Striving For A Goal? Make Some If-Then Plans To Help You Reach It

How many times have you been excited about a new goal, such as working out more or reading a certain number of books, only to never achieve it? I bet it has happened more than once…per month. Why? Because you had to do things to achieve that goal, and you had to rely on motivation to do those things – and after the initial surge of excitement disappeared, so did the motivation.

Hand drawing a line from point A to point B red marker isolated on white background

The Initial Excitement Always Fades Away

What I’ve found in the years since is that I always lose that initial excitement. That means if I am depending on that excitement to carry me through to completion of my goals, I will fail because I always lose the desire that helps me take action.

Almost every goal requires commitment and repetition. You can’t just do one thing and achieve your goal. You need to do it over and over again, which can be hard.

A Tool To Help You Stay Committed

Two words: Implementation intention.

An implementation intention is something that can help support your goal intentions. For instance, if you want to put up a blog post daily for a month, that is a goal intention. An implementation intention is an action you are going to take to make towards that goal.

An implementation intention gives you the when, where, and how you will act on your goal intentions.

Most experts recommend you do an ‘if-then’ form of implementation intention.

For example:

“If I unload the dishwasher, then I will immediately clean up the counters.”

“If I finish one task at work, then I will immediately get to work on the other task.”

“If it’s Wednesday night, then I will go on a date with my spouse.”

“If it’s Monday morning, then I will do the laundry.”

“If I start to lose my temper, then I will take a deep breath.”

You can also put ‘when’ in place of ‘if’.

For example:

“When I want to plant my butt in front of the TV for four hours, I will go out for a walk instead.”

“When I get into my car, I will turn the audiobook on.”

“When I go to bed, I will say a prayer.”

Will An Implementation Intention Really Work?

Nothing is going to work 100% for everyone. That’s just the way it is. We are capable of saying ‘no’ to our best laid out plan – even if we know that the plan is going to work out for us. But, there’s a good chance that it could work for you.

According to this article, 94 independent tests found that implementation intentions had a medium to large effect on goal attainment. For anyone who has been having close to no luck with their goal attainment, this should sound good.

Implementation intentions help you to make a decision once and for all and get rid of all those other choices. You no longer say, “I could go to the gym, or I could go home and have a nap.”  Instead, you have created the action plan – ‘If it’s a certain day and time, I will go the gym.”

You are also helping to create an automatic behavior when you use an implementation intention. This is a good thing. You already have many automatic behaviors that help you do what you need to do.

For instance, if you are scheduled to work, then you go into work. If your alarm goes off, then you hit the snooze button one more time before you get up.

With an implementation intention, you will be aware that if ‘this’ happens, you will do ‘that’. You will remember to act. And you won’t need to think about whether or not you should take an action – you will simply know that you will do ‘this’.

But, It Might Not Work For You

This abstract discusses two studies that found that implementation intentions may not be helpful for people who are socially-prescribed perfectionists (people who believe others evaluate them critically with unrealistic expectations) or people who have self-critical tendencies.

Moreover, this paper says that implementation intentions only help goal achievement when the goal commitment is high. It also says that the belief in your ability to succeed can have an impact on how beneficial implementation intentions can be.

If you are not sure how you will do with this productivity tool, give it a try. The worst that can happen is it doesn’t work. The best that can happen is it can have a medium to large effect on achieving your goals!

What To Do Now

Get clear on your goals. Very clear.

For example, don’t just say you want to go to the gym more. Instead, decide that you will go to the gym on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

Once you get clear on your goals, you need to get clear on the obstacles that may stand in your way. Why? Along with your implementation intentions that will help you achieve the goals, you need to create if-then statements for these obstacles so that you know exactly what to do when they arise.

For example:

“If it’s Monday, Wednesday, or Friday, then I will go to the gym before supper.”


“If I’ve had a long day at work and feel tired, then I will go to the gym and do a routine that isn’t as strenuous as normal.”

Just like you need to make clear goals, you also need to make clear statements. And you need to make them strong. Especially if you are trying to overcome a strong habit.

For instance, if you want to start eating dinner at the dinner table, and you are in the habit of eating in front of the TV, you will want to make a strong implementation intention, such as, “If I’m making supper, then I will set the dinner table for supper,” rather than, “If it’s time to eat, then I will eat at the dinner table.” Setting the dinner table gives off a stronger desire to eat there than just intending to sit down when dinner is ready.

Lastly, I would highly recommend you go over your implementation intentions as often as possible to help drive home the awareness of your if-then statements. As you read each statement, imagine yourself doing the behavior. This will help strengthen the if-then plans of action in your mind.

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments