Intention versus Real Habit Formation

I recently attended a work-related conference.   I can hear folks now… What? Aren’t you retired?   But retirement doesn’t mean that I’m not still working part-time, consulting in my field of expertise. And the fact was the conference was right here in town, less than 6 miles from my house, and very much related to my consulting area of expertise. I expected I would know quite a few attendees (I did). In fact, I knew 2 of the coordinators of the conference and I felt a little bit like I was supporting them by attending.

While there were a number of very interesting speakers (and of course I will be summarizing my learning from a couple of them), I came to the realization that I really don’t want to be in the working world anymore! As one blogger recently phrased it – I don’t want to “stay in the game” any longer. I don’t want to learn new skills required to work with the next generation & their different mindset (called a gaming mindset). I don’t want to learn how to work in the new future organization structure (shape shifting versus hierarchical). I don’t want to learn how to maximize use of AI technology.  That all just sounds exhausting; I’m ready to move onto something different.

Not staying in the game is not quitting. It is recognizing that I am changing. I am proactively recognizing that my passion is no longer coming from maintaining a cutting edge skill set in my field of expertise. My passion is coming from learning how to live life.

Even though I had this AHA moment, one speaker I found very applicable to my living life realization was a talk on changing existing habits/behaviors. While the information was presented for getting people to buy/use new innovations, the concepts are true for changing all types of behaviors/habits.

Our attitudes and intention do not equate to our actual habitual behavior! Just stating an intention to change does not make it happen.

This was mind opening. So much about entering into retirement for many of us is about habit change – from creating new daily schedules to making healthy living changes in diet and exercise.

Habitual behaviors, even infrequent habits, allow us to function; we’ve essentially created habits to remove decision-making and simplify our lives. No one can make a decision about everything, everyday – it would go beyond just cognitive fatigue. Existing behaviors/habits reduce risk – we know the outcome.  Whether those habits are good for us or not, they are firmly ingrained and they keep our life in some sort of balance. Changing a habit is risky – we don’t know the outcome and it could have an adverse effect. We might not even consciously realize our resistance. To make a habit change, the focus needs to be on reducing the resistance to change.

The speaker shared some approaches to increase the odds of habit change (reducing the resistance):

  • Piggy back on an existing behavior/habit
  • Make new behavior less painful/easier than current behavior
  • Holistically “design” the new behavior so it is visually and emotionally appealing
  • Provide short term rewards for behavior shift
  • Improve perception of behavioral change outcomes – remove cognitive resistance

As I thought about my retirement lifestyle desire for more healthy habits related to eating and exercise, I contemplated what strategies/actions might fit some of these approaches. It has to be more than just stating my intention to eat better and exercise more! Some I’ve implemented, some I need to re-energize, and some I need to plan conscious action around:

  • Keep “good snacks” around and in sight – popcorn, fruit, cut veggies. Stop buying big bags of chips (and keep the chip bag hidden in the pantry).
  • Keep buying those pre-packaged salads… yeah, they are more expensive, but they taste good, and I eat them!
  • Always use my favorite, hand-made bowl to serve a snack (i.e. don’t eat right out of the bag).
  • Keep planning walks with friends, instead of lunches.
  • Buy a multi-class yoga pass (again). I’ve already bought the cute yoga pants!
  • Buy easy to prepare, good tasting foods for breakfast, so it’s not just coffee for breakfast.
  • Plan ahead some dinners each week and put them on the calendar; explore some new recipes (enjoy my new kitchen!).

Now, if I could just figure out how to activate my intentions to walk the dog more, get the bike out, and SUP regularly.

So while the conference did not make me want to engage more with the working world, I was glad I went. I did see some folks I used to work with. I did learn some new things. I did re-energize my “health & wellbeing” action plan items.  I’m looking forward to this next stage of my retirement transition.

What are you doing to move intention into action and new habit formation?


Picture Credit: me!   Africa Safari, 2017.  I call this one “Lion King”.  Thanks to our great safari guide Wolfgun for putting us in the right location at the right moment.

25 thoughts on “Intention versus Real Habit Formation

  1. What a great AHA moment! It must have felt very freeing.

    As far as making eating healthy easier, my husband and I have taken the simple step of buying pre-cut and pre-washed salad greens. For some crazy reason, not having to break off leaves of lettuce and tearing them into a salad bowl makes all the difference. Cutting up a few veggies is easy peasy… but the lettuce felt like a hassle. Yes, it’s more expensive, but (we feel) well worth it.

