Vowing Doesn’t Work, But Concrete Plans Do



“Action speaks louder than words but not nearly as often.” — Mark Twain

Is there something you’ve been meaning to do, but haven’t yet done?

I vow to do this.  I swear I’ll do that.  I’m going to do this.

Vowing isn’t the answer.

Vivid, concrete plans are.

If you want to follow-through on something, then visualize, in a concrete way, how you’re actually going to carry it out.

In the book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Carol Sweck explains how vowing doesn’t work, even if we assert it loudly, but when we make concrete plans, we actually increase our ability to follow-through.  As a result, we increase our chances for success.

Vowing Doesn’t Work

According to Peter Gollwitzer and team, even intense vowing doesn’t work.

Via Mindset: The New Psychology of Success:

Everyday people plan to do difficult things, but they don’t do them.  They think, ‘I’ll do it tomorrow,’ and they swear to themselves that they’ll follow through the next day.  Research by Peter Gollwitzer and his colleagues shows that vowing, even intense vowing, is often useless.  The next day comes and the next day goes.”

Vivid, Concrete Plans Do Work

If you really want to “git er done”, then make a plan you can actually see in your mind that jives with reality.

Via Mindset: The New Psychology of Success:

“What works is making a vivid, concrete plan:  ‘Tomorrow during my break, I’ll get a cup of tea, close the door to my office, and call the graduate school.’  Or, in another case: ‘On Wednesday morning, right after I get up and brush my teeth, I’ll sit at my desk and start writing my report.’ Or: ‘Tonight, right after the dinner dishes are done, I’ll sit down with my wife and have that discussion.  I’ll say to her, ‘Dear, I’d like to talk about something that I think will make us happier.’”

Make a Concrete Plan

You know you have a concrete plan when you can answer the WHAT, WHEN, WHERE, and HOW of making it happen.

Via Mindset: The New Psychology of Success:

“Think of something you need to do, something you want to learn, or a problem you have to confront.  What is it? Now make a concrete plan.  When will you follow through on your plan?  Where will you do it? How will you do it?  Think about it in vivid detail.”

Concrete Plans Lead to High-Levels of Follow-Through

The secret of tried-and-true follow-through, is creating concrete plans.

Via Mindset: The New Psychology of Success:

“These concrete plans — plans you can visualize — about when, where, and how you are going to do something lead to really high levels of follow-through, which, of course, ups the chances of success.”

Don’t vow it.

Plan it.


Actions speak louder than words.

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Image by IamJohnMichaels.


  1. I added “Notice the moment of vowing – Make it into my plan …Identify what I tend to vow instead of doing” to my start-up routines. It is very similar to reducing frictions, but it is a distinct creature of its own…

    Just as “fixed mindset,” I have a feeling that I use vowing for my weakness more. I am looking forward to finding my trends in a month or so from “Vowing tracking sheet.” I think this is very similar to identifying the best sleep/eating/creative time. Once we get to the bottom of it, it is impossible to unseen what we see in the pattern… We can break or grow what we can grasp 🙂

    • It is a creature of its own.

      And you’re right, we have patterns (after all, we are creatures of habit.)

      Chalene Johnson has a simple response when somebody says they’ll work out tomorrow:
      “What time, tomorrow?”

      When you get specific — when you actually identify a specific time of day, or a certain event (before breakfast, after dinner, etc.), you either set the stage to make it happen, or you quickly realize that your plans aren’t going to work.

      I’m in the habit of letting things go that I don’t really plan to do. This makes more space for the things I do, so I complete them, and, as a result, it helps me get to more things that I’d like to do.

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