Think of a time when you created a goal, only to fall short of achieving it.
Maybe you tried to lose 20 pounds in 6 months, but you came up 5 pounds short. Maybe you set the goal to be asleep by 11pm every night, only to find yourself frequently awake at midnight.
Just because you create a goal, that doesn’t mean you are going to achieve it.
The simple answer is that obstacles get in the way. An office birthday leads to cake which leads to cheating on our diet. Our sister in the West Coast time zone calls and we talk late into our East Coast night.
We don’t mean to hit these goal busting walls. Our intentions are good, the problem is that we fail to act on those intentions.
But here is something that can help. Psychologist Peter Gollwitzer has coined the phrase “Implementation Intentions” as a self-regulatory strategy in the form of an if-then plan.
If I come across obstacle A, then I will respond with B.
This gives us a plan of attack to be better prepared to face inevitable obstacles.
Gollwitzer tested this theory by giving participants a task that tested their concentration. Half of participants wrote the goal, “I will try to find as many correct solutions as possible!” The other half wrote “If I get distracted, then I will concentrate on test even more!”
The results showed an increased interruption time for the participants who simply created the goal of finding as many correct solutions as possible. They spent more time stumped, aka they didn’t achieve their goal.
The participants who used an implementation intention–if I get distracted, then I will concentrate on test even more–had lower disruption times. They still got distracted, but they were prepared for what to do next.
By creating an if-then plan, the participants were able to increase their results.
Turns out that our perception, attention and memory are all heightened when we form a concrete plan of how to deal with an obstacle. This makes us much better at handling the situation because the task is performed more automatically and efficiently.
By spending a few moments preparing ourselves for the obstacle, our brain can shift into autopilot and we aren’t constrained by conscious effort. We remove some hesitation and deliberation and the right decision is much easier to make in such a critical situation.
For instance, if my sister calls at 10:45pm, I will respond by calling her back the next day. If cake is brought into the office, I will sprint out of the room after signing Happy Birthday to avoid temptation.
By picturing the possible obstacles, and figuring out how to respond, we set ourselves up for success.
If I come across obstacle A, then I will respond with B. Seems too simple but it just might work.