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Implementation Intention-A Tool To Help You Get Better At Execution

We are always making promises to ourselves all the time. 

  • I’ll Start hitting the running track every day starting the new year, or
  • I’ll Finish that proposal by the end of the week, or
  • I’ll start reading one book every month.

Notwithstanding all our good intentions, we also find ourselves faltering in our self-promises more often than not. Unfortunately, our self-esteem and confidence erode when we tell ourselves we will do something and don’t follow through.

In his book Atomic Habits, James Clear refers to a study published in the British Journal of Health Psychology to draw some powerful takeaways about how we can stick to our promises without getting stuck with dealing with our willpower or motivational issues.

In that study, the researchers worked with a group of 248 people to help them build better exercise habits over two weeks. The 248 study subjects were divided into three cohorts.

The first cohort was the control group, and they were simply asked to track how often they exercised.

The second was the “Motivation” Cohort. The participants in this group were asked to track their exercise schedule and read up some inspiring and motivational content on exercising. In addition, the researchers also took the time to explain to the members of this cohort how exercise could help reduce the risk of heart diseases and improve overall health.

Finally, there was the third cohort. The folks in this group were exposed to the same motivational and informational content as the second group. However, this third group was also to do one more thing. Everyone was asked to formulate a specific plan for when and where they would exercise during the following week. Very specifically, every member of this cohort was made to complete the following sentence: “During the next week, I will partake in at least 20 minutes of vigorous exercise on [DAY] at [TIME] in [PLACE].

With these instructions given, the three groups dispersed, and the results of what the 248 participants did were tabulated end of week two.

The Surprising Result- Motivation Has No Role To Play. It Is All About Intention.

James Clear shares the details of the results in the book. 35%- 38% members of the first and second groups exercised at least once a week. But here is the kicker- 91% of the third group exercised at least once a week- this was more than double the other two groups !!

Surprisingly, the second “MOTIVATION” Group members actually performed worse than the first group. It was almost as if exposing people to Motivational and informational stuff made them more knowledgeable but less inclined to do what was required.

All of us talk about making change and achieving goals. We look for inspiring stuff to motivate us to take action. 

The significant conclusion of the research was that doing anything doesn’t depend on our motivation. Instead, it depends on our Plan for Implementation. By simply writing down a plan that said exactly when and where they intended to exercise, the participants in Group 3 increased the odds of executing their plan by two times.

Implementation Intention

The sentence that the third group filled out, “During the next week, I will partake in at least 20 minutes of vigorous exercise on [DAY] at [TIME] in [PLACE]- is what researchers refer to as an implementation intention. You make a plan beforehand about when and where you will act with regard to any activity you wish to undertake. 

I am reproducing below what James Clear writes in the book-

The punch line is clear: people who make a specific plan for when and where they will perform a new habit are more likely to follow through. Too many people try to change their habits without these basic details figured out. We tell ourselves, “I’m going to eat healthier” or “I’m going to write more,” but we never say when and where these habits are going to happen. We leave it up to chance and hope that we will “just remember to do it” or feel motivated at the right time. An implementation intention sweeps away foggy notions like “I want to work out more” or “I want to be more productive” or “I should vote” and transforms them into a concrete plan of action.

Many people think they lack motivation when what they really lack is clarity. It is not always obvious when and where to take action. Some people spend their entire lives waiting for the time to be right to make an improvement.

Once an implementation intention has been set, you don’t have to wait for inspiration to strike. Do I write a chapter today or not? Do I meditate this morning or at lunch? When the moment of action occurs, there is no need to make a decision. Simply follow your predetermined plan.

Actionable TIP

Motivation is whimsical and is not a good ally for consistent action. Instead, it would help if you had a clearly laid out Implementation Intention of What you will do and When and How you will execute on your plan.

Implementation Intentions have been a game-changer for me. All of my most productive habits are rooted in them.

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