    Oh, and I’ve never been able to see the pictures you credit at the end of your posts (I just see the one of you in Yosemite at the top)… am I the only one? I’d love to see some pictures of your African adventure.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Janis, can you tell me more about how you view me – tablet, smartphone, etc? You’re the first person who has mentioned the picture not coming up… I see it when I’m on my site (laptop) and I’ve gotten comments from FB friends about the photos, so trying to figure out why you’re not seeing them and how widespread the issue is! I’m going to a WordCamp in a couple of weeks so if I have details, someone should be able to help me figure it out! Thanks.

      Oh, yeah on the salad… we will eat the pre-packed ones, but a head of lettuce goes bad every time! I know it feels more expensive, but not if you end up throwing 75% of it away!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Something very odd just happened… although when I first look at your webpage (on a phone, tablet or desktop), I only see your photo (the one of you in Yosemite) at the top, I just clicked on that photo of you and all of a sudden, your other picture appeared. Then I cleared the page and went into it again and just your top photo showed again. I have no idea why this is happening, but I’m happy that I now know how I can see your beautiful pictures of Africa.

        I wonder if this is happening to anyone else???

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I’ll still look into it at the WordCamp conference… maybe it’s the theme. After you updated your’s, I’ve got “work on blog theme/framework” on my to-do list! But now at least you can see the Africa photos – most are hubby and some are amazing (even to me and I was there!).

        Liked by 1 person

  2. First of all, I am so impressed with your photograph. Amazing. Second, thank you for the reminder that just because each morning I say today I will eat healthier doesn’t mean it will magically happen. I gradually built habits of regular physical activity and daily writing by scheduling small, measurable actions. I need to do the same with my nutrition if I want to make real change. Thanks for the inspiration.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I like the phrase “small measurable actions”. And Karen’s tracking as well. I’ll need to think how those can help me in some of my daily exercise intentions.

      BTW – one thing that’s really helped me on eating healthier was having healthy(ier) munch-able snacks on hand. A couple I like are — jelly beans (you don’t need many to satisfy a sweet craving) and sugar-snap pea pods – crunch and you can just grab handful on the go. I realized I am a habitual snacker and am now working within that habit.


  3. Spot On! The problem with ” retiring early” is the feeling “because I can I should”. I too worked part-time for a few years. Then on my last project I realized I wasn’t enjoying it. So now I’m fulltime retired. I think the part-time work helped me transition. I now am very comfortable declaring myself retired. I love having no schedule that even a fun “second career” would require. I’m comfortable with “good for you, not for me”.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m probably still a little in the “because I can, I should” mindset. Even though I don’t want to learn all the new skills that were talked, I still feel a bit like “if they really want me to do these things I can do and like to do, then I will”. I’m in transition for sure!


  4. I guess I have not really had the intention to start any new “habits” per se, as I define a habit. I think of a habit as some kind of a regular occurrence, whether it be daily, weekly, monthly, etc. and something that will run for a long time, if not for the rest of one’s life. I already have some strong habits in place. I drink Bulletproof coffee every morning as part of my intermittent fasting. I work out with a trainer twice per week. I drink an afternoon “tonic” consisting of water, lemon juice, fermented beet juice, unmodified potato starch, psyllium fiber and inulin (for gut health). I also take a carefully chosen selection of vitamins and supplements every day. The only other fitness “habit” I have been considering is adding another cardio workout each week, but I have not decided whether I am really committed to that or not.

    I do have the “intention” to add some new skills and experiences and I have been working on SOME of those, but not in a focused, concerted fashion. For example, one of my intentions is to get my workshop in good shape and start working in it regularly. I have made a lot of progress and I’ve completed a number of projects, but I’m not where I want to be yet. I have also always wanted to learn to play the hammered dulcimer, so I acquired one and bought a tuning pickup and that’s about where it stands. I hope to work more on that this winter. I also want to learn to play piano, but I have done absolutely nothing to make that a reality yet. I have been a singer for 32+ years, so I am decent at reading music. I just need to learn the mechanics along with a dose of music theory. The other new skill that’s high on my list is to become an audiobook narrator. I have bought a good mic and a digital recorder and made some sound-absorbing pads for my recording space and I am spending some time learning about the craft, but have not even recorded a demo yet until I am more sure of what I am doing.

    I have spent a lot more time cooking and smoking meat which has been fun too.

    Finally, I will probably try doing a bit of professional work via Your Encore, but I am not sure if this will last a long time (become a habit?). I am finding a lot of enjoyment and fulfillment in everything else that I am doing, so I’m not sure I need to be involved professionally anymore.

    I am very grateful that I have the freedom to do what I like and I look forward to trying many more new experiences in the years to come.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Bob, I think part of my Aha was how many things we do habitually and don’t think about them. Little things like how we brush our teeth (floss or don’t), deal with our clothes, or have exercise as part of our regular life. And how just stating intention to make a change/do something doesn’t necessarily translate without really understanding the perhaps unconscious resistance to it and dealing with that resistance. The talk was totally in the area of product innovation (purchase interest not translating to actually purchase behavior), but I do think it helps in thinking about what is the resistance I’m having to things I’ve stated as intentions. I’ve had a few things on my “to-do” list (like your intention to learn to play the piano)… why have my intentions not translated to action? Makes me go Hmmm?


  5. Oh Pat, I so know that feeling of deep exhaustion when you imagine acquiring the skills that would make you current in your former work. I had that same feeling of “No way, no how” in my life. It’s such a nicely definite place to be!

    There’s certainly a huge gap between intention and action. My way of dealing with it is to track it (via my RAW NEWS acronym for daily habits) and to make the new actions visually and emotionally appealing – partly by setting up my art studio so it’s a place I really want to be, and partly by having relevant images all over file folders related to the different letters of the acronym.

    Your thoughts for how to handle your eating and exercise commitment seem bang on. Great idea to use your new kitchen as a support for your new actions. I’ve always found that there is something about a fresh start that makes habits easier to acquire… although not necessarily to sustain.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am very curious how your tracking goes and if it helps move intention to action. One other thing that’s come into play, my stating these things on-line. A friend read my blog and gave me a Sun-basket coupon (free try) and I know she is going to ask me how it was – they send you all the ingredients to cook a nice meal. So I will have to try it!


    1. I think it depends on how the popcorn is made. Air-popped, plain popcorn is a high fiber, low-calorie food (about 30 calories per cup). When cooked in oil, and dressed with butter and salt….that’s when the guilt is justified! 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Donna got you first. It’s all in perspective – air-popped popcorn (Skinny Pop) is better than a big bag of Ruffles. No slathered with fake butter – super sized – at the movies. When you need the crunch & the salt (I’m a snacker and that will not change), popcorn is the lesser of many evils.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Oh my gosh, Pat! I wish we lived a bit closer to each other! Reading that felt like we are on exactly the same path! I, too, came to the realization that I had absolutely NO desire to return to elementary teaching. As a special ed teacher, I was at the top of my game – hell, I could practically teach a monkey to read…but just a few Encore consulting jobs made it clear to me that I was DONE! (At least with that type of Encore work.) So I invented other things…And currently, I’m in the exact same place of knowing that my goal is to get more exercise – but it doesn’t happen automatically. Wish you could come on over, and we’d go for a walk! ~ Lynn

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m learning that many of my virtual friends could be friends of my heart…or at least we are so in-sync on our journeys, we “get” each other! Yeah, we would go for a walk for sure… and next time I come to Boise (which I should be planning as a really good friend of mine levels there and has a new house…) we will!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. This is just so right on, Pat! I agree about professional conferences and though nice to see folks again (and be seen), I do not want to learn new tactics for managing offices and staff (although I still have to teach these skills in my courses). I am a very scheduled person (part of my temperament) so I had to create daily and weekly schedules for everything but allowing for wiggle room if something better comes along. My “retirement” consists of teaching part time at a university, infinitely more rewarding than my day job. The best thing about teaching my 35 years experience is the stories I share with students–they love it all!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I love storytelling. I’ve never considered myself a teacher, but I love to share knowledge. You’re making me think of new possibilities – part time teaching my skill area. Although I did have a friend who got out of teaching as a second career because he was frustrated with the level of plagiarism he dealt with. What frustrations does teaching part-time give you? I think it’s when you’re willing to take the “bad with the good” that you know you’re passionate about the activity.

      Oh, and a good friend, younger by a number of years, said she still loves learning the new tactics and that’s one way she knows she’s not ready to retire.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You should consider it, Pat. Cal State University system requires a minimum of Master’s degree, and I teach in the Recreation Admin major, where I spent 35 years as a practitioner in the field. Universities are always looking for lecturers. I have never had a plagiarism problem, but I do have one of those brains that remember what is written and I can tell when a student copies something off the web (usually a drastic style change), and I call them on it right away. I’m lucky I have few if any frustrations as a lecturer–I’m treated and valued so much better and higher than I was before I retired from my day job.

        Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s