Thinking the thing versus doing the thing

How to bridge that gaping hole between intentions and actions

  • Situation 1: You make a promise to your best friend that you’ll save them an expensive uber ride and pick them up from the airport. You intend to do it, you commit to it and you show up.
  • Situation 2: You make a promise to yourself that you’re going to stop scrolling through Instagram in bed every night because it’s getting in the way of sleep. You intend to do it. You commit to it. And somehow you don’t quite manage to follow through.

When it comes to your friend, you’re not going to ditch them. But when it comes to you and your own wellbeing, having good intentions doesn’t always translate to taking action.

Intentions versus actions

It’s a similar story with money. Most people know they should save money. They have sincere intentions to put some dollars aside for a rainy day. But just like last year’s New Year’s resolutions – your noble intentions often don’t graduate into actually doing the things. Somehow, when it comes to intention versus action, action hardly ever wins.

So how do you flip the switch and start looking after your own best interests? One powerful way is to make a habit of it.

Remove the thinking

Habits are our brain’s way of saving power. They’re automatic behaviours or rituals that reduce the effort needed for decision-making. That means habits replace thinking. So, if we can train our brains to automatically do the things that are best for our bank balance, we’re winning. The idea is to make the action we want to be doing part of our routine, rather than a conscious decision we have to make all the time. Sounds complicated, but it doesn’t have to be. The trick is to use cues, start small and do it often.

Know your cue

New habits – bad or good – happen in response to a cue. For example, you might realise you mindlessly head to the kitchen for a snack at the same time every afternoon. Time is a cue. Or maybe when you go to the gym, you start at the same treadmill every time. Location is a cue.

To really get a savings habit humming, it helps to work out the cue that’s going to trigger you into putting that money aside, every time. For example, getting paid might be your cue to save. And the more specific you are about when you take action after the cue, the more likely you are to do it. In this example, you might set up an alert for when your pay hits your account and commit to yourself to transfer $50 to your savings account as soon as you get the alert.

Start small

If saving more money is your goal, it may be helpful to start with an amount that’s not going to dramatically impact your life. If you set your expectations too high and fail, it can be pretty deflating. But if you start small, you can always build on it, add momentum, scale up and get that snowball rolling. The point is to do it regularly and stick to it. Weekly, monthly – whatever works for you. There are no rules. But the more you do it, the more it becomes second nature. And then it’s a habit.

Plan for setbacks

Falling off the wagon happens. Unexpected things happen too. What would you tell your friend if they suffered a setback? Most of us are kinder and give better advice when we’re talking to our friends compared to dealing with our own mistakes or problems. So if you stuff up your savings goal for a minute, or suffer a setback because of things beyond your control, it doesn’t help to beat yourself up about it or think negative thoughts. Plan to get back on track as quickly as you can.

Cross that bridge

The bottom line is the journey from Intentiontown to Actionville is a lot quicker if you take the shortcut across Habit Bridge. And the trip is worth the effort, because it’s your actions (not your intentions) that will help you to be better off.