How Implementation Intentions Can Get You Your Goals

I recently read Secrets from the Eating Lab: The Science of Weight Loss, the Myth of Willpower, and Why You Should Never Diet Again by Traci Mann. The title is quite a mouthful, and I found the content to be full as well with a lot of surprising insights. I definitely recommend it if that’s a topic that interests you.

While I learned a lot about brain chemistry and eating, I also picked up some tips that can be applied to all aspects of life, specifically using implementation intentions. Here is how implementation intentions can get you your goals as well as how to make your own.

How Implementation Intentions Can Get You Your Goals and How to Make Your Own

In Secrets of the Eating Lab, Traci Mann discusses implementation intentions (i-intentions for short) based off of the work of psychology professor Peter Gollwitzer and social psychologist Dr Paschal Sheeran. She talks about setting these i-intentions in terms of having a plan around food, which is great, but I want to take it into other areas of my life as well.

An i-intention is a specific action plan for a situation that you are expecting. This differs from a goal intention. Here is an example to help clarify:

Goal intention: I want to have a regular meditation practice.
I-intention: If I am at home at 8 pm each day, then I will sit down and meditate.

Goal setting is great. Setting and striving toward goals brings awareness and motivation into our lives. We all have goals we’d like to accomplish, but without a plan, it’s hard to do. I-intentions are a tool to increase the likelihood of achieving those goals by planning ahead. By preemptively deciding when, where, and how you will work toward your goal, you set yourself up for future success.

Implementation intentions are a tool to increase the likelihood of achieving a goal by planning ahead. Click To Tweet

In Secrets of the Eating Lab, they performed studies to learn about the efficacy of i-intentions. Some participants were asked to create i-intentions for their meals, and the researchers found that they ate more healthy food over the next five days than those who had not set i-intentions.

Gollwitzer and Sheeran’s study used 94 tests and showed a “positive effect of medium‐to‐large magnitude on goal-attainment” for those using i-intentions. So many other studies have been conducted as well. Another healthy eating study saw a significant increase in the participants eating better. One study regarding women’s breast self-examinations even showed 100% success.

How to Make Your Own Implementation Intention

1. With your goal in mind, brainstorm situations you will be particularly able to work toward your goal and situations that will be particularly difficult for your goal.
e.g., I will only meditate when I’m at home. I won’t want to if I’m feeling too tired. I won’t want to if I have other work that needs to be done.

2. Choose one or two of these situations which you are most likely to encounter.
e.g., Being at home, before it’s too late in the day, yet late enough that my work is finished.

3. Brainstorm actions that you want to do in the case that each of these situations occurs, and choose the one that is most attainable. These should be very specific.
e.g., I will sit down and meditate.

4. Put these actions into the i-intention format of “If _(the situation)_, then I will _(the action)_.” It is important for i-intentions to be set in the positive. It is much more effective to choose something you will do as opposed to something you will not do.
e.g., If I am at home at 8 pm each day, then I will sit down and meditate.

5. Repeat these to yourself once a day or as you deem necessary before the inciting situation occurs.
e.g., In the morning as I’m brushing my hair, “If I am at home at 8 pm each day, then I will sit down and meditate.”

Have you ever used implementation intentions? What is one that you could use now?

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4 Comment

  1. Reply
    April 18, 2016 at 2:26 pm

    This is actually a great way of setting yourself up to achieve your goals. Not only are you creating a goal, but you are intentionally figuring out ways to do it. I will have to try this! Maybe I can i-intention myself to wake up early enough as to not have such a hectic morning. Thanks for the great tips!

    1. Reply
      April 19, 2016 at 8:20 am

      Yes, exactly! Haha, I supposed an i-intention for that could be, “I will get out of bed the first time my alarm goes off,” (as opposed to hitting snooze).

  2. Reply
    April 29, 2016 at 12:13 pm

    Thank you for sharing this method with us. I really needed this post! I cant wait to use it to come up with ways and to eat healthier, have fun times with my family, and get my book writings done. 🙂

    1. Reply
      April 29, 2016 at 5:09 pm

      Aw, I’m glad this post found you at the right time. That sounds awesome – all excellent pursuits!

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