How do implementation intentions put your changes, goals, and dreams on autopilot? Implementation intentions are a little-known asset when it comes to taking action. Since our lives are full of action, this crucial step should be in every book on goals, productivity etc..but is seldom spoken about.
If you don’t already know, implementation intentions are the step we SHOULD be taking right after goal setting intentions.
In other words, after you have a dream and commit to it, implementation intentions are the next step that will take that wish and outline the entire process for you.
I’ve been serious about the setting, reaching and setting more goals for myself since my late teens. I’m not sure why (maybe too much Capricorn in my chart) but the idea of strategy and developing a good “master plan” comes naturally to me.
Much like Abraham Lincoln, I’d rather spend an hour sharpening my ax than hack away at a tree with a dull blade.
Having a strategic plan prepares you for obstacles, opportunities, and gives you the peace of mind necessary to remain confident when pursuing those things in life that tug on our strings.
This is what implementation intentions are about at their core: they are the connection between your deepest desires and the attainment of them.
Setting Goal Intentions
Before we talk about implementation intentions we need to talk about the step that comes before, and how they are different.
Setting goals and meeting them with ease requires that we first have a goal in the first place. That’s obvious, but setting goal intentions is more than just wanting something.
- You need to want it bad, enough to commit to it wholeheartedly
- You need to adjust your life such that your arrow starts to point in that direction
- Having a clear vision of what you want for the future gives you the resolve to change your life around this change
- Then you decide to gather the knowledge necessary to move toward that change
What are Implementation Intentions?
Implementation intentions are master plans that involve detailed visions of possible opportunities and obstacles involved in reaching your goal.
They condition your mind to recognize circumstances where you can move forward toward your goal, or go back to where you started.
How Do They Work?How do Implementation Intentions help automate your goal setting Process? It's simple! @brianwrighttls #settingintentionsClick To Tweet
Implementation intentions work by using if-then statements and mental programming to make sure we recognize when we have a chance to advance on our path, and also when something has come up in our reality that could be detrimental to our progress.
If a goal intention is represented by “This is what I’m gonna do!” an Implementation intention is “This is how I am going to do it and when!”
The issue with only setting goal intentions is that they do not account for hindrances along the way like
- Failing to even get started
- Not knowing the most direct path to take
- Wasting energy on non-essential actions that do not lead us to our goal
- Succumbing to subconscious programming and repeating old behavior patterns
Implementation intentions help us recognize and act appropriately in circumstances where we can advance or deviate from our goal.
Aspects of implementation intentions
- Situational cue
- Situational response
- Mental link between cue and response
- Automatic recall of desired response and behavior
How to use implementation intentions
When we decide to get serious about implementation intentions, we will use them in two ways
- Avoiding bad habits or dangerous situations
- Seizing good opportunities
The Implementation Intention Process
When setting your intention, the first thing to do is to come up with a list of critical situations that you will go through. They are called “situational cues”.
A cue is anything you perceive with your senses that causes your brain to pressure you into behavioral tendencies.
A cue could be a bar you go to and always have a cigarette or too many drinks. A cue could also be your bed, where you pull out your phone spend too much time on social media.
Cues are all the nouns, persons, places or things that cause you to go into autopilot. Have you ever decided to break a bad habit and then remembered your plan after you caught yourself doing it again?
This is a problem that setting implementation intentions can solve.
After coming up with your list of situational cues, you only need to make a plan for how to embrace the cue, or avoid the cue and do something else. That simple.
Your goal intention is to drink less, not stop drinking, but drink less. You also know that you drink the most with a certain friend and that this friend always calls you after work and asks you over to that bar we talked about earlier.
That’s your situational cue. Your wired to say yes, and wired to go, your brain is used to it, and so your neural pathways love it because it’s easy and requires little juice to act out.
Your implementation intention will be to explain your goal intention to your friend when they call.
Sample: Whenever Clark calls me, and I see C. Kent on my caller ID (situational cue), I’m going to tell him that I’m laying off the excess alcohol (implementation intent) for my health. He’ll understand.
Does it Really Work?
Absolutely. It works even more so when we have trouble with staying organized, making the right decisions while pursuing our goals, and lack motivation and strength necessary to break bad habits when they creep up.
- Act more quickly, efficiently and without conscious intent
- Keep us from forgetting our intentions in the first place by increase our ability to access the intent in our minds when situational cues arise.
- Increase our chances of resisting temptation, even when we are under intense cognitive stress (like being hungry, busy, angry or tired)
These intentions create representations in our minds, allowing us to connect the cue, our desired response, and the behavior simultaneously, causing the reaction we want to have to be automatic.
Much of our goal pursuit is embracing the opportunity and avoiding negative behaviors that chain us to our past, and implementation intentions automate this process for us.
Example of an implementation intention
Setting a Goal Intention
- I’m going to be on time to work every day this year!
Identifying Situational Cues
- Things to avoid: snoozing, staying up late, eating too much before bed
- Things to embrace: getting to bed early, turning off devices later in the evening, waking up with plenty of time so I’m not rushing around before work
Creating Behavioral Responses the Cues
- When 8 pm rolls around, I am going to turn off my wifi, and put on my blue-blocker glasses so my sleep is not affected
- When it’s dinner time, I will eat foods that will not negatively affect my sleeping patterns and keep me up all night
- When my alarm goes off, I will NOT hit the snooze button and fall back asleep. Instead, I will get up immediately, and enjoy my casual morning routine in peace.
After this, all you’ll have to do is wait and watch yourself respond automatically.