Want to make big or small changes in your life?
It may seem like a simple idea, but setting goals is a great first step — and understanding the psychology behind setting and reaching goals will greatly increase your chances of achieving them.
“It’s important to know what you want to do, but it’s even more important to know how you want to get there,” says Peter Gollwitzer, PhD, a professor of psychology at New York University in New York City. Dr. Gollwitzer developed the concept of “implementation intentions,” which are “if…then…” plans designed to help people achieve goals.
Extensive research shows that using this strategy helps people achieve goals ranging from getting more exercise, to expressing themselves more effectively.
Forming implementation intentions makes achieving goals easier because it allows you to anticipate opportunities to move toward your goal, and to recognize potential obstacles and distractions.
For example, if your goal intention is to eat more vegetables, an implementation intention for eating in a restaurant could be, “If the waiter approaches the table, then I will ask him what vegetables they have today.” Another might be, “If I get hungry between meals, then I will snack on carrots and celery.” The second implementation intention (snacking on carrots and celery) requires you to do a little planning and preparation by making sure you have veggies cut up and ready to eat in your fridge.
“For all of these critical situations, you can make plans, and these plans are best when made in an ‘if…then…’ format,” Gollwitzer says. “It’s a different kind of action control: It’s not top down by your good intentions, it’s bottom up from your opportunity. You don’t have to think.”
Here’s more about how you can use the science of motivation and goal setting to achieve your own aspirations.