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Motivation vs. intention: The difference is in the plan

You can improve you


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You plan for your financial health, your career, your menu for the week. Why would you not have a plan to preserve or improve your looks?

At the beginning of each new year, we all have a list of things we want to “make different” moving forward.  It is a proven fact, however, that simply wanting to do something and actually planning to do it result in far different outcomes. 

A study published by the British Journal of Health Psychology found that 91 percent of people who planned their intention to exercise by writing down when and where they would do it each week ended up following through. Meanwhile, people who read motivational material about exercise but did not actually make a plan to do it showed no increase compared to the control group.

The participants were divided into three groups:

  1. Control Group – simply tracked how frequently they exercised.
  2. Motivation Group – tracked frequency, read a pamphlet listing the benefits of exercise for reducing the risk of heart disease, and heard a motivational speech.
  3. Intention Group – tracked frequency, read the pamphlet, and got the same speech as Group 2. Unlike Group 2, however, they were also asked to formulate a plan for when and where they would exercise over the following week. Specifically, each person in Group 3 was asked to explicitly state their intention to exercise by completing the following statement:

During the next week, I will partake in at least 20 minutes of vigorous exercise on [DAY] at [TIME OF DAY] at/in [PLACE].

After receiving these instructions, all three groups left.

The Surprising Results: Motivation vs. Intention

Two weeks later, the researchers were surprised by what had happened in the three groups.

  • In the control group, 38 percent of participants exercised at least once per week.
  • In the motivation group, 35 percent of participants exercised at least once per week.
  • In the intention group, an incredible 91 percent of participants exercised at least once per week.

Simply by writing down a plan that said exactly when and where they intended to exercise, the participants in Group 3 were much more likely to actually follow through. This principle can be applied to every feat we want to achieve – including skin health.

We ask clients every day, “What would you like to see different when you look in the mirror?” and so many respond with, “I don’t know, what do you think I need?”

I understand that sometimes it is hard to articulate what your goal is (you just know you don’t like what you see) and you are not always sure of what is possible. But a more important factor in this dilemma is that there is no plan. The reality is that it took 30, 40, 50 or more years to accumulate the skin damage that seemingly appeared overnight. It will take some time to reorganize, reverse and repair that damage, then some more time to build, strengthen and clear.

A professional clinician can evaluate, educate and help build your strategy. They are able to identify and clarify your goals, and add the steps necessary to execute and deliver results. By working together, the two of you must:

Identify what you see: Are you looking older than you feel? In what ways?

Set realistic goals for improvement: Are you willing to commit to a regimen of care? How many steps? Are you willing to have down time? If so, how much? Is surgery in your vocabulary?

Set financial limitations:  What is your budget? (Budget may shorten or lengthen the time it takes to reach your goals, but it won’t interfere with achieving them!)

Keep track of your plan: Discuss with your clinician what you are experiencing as you progress. Are you noticing improvement? Do you want to speed up the results, or is treatment going better than expected?

Ask if bundling your treatments together will save you money.

Write it down! Keep your concrete plan at your fingertips to remind you of your commitment to improvement.

Like everything else, designing the right recipe is the key to your success. Having a professional on hand to guide you will ensure you reach your goal and help keep you on track.

Deciding in advance when and where you will take specific actions to reach your goal can double or triple your chances for success.
—Heidi Grant Halvorson, Columbia University professor

I’ll be honest with you – I was born “plan challenged!” But I find that for myself as well as for my clients, that writing down and tracking my intentions simplifies my life beyond words. Take the challenge – let a professional help you. Then write it down.

You won’t be disappointed!

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Beryl Reker

Beryl Reker, PMA, is Lead Aesthetician and Clinical Director of Aesthetics by Design at Colorado Facial Plastic Surgery, aestheticsbydesign.com, specializing in medically directed skin care. She is educator and preceptor for a number of internally recognized and FDA-cleared services and products for medical skin treatment.

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