How to follow through on your intentions




We set intentions, have goals, want to trust ourselves, trust our gut.

However, many of us can experience a massive disconnection between our intention and action.

We sometimes like to believe that intending equals doing, but, sadly, it just doesn’t seem to work like this.

The thing is, having an intention to do something and actually doing it (following through) are two entirely different concepts.

We believe that accomplishing things in life boils down to our determination, willpower, discipline but seem to notoriously ignore the power of our circumstances.


Without even realizing it, we assume that just having an intention—making a decision about what we’re going to do—is all it takes to follow through. We think that good intentions are like products that come with “everything included”—everything we need to follow through.

Levinson, Steve; Greider, Pete. Following Through: A Revolutionary New Model for Finishing Whatever You Start (pp. 15-16). Steve Levinson and Pete Greider. Kindle Edition.

The truth is, in order to do what we intended to do, is to learn to use different tactics to help us and make it deliberate practice and shape our circumstances to help us follow through.

But what if we constantly bump into obstacles that, what seems like, are created by our minds?

Do I trust the mind that tells me to work hard, to work on my goals, to strive for more personal growth, or the one that tells me that you only live once, that I don’t need restrictions, that no one can force me to do anything and my favorite: that I just don’t feel like it.


The “brains in our head” are just not connected as well as we’d like to think they are to the “feet in our shoes.” We steer, all right. But our intentions don’t always control our actions.

Levinson, Steve; Greider, Pete. Following Through: A Revolutionary New Model for Finishing Whatever You Start

Our more primitive guidance system was well suited for the way humans used to live long, long time ago, when sable tooth tigers were a thing. It was a reactive, present-oriented system, geared towards responding to present needs or threats. And it still works in this manner. Because of how reactive it is, it usually leads us in a very different direction that the one we wanted.

We wanted to eat healthily, but we smelled cookies; we tried to focus on work, but all we hear is our rumbling tummy; we planned to jog in the morning, but the bed was too warm and cozy. The Primitive system was designed to respond to an immediate opportunity or threat, and it’s a powerful system.

You may like to think that our Intelligent Guidance System should be the one leading the way, but it usually fails to deliver.

The good news is, now that we know how our mind operates, we can learn a few tricks to make it work for us.


Many of us believe it’s about having the know-how, knowing what to do and how to do it, but that, again, is not the whole story.

The truth is, we usually know what we should be doing, and finding out how to do it is probably easier than ever! We have the internet; we have a tsunami of books, courses, podcasts, ted talks – you name it. The world is fighting to get our attention with tips and ideas on what & how to do it.

And yet, not many of us succeed.

One of the main problems is that we identify ourselves with our minds. We think we are our minds. To some extent – sure. But would you risk thinking you are your hand? Or your foot? Probably not.

That’s why it is essential to understand that we are more than our mind; that we can observe our mind, detach ourselves from it, breathe some space between ‚us’ and our mind (the thinking device).


Another critical thing to understand is that we are not just one mind. Or, to be more precise, there are two guiding systems in our mind – the newer part of our brain, which is highly skilled and sophisticated, that can think our best future interest, and the more primordial side, that only listens to what is NOW.

There is a constant battle between the two: The Primitive Guidance System and The Intelligent Guidance System. I loved the metaphor from the „Following through” book, where you are a passenger in a car with two drivers (the fancy brain and the NOW brain) trying to drive the same car at the same time.

Unless you learn how to make them work together and not against each other, you’re in for an interesting ride.


  • Often we have good intentions, but we forget about them.
    • You come across a good idea and get excited. You’re sure it would improve your life, your work, your relationship or another area of your life. You may take a course to deepen your knowledge; you may download an app to help you with something, but not too long later, you forget about it entirely.
    • That’s why we need spotlighting to keep reminding us about what it was that we wanted to do. Yes, we can even forget about our own dreams and goals, and then there’s New Year’s Eve to reminds us about it. Again.
    • Remind yourself of your what and why- reminders, notes, chimes. We’re busy; we have a lot going on, we need something to ground us. Meditation practice is a wonderful tool for that (and many other things), but if you forget to meditate – use one of the many techs, mental, or people crutches available.
    • It’s about imbuing your environment with as many cues leading you towards your goal as you can and also removing as many cues as you can that would lead you astray.
    • Create your own cues of frequent, naturally occurring events- microwave, alarms, something that you can count on. Use it as a trigger for your action.

