We all have an intention action gap, or a disconnect between the things we intend to do and our actions. This phenomenon is well known to behavior scientists and they’ve immersed themselves in discovering ways to narrow or close the gap. If you want to follow through on your intentions, turn to behavior design to learn how.

Set a reminder

We often overestimate our ability to remember. We think things are easy enough that we won’t forget to do that very important thing. Unfortunately, our brain is fighting our ability to do so. Our brain is constantly scanning our environment and responding to cues or triggers that tell us to behave in a certain way. Without a cue, it’s harder to remember. Using alerts, alarms, or something as simple as a post-it note can help you follow through on your intentions more often. 

Reward yourself 

In the Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg describes a habit loop that includes a cue, behavior, and  reward. Stanford behavior scientist BJ Fogg says that celebration is necessary to lock in a new behavior. Whether feeding your intrinsic reward system (oh, that makes me feel happy) or extrinsic one (oh, I get a cookie), rewards are an effective way to help you follow through on your intentions. Often external rewards are needed in the beginning before intrinsic motivation locks in habits more permanently.

Stack your behaviors

When you are building a new habit, it’s helpful to attach it to a habit that’s already established. For example, if you want to start taking vitamins, place the bottle next to your toothbrush or coffee pot. Attach it to something you do every day, like brushing your teeth or making coffee.. Behavior science tells us this is one of the ways to “hack” your environment to follow through on your intentions and build a new habit.

Make it easy

If you want to do something new, you are more likely to be successful if you start small. Your brain wants to feel good and feel successful. When you do things that release those endorphins, you are more likely to repeat it and seek that feeling again. Creating ridiculously easy behaviors does exactly this. If you want to go for a run, for example, start by just putting on your shoes – and make sure to celebrate! This one small shift will lead to a new habit as you continue to build on that small foundation.

Set an implementation intention 

Our plans go awry more often than we like. An implementation is your “if-then” plan for when things go wrong. When you decide in advance how you will respond when things go awry, you will traverse them more easily when that “if” happens. Decide how you will respond to distractions or other triggers that cue an unwanted behavior instead of the new behavior you’re trying so hard to build. Follow through on your intentions more often by creating an if-then plan today when you have the brain power to do so.

If you struggle to follow through on your intentions, you’re not alone. Use some of these ideas from behavior scientists to help you overcome the gap and reach your goals more often.