Implementation Intentions

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In Rethinking Positive Thinking, Dr. Gabriele Oettingen tells us:

“As time passed and Peter conducted more studies, he came to realize that forming a plan for how to attain a certain goal—what he termed the ‘implementation intention’—had a more powerful effect if it took on the particular form of an ‘if-then’ statement: ‘If situation x arises, then I will perform response y.’ IF I say to myself things like ‘I’ll feel more like doing this later’ or ‘I don’t feel like doing this now,’ THEN I will just get started on some aspect of the task.”

In Solving The Procrastination Equation, Dr. Timothy Pychyl tells us:

“In short, implementation intentions are a powerful tool to move from a goal intention to an action. As I have outlined in earlier chapters, these implementation intentions take the form of ‘if . .. then’ statements. The ‘if’ part of the statement sets out some stimulus for action. The ‘then’ portion describes the action itself. The issue here really is one of pre-decision. We are trying to delegate the control over the initiation of our behavior to a specified situation without requiring conscious decision.”

Implementation intentions are absolute fire for professional optimizers. This tactic is often highly recommended by leading scholars in habits, willpower, behavior design, procrastination, motivation, and goal setting.

Let’s look at some examples:

  • If I am eating, THEN I am not eating flour.
  • IF I am doing something boring, THEN I am listening to an audiobook, podcast, or lecture.
  • IF I say something like I am an idiot, THEN I will practice the 3 components of self-compassion (self-kindness + common humanity + mindfulness).
  • IF I say something that hurts someone’s feelings, THEN I will do my best to repair the relationship.
  • IF I feel fear or anxiety, THEN I will say bring it on; my infinite potential exists just outside my comfort zone.
  • IF I didn’t get enough sleep last night, THEN today, I will double down on honoring my stress, caffeine, and other sleep curfews.