  • How to follow through with Willpower Leveraging

Willpower Leveraging means taking one easy action today that makes it much more likely that you’ll do the right thing tomorrow.

Following Through: A Revolutionary New Model for Finishing Whatever You Start (p. 115). Steve Levinson and Pete Greider

– That means making tough choices about your future behavior while it’s fairly easy.

– Automate what you can to save energy and avoid decision fatigue

– In a nutshell, it’s not buying a bag of chips while you’re shopping rather than relying on resisting them when the bag is open in front of you, and you’re watching a movie on Saturday night.

  • Leading the horse to water
  • As the saying goes: you can lead the horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.
    • Still, you have better odds of success when there’s actually water nearby when the horse is thirsty.
    • This is a gentle and compassionate approach to our struggle with following through.
    • It’s about creating better conditions to take further action or, as I like to think, JUST STARTING (think putting your running shoes on, driving to the gym, opening that file you need to work on, etc.)
    • Sometimes you’ll build some momentum and carry on, sometimes not. Whatever you choose to do is fine.
    • Realizing that each intention has two parts: the easy part (preparing to do something) and the hard part (doing something)

  • Create compelling reasons to follow through- good reasons are not enough.
  • I want to lose some weight and get back in shape. Do I have any good reasons to follow through on that? You bet I do! Plenty.
    • I KNOW it would be good for my health, my resistance, or my self-confidence. These are all excellent reasons. But are they compelling enough for me to get me going? Not really. They’re as good today as they will be tomorrow.
    • Now, imagine I need to get back to physically demanding work AND hop in a bikini in two weeks or go to my high school reunion next month. NOW we’re talking!
    • Of course, high school reunions and bikini days don’t happen every time I want to achieve something. So it’s a good idea to master the art of making your reasons compelling enough.
    • HOW

  • Do the good thing before the bad thing.
  • you can have what you want but need to do something good first (eating veggies before chocolate)
    • We like to think that the opposite will work for us best: We’ll just do one pleasant thing, and THEN we do the tough one. It rarely works.

  • Find people who help you do the things you want to do, not the opposite!
    • Sign up for a class or a community that will remind you of what and why you wanted to do
    • Make it automatic- remove friction, remove decision making, decide on something upfront and make it as easy as possible.
    • Don’t trust yourself! There are many of you, and usually, one wins. You have to outsmart yourself. There are a grownup and a six-year-old living under the same roof.

  • Make it harder to do the wrong thing.
  • That’s the basics of shaping your environment to work for you.
    • Are you addicted to gummy bears? Remove them.
    • Are you snacking on unhealthy stuff? Prep some healthy snacks in advance (make it easier to do the right thing) AND remove all unhealthy snacks.
    • Are you browsing the net instead of writing your thesis? There’s plenty of apps and extensions that can temporarily block access to it.
    • Too much online shopping? Remove the fast checkout option, don’t bookmark any shopping pages, unsubscribe from any mailing lists.

  • Make it easier to do the right thing.
  • Remove friction when you want something to happen: * have healthy snacks ready to grab if you want them to be your staple * shape your environment so that doing what you want to do is as easy as it can be * if your goal is to exercise more, it’s not the best idea to pick a gym across the town; go for an easier option, closer to home/work, on your way, where not much extra effort is needed.
  • It’s usually about small and easy stuff that we don’t do in life, but we keep looking for the big stuff.


Do whatever it takes to follow through on your intentions. There are many tools that can help, but it’s still on you to try and implement them.

Don’t rely on your willpower or discipline – they might be enough to get you started for a while, but if you really want to succeed, you have to be more strategic.

  • Learn about how your mind operates and learn how to outsmart it. Your mind is there to work for you! But a part of it understands it differently. Now you know it, so use it wisely!
  • You have to commit to changing and take it seriously. This is probably the most crucial part of this equation. You really need to want to change and commit to it. Now, do you THINK you are ready for it? What would you do to check HOW serious you are? Would you bet a thousand dollars? Would you bet your car? I’m not asking you to but play with this thought in your mind. Are you feeling a bit uneasy?
  • * We usually are not committed enough!
  • Remember, saying yes to things, having intentions, and promising stuff (to yourself or others) doesn’t seem to cost you anything, and we are usually very eager to do it. But if you keep doing it, you will lose self-trust and self-efficacy.


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