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Create New Habits by using Implementation Intention

Improving Systems and Habits

Scott Miker is the author of several books that describe how to use systems and habits to improve.  This free blog provides articles that to help understand the principles related to building systems.  

Create New Habits by using Implementation Intention

Scott Miker

One technique for developing new habits and systems in your life

There are countless books, seminars, and articles that discuss the importance of visualization when setting goals.  In fact, some go so far as to argue that all you need to do to accomplish anything in life is to imagine it is already here.  

The problem with visualization alone is that the research doesn’t support the claims.  The law of attraction might be real but success doesn’t follow thoughts, it only follows action.  If you stop at visualization then you are almost certain to fall short of your goal.

A technique that research studies have validated is called implementation intention.  This technique follows an if-then order which allows you to give a specific “if” situation and follow it up with a “then” behavior.  For example, you could say that “if I pick up a menu at a restaurant, then I will automatically scan for their healthy items first.”

Jeremy Dean explains in Making Habits, Breaking Habits that “this implementation intention, this if-then link, is like an embryonic habit; it’s the blueprint for the habit to come.”  This allows us to align with the habit perspective which views our habits as a repeated response to a situation.  In this case the situation is looking at the menu and the new response that we want to create is to search for healthy items first.  

One key aspect of implementation intentions is that research has been able to consistently show that this technique works.  Dean goes on to say that “We know that implementation intentions are better than the plans that people make spontaneously because this has been thoroughly investigated in many experiments.”

If we can keep those if-then statements specific, yet flexible, we can consistently make the same decisions.  The more we make the same decisions and act in the same way to specific environments and context, the more we will form a habit.  Once the habit is formed it becomes automatic and we no longer have to focus so much effort on making sure we stick with it.

Next time you want to make a change, think about how to structure an implementation intention to accomplish your goal.  What repeated situations arise that you would like to craft a different response to?  

If you are striving for more steps per day and using a pedometer, finding a further parking space could be an easy way to gain more steps by saying “if I am looking for a parking spot, then I will look far away first before looking for a close one.”  Or you could say “if I approach the elevator at work, then I will take the stairs instead.”

This could also be used at work to improve your performance.  “If I am criticized for my work, then I will first investigate how to improve before approaching my supervisor.”  I have personally used this technique and have seen this technique work wonders.  Approaching your supervisor emotionally charged and demanding an explanation will likely have them defending their viewpoint.  Instead if you approach them with your suggested improvements based on their feedback, they will see you as willing to work to get better.  

Regardless of what goal or habit you are developing, investigate the various situations to see if you can utilize implementation intentions.  They will give you a proven way to adjust the systems and habits that you currently use and will guide you towards success.