And you’re here, an example of how well it works. Everything else you wrote is so insightful. I’m so very glad I stopped by – your words are going to stay with me. Thank you!

  9. Brenda on

    I like to stay in the moment, redefine and rewrite as I go along. I have a list–not resolutions–rather a well being state of mind overview I try to follow. Do I? Not always. I am human, therefore flawed and prone to self indulgences and lolly gagging, thus the point of staying the moment and holding fast to baby steps and redefining as necessary. I have never been successful with the planning and packing of meals but I have been good at sticking to the yogurt and fruit – most of the time. It’s tough being human, darn it!

  10. Debra Colby-Conklin on

    Small steps is what seems to work for me as well. At the beginning of the month I made a goal to lose 7 lbs by the end of the month. I figured 5 was too low and 10 was too high. So I went in between because 7 didn’t seem too terribly bad. It is now the 27th and I lost 8. The secret for me was simple…attainable goals equal attainable results. Thanks for sharing your tips on small steps and how they can really work.

  11. Ray Colon on

    Hi Margaret,

    Your suggestion to get dressed in your workout clothes to prompt you to actually work out is a good one. Often, when I have an engagement to attend and I just don’t want to go, I’ll jump in the shower and get dressed before I have a chance to talk myself out of it. The same goes for writing when I don’t feel like it (turn on the computer and turn everything else off and sit). A variation of this even works for chores like housework or yard work. I announce to my family that I will be doing it. Once I do that, I feel compelled to follow through because they will get on me if I don’t. Crude but effective.

    Resisting those late night snacks can be tough. The only thing that has worked for me in that regard is to not buy the snacks that I like. I can’t be trusted with hagen daz in the freezer.


    • Margaret Reyes Dempsey on

      I’m guilty of the shower trick. I do a lot of grumbling when I have someplace I have to be and always end up having a good time in the end. What’s that all about? 🙂

      Ice cream in the freezer would be a very bad thing for me. Certain foods turn me into a goldfish. I eat until they are finished, no matter how big they are.


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