Willpower Tips, Day 10 – Priming Thoughts About Your Goals

Priming Thoughts About Your Goals

A good way to combat thought distortions is to regularly prime your thinking about your big goal/value so that these thoughts are as salient for you in decision moments as your impulsivity driven thoughts.

This is particularly important when you can’t prepare for every situation in advance and will need to make small choices on the fly. In those moments, you want to ask yourself

“What is the decision in this situation that is most consistent with my big goal/value?”

Put Some Triggers in Your Environment

You might need to put some reminders in your environment that prime your thoughts about your big goal. The aim is to prime thinking about the big goal (and the benefits you expect from achieving it) rather than a “to do” reminder about a specific behavior.

You can get really creative about this.


– If your goal is exercise, draw a picture of your 60 year old future self doing something active & fun, and put it somewhere you’ll look at it.

– If your goal is spend quality time with your children, put a photo of yourself playing at the park with your kids next to where you keep your afternoon tea snack so that you’ll see it mid afternoon each day.

– If your goal is be kind to the environment, make a clay model of healthy planet earth labelled 3012 and make some little clay figures of of your descendants to live on it.

– If your goal is heart health, write yourself a sticky note but cut the sticky note in the shape of healthy heart valves.

Remember that all these little strategies might just improve your big goal-behavioral consistency a little bit (e.g., the one session CBT exercise increased fruit and veg consumption about 20-30%). You’re unlikely to find a single strategy that completely takes care of the problem if your willpower goal is hard.

If you come up with any fun willpower goal priming strategies, please share them with me via FB or Twitter @DrAliceBoyes.

Goals Vs. Values

In some ways, you need to make your Willpower Goal more of a “Value” than a “Goal” so that it’s not affected by situational factors. For example, most people have a value of not cheating on their spouse and for most people this commitment is not influenced by situational factors. It’s easy to see how you’d want not cheating on your spouse to be more than just a goal – you’d want it to be a value, something that you commit to independent of situational factors.