Achieve Your Goals with Implementation Intentions

Exhaustive research shows that people who set challenging and specific goals for themselves accomplish more than people who don’t set goals.

While setting goals might be easy, achieving them can be another matter.

You may have wondered what you can do to improve your chances of realizing your goals.

You’ve heard the old saw, the road to hell is with good intentions. That may be true under some circumstances, but research by Peter Gollwitzer and his colleagues identified an exciting exception.

Researchers found that making specific statements of intent regarding what you will do when a specific situation arises greatly increases the likelihood of achieving a pre-determined goal. Gollwitzer dubbed these statements “implementation intentions.” Here’s the general format of an implementation intention: When I encounter [a specific thought, visual cue, auditory cue, or smell], I will [do a specific behavior] so I can achieve [my goal]. Here’s an example that will help you at the grocery store: When I am in King Soopers, I will avoid the aisle with potato chips and crackers so I can achieve my goal of maintaining my weight at 172 pounds.

Why do implementation intentions work?

Gollwitzer offers the following reasons: 1) They reduce ambivalence and ambiguity. An intention solidifies your commitment to the goal by identifying a specific thing you will do to make progress toward your goal. 2) They turn negatives into positives. What you might consider to be deprivation, such as turning off the television or computer at 10 pm in order to get a good night’s sleep, becomes a positive because it’s clearly and directly linked to your goal. 3) They save mental energy and maintain a higher level of self-control that can then be used to avoid more alluring temptations later in the day. 4) They foster resourceful habits. You are much more likely to engage in behaviors that are firmly ingrained in your mind.

Creating lifelong health and well-being relies on turning healthy choices into healthy habits that don’t require conscious thought to implement. One caution. Research showed that implementation work only when you have strong feelings about your goal. Implementation intentions don’t work with weakly held goals. Thus, make sure that you firmly commit to your goals and that you invest them with lots of positive feelings and emotions.

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