Keeping it simple
One of the most important rules of planning is keep it simple. This essentially has to do with ensuring that the mental effort required to pursue our goal is kept to a minimum and the habit can more easily be established to help us complete the more straightforward tasks associated with it. Simple plans are often the most successful, for example, the recent popularity of the 5:2 diet is in part due to its simplicity in comparison to other weight-loss methods. Many diets require us to count calories or exclude certain foods, yet the 5:2 diet allows us to eat normally five days of the week but reduce our calorie intake to just 25 per cent of that on two non-consecutive days. Similarly, in a 2012 interview with Vanity Fair, former US president Barack Obama admitted to only wearing grey and blue suits, T'm trying to pare down decisions' he said, 1 don't want to make decisions about what I'm eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make' (Lewis, 2012).
Plans, therefore, need to be simple and actionable and we need to know what to do if problematic situations arise. This is related to the when, how and where discussed earlier in relation to implementation intentions, but also makes use of the way we have hopefully chunked larger goals into small, manageable ones. We can break these down further into a series of if/then statements that when repeated will gradually form fixed action patterns that require less cognitive effort, patterns that we most readily recognise as habits. These statements can then be used to encourage good habits and to eliminate ones that are working against us. For example, if we want to nurture a more healthy work-life balance we might employ the use of bright lines, such as 'if it's after 6pm, then, I will not check my work emails'. Alternatively, a student who is developing more adaptive study habits might employ the statement, 'if it is after dinner, then, 1 will sit at the dining room table and complete my homework'. Bright lines are, therefore, rules that we set ourselves, rules that cannot be broken or at least have very little wiggle room. If we are trying to reduce our alcohol intake, for example, we might use the bright line of only two drinks a night or if we are trying to eat a more healthy diet we might insist we eat at least three fruit or vegetables each day. They may also be a little more complex, such as 'if I receive a poor mark on a test, 1 will re-check my knowledge/ adjust my revision strategies'. These are lines that cannot be crossed.