Why forgetfulness might be the biggest risk to accomplishing your goals

From forgetting to get a flu shot to failing to enroll in your 401k plan at work, most of us don’t follow through on things we know are important. While overlooking some of these actions may seem harmless in the moment, they can have serious long-term consequences.

“Our intentions are only loosely predictive of our behavior,” says Katy Milkman, author of How to Change: The Science of Getting from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be and professor of operations, information and decision at The Wharton School. “Forgetting may sound like a flimsy excuse for not getting around to something, but even people who have strong intentions can flake out.”

A good example is voting. Milkman’s colleague Todd Rogers, a professor at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, researched voter turnout and learned that 54% of registered voters who told pollsters they intended to vote in the 2008 U.S. presidential primary failed to show up.

“The most common reason people didn’t vote was because they forgot,” says Milkman. “Whether you intend to vote, get a flu shot, or meditate, there is an action/attention gap that’s as wide as the Grand Canyon. And it’s so solvable.”


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