If-then planning


If-then planning

Implementation intention, often referred to as if-then planning, was coined by psychologist Peter Gollwitzer in the mid-90s. This powerful concept links specific situations with planned actions in your mind. When the situation arises, your brain recognizes it as an opportunity to advance your goal, triggering automatic action. If-Then plans are a reliable method for solidifying new habits.

Obstacles are an inevitable part of any meaningful journey. Rather than being discouraged by this reality, we can accept it and learn to navigate through it effectively. Implementation Intentions assist in this process by creating detailed plans for handling obstacles. This pre-decision approach ensures that when obstacles inevitably emerge, you can execute your plan without hesitation.

If-Then planning emerged from motivation research, offering a solution to common goal pursuit challenges. It's all about refining your goals by making them more precise. Backed by over 100 studies, If-Then planning has proven highly effective in resisting temptations, forming positive habits, and increasing your chances of goal attainment by up to 300%. In health psychology, self-generated If-Then plans are widely used to pre-define responses to specific situations, reducing the strain on your willpower.


If-then plans go like this:

If-then plans are structured as follows: When you set a goal, you should not only define what you want to achieve but also specify where and when you will take action. 

If (when) [this situation], then I will do [this behavior].

To effectively manage distractions, you need to dive into the details of 'how' and 'what' to take action. For instance: If I'm distracted [by someone talking to me while I'm trying to concentrate], then [I will politely ask them to stop].

There are two main types of if-then planning:

  1. Developing New Habits: To create a new habit, you associate a trigger with a specific action. This forms a reliable behavior pattern that activates without much effort. For example, when I enter my room in the evening, I do 20 pull-ups. When I realize I'm feeling irritated, I go for a walk. This method helps establish a new habit.

  2. Avoiding Bad Habits and Overcoming Obstacles: When you encounter obstacles or temptations, specifying an alternative action can prevent you from succumbing to undesirable behaviors or wasting your energy on resistance. It's important to avoid using "don't do" options and instead name or select an alternative action that replaces the unwanted behavior. For example, when I feel the urge to eat something unnecessary, I start reading a book out loud. When I find myself aimlessly holding my phone, I place it on the top shelf where it's out of reach without a ladder.



If-Then Planning for Goal Achievement


1. Set a Clear Goal: Start by defining a specific and achievable goal that genuinely matters to you. Break down your larger goal into smaller, manageable steps to reduce overwhelm and make it more feasible.

2. Identify Obstacles: Consider potential obstacles or challenges that might impede your progress. Be honest with yourself about what could stand in your way.

3.  Create If-Then Statements:

  1. a. List the "Ifs": Identify the situations or conditions you want to be prepared for. These are the scenarios you want to remind yourself about.

    b. List the "Thens": Determine the actions or responses you'll take in response to these "Ifs." What steps will you take when facing these situations? Add these responses to your plan.

    Example: "If I feel too tired to exercise after work (obstacle), then I will change into my workout clothes as soon as I get home (response)."

4. Positive Implementation Intentions:

Frame your "if-then" statements positively, focusing on the actions you'll take to overcome obstacles rather than what you won't do.

Example: "If I encounter a tempting dessert at the restaurant (obstacle), then I will order a cup of herbal tea or a fruit salad for dessert (response)."

5. Visualize Scenarios.

Mentally rehearse scenarios in which you may encounter these obstacles. Imagine yourself successfully applying your "if-then" plans.

6. Create a card.

 Construct a visual representation for each scenario by selecting suitable images and illustrations that closely align with both parts of the "if-then" statement. Accompany this with specific descriptions.

7. Implement and Monitor.

Put your plan into action. When you face obstacles, recall your "if-then" statements and carry out your planned responses. Keep track of instances when you successfully apply your "if-then" plans. It's normal to encounter unexpected challenges along the way. If your initial "if-then" plan doesn't work as expected, make adjustments to better suit your needs.



Gollwitzer, P. M. (1999). Implementation intentions: Strong effects of simple plans. American Psychologist, 54, 493-503. https://s18798.pcdn.co/motivationlab/wp-content/uploads/sites/6235/2019/02/gollwitzer-1999-implementation-intentions.pdf

Bargh, J. A., Gollwitzer, P. M., Chai, A. L., Barndollar, K., & Troetschel, R. (2001). The automated will: Nonconscious activation and pursuit of behavioral goals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 81, 1014-1027.

Bieleke, M., Keller, L., & Gollwitzer, P. M. (2021). If-then planning. European Review of Social Psychology, 32(1), 88–122. https://doi.org/10.1080/10463283.2020.1808936   https://www.researchgate.net/publication/346924102_If-then_planning