Three Simple Tricks to Maximize Follow-Through

“If I were you, I’d call an ambulance right now.”

I was on the phone with a doctor after-hours asking what we should do about some symptoms my husband was experiencing after a minor car accident. The urgent care clinic we normally use was closed for the day, and I was wondering if it was worth going to the Emergency Room. The doctor clearly felt that the ER was where we needed to be, and in a smooth bit of behavior change judo, made sure that’s where we ended up. She did three specific things that quickly got me moving:

  1. Establish a sense of urgency. Those words “call an ambulance” were chilling. Clearly I’d called because I was worried, so I was predisposed to take her seriously, but she left no room for equivocation.
  2. Ask the person to commit to a specific plan. Her next question to me was “what hospital will you be going to?” I hadn’t thought ahead that far, but quickly named our closest hospital. “Good choice,” the doctor responded.
  3. Create accountability. “I’m calling them right now to tell them you’re coming.” Well, now I know that there will be two groups of people expecting us to follow through: the after-hours doctor and the emergency room staff. Better get moving.

We were in the ER in a matter of minutes, and husband was being seen just minutes after that. It was only when I was waiting for his exam to finish that I realized how effectively the after-hours doctor had ensured our behavioral follow-through with her recommendations. Sometimes behavior change is as much art as science.

(My husband, by the way, is fine.)