Ever heard the advice to schedule your workouts ahead of time and lay out your sneakers by the side of your bed if you want to stick to your exercise goals?
There’s a good reason for this.
When we make a concrete commitment to do something – we’re more likely to follow through.
For decades, researchers have studied the positive impact of plan-making on our likelihood of following through with an intention. What does it mean for voters?
From Plan to Action
In fact, studies show, having a clear PLAN outweighs strong MOTIVATION.
In a study of people with a goal of getting healthier, 91% of participants who planned their intention to exercise (by writing down when and where they would do it each week) ended up following through.
On the other hand, people who read motivational material about exercise — but did not plan when and where they would do it — showed no increase in exercise frequency.
When it comes to the power of concrete plans, voting is no exception.
One foundational experiment on the impact of voting plans compared two groups:
- One group got calls reminding them of the upcoming election, encouraging them to vote, and asking if they intended to vote
- A second group got all the same info as the first group – but they were also asked:
- When will you vote?
- How will you get to your polling place?
- Where will you be coming from before that?
Researchers then looked at who actually voted.
They found that adding the calls with plan-making prompts were twice as effective as the standard reminder call. With a behavior like voting, which happens at the scale of hundreds of millions of people, a 2X increase can make an enormous difference.
Present Me Vs. Future Me
Why does this work? Plan-making encourages us to think through potential obstacles and develop strategies for overcoming them.
As humans, we believe in the best version of our future self. We hope we’ll “just remember” to do something, leaving it to chance.
But, too often, that idealized self bumps up against a reality where we get busy and distracted.
Does this sound familiar?
You tell yourself you’ll swing by your polling place on Election Day. It’ll be quick, right? It’s across from your subway stop.
The day of, tasks keep popping up at work. Before you know it, it’s 4pm and you’ve barely looked up. You still have a huge block of to-do’s to get through – and you’re meeting a friend for dinner at 7.
You’re feeling anxious about closing out tasks, getting to the polls, and making it to dinner on time. What if the lines are really long, since now people are getting off work?
Maybe you just sit this one out.
When you don’t have a specific plan, what you felt confident would just work out is now at risk of not happening.
Now, think about what a planned Election Day looks like:
You blocked time to vote on your calendar so colleagues don’t add anything urgent to your task list.
Seeing your calendar event reminds you to make later dinner plans when planning your week.
Maybe you carved out time to vote midday, with no lines. Or during the early voting period before Election Day.
Or maybe you even planned far enough ahead to request an Absentee Ballot. You get your ballot at home, fill out your ballot from your couch, and pop it back the mail without changing your schedule at all.
No Second Chances
With episodic events like voting, the gap between our idealized future self and our actual actions has even bigger consequences.
If your plan to work out first thing bumps up against a snoozed alarm or unexpectedly hectic morning, you have lots of other chances to get into the routine.
But if you miss the window to update your voter registration, request an absentee ballot, or get to the polling place before closing time – you’re out of luck (until the next election).
That’s why it’s especially important for voters to make concrete plans.
To make an effective plan, go beyond the basics.
What you need to do to free up space in your day?
- Put a hold on your calendar, including the time you need to travel to and from the polls.
- Request time off work, ahead of time. (Employers, you can make part this much easier by offering paid-time-off or holding no-meeting days! Learn about time off to vote and other vote-friendly strategies here.)
- Adjust any care-taking plans or other responsibilities you have.
How will you get to your polling place?
- Is your polling place walkable? Easy to access via public transportation? Or do you need to drive?
- Many nonprofit organizations help coordinate free rides to the polls with volunteers. Ride-share apps like Lyft and Uber typically offer free or discounted rides to the polls on Election Day.
- If can’t get there on your own, planning ahead will leave time to take advantage of these services.
What do you need to bring with you?
Voter ID, if your state requires it
Some states have specific requirements – like your ID needs a photo or it can’t be expired. Some states let college students use their School IDs, while others don’t. Figure out what applies to you before you pull up to the polling place and start frantically digging through your wallet.
If you don’t have what you need, organizations like VoteRiders will help you get an ID for free. But you need enough time before Election Day to use their service, which means you need to – you guessed it! – plan ahead.
Depending on the forecast, perhaps a sweater or umbrella.
Check before heading over so you’re not uncomfortable. Elections that fall on rainy days typically see lower turnout. A study of New York voters in 2018 found that 6% didn’t vote because of bad weather. Don’t let this be the thing that keeps you from casting your ballot!
A snack, a drink, medicine you need, and a charged phone.
Depending on when and where you vote, there may be a line. If there’s something you might need, stash it in your bag. And whether you prefer reading, listening to music or scrolling through TikTok, bring something enjoyable to keep you occupied.
Here are some other tips for a more powerful plan:
- Write it down: The act of writing it down helps you form cognitive connections.
- Set a reminder: Once it’s written down, set a reminder the day before and morning of. Add a notification to your calendar event, set an alarm on your phone, or schedule an email to yourself.
- Tell others about it: Social pressure is one of the most effective behavioral nudges. We’re more likely to follow through when we think others will know if we don’t.