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Use If-Then Planning to Achieve Your Goals

by Beth on February 21st, 2013

Do you have a goal that you’re trying to achieve? If so, I have good news for you. There is one easy thing that you can do to significantly increase your chance of success: plan how you will achieve your goal. That’s it! Deciding when, where and how you will take the steps needed to achieve your goal makes a huge difference.

In her book, Succeed, Heidi Halvorson describes an experiment where college students were asked to write an essay over Christmas break. Half of the students were also asked to decide exactly when and where they would write the essay. The students who were asked to make a plan were more than twice as likely to complete their essays. Seventy-one percent of them wrote the essay, compared to 32 percent of those without a plan.

The best plans are if-then plans: if I am in this situation, then I will take this action. This is an amazingly simple, but very effective strategy. If-then planning has helped people to eat less fat, stop smoking, remember to recycle, not drink alcohol, and use public transportation more.

If-then planning works because it helps you to take action by creating a link between a situation, which serves as a cue, and a behavior that should follow. The cue reminds you to take action. It helps your brain automate the behavior that follows so you don’t depend as much on your self-control.

Some of my if-then plans include:

  • If I am asked what I’d like to drink at a restaurant, then I’ll order iced tea (instead of the diet coke that I’m tempted to order).
  • If I want to eat chips and dip, then I’ll eat veggies with the dip instead.
  • If I take the kids to the bus stop, then I will go to the gym before heading back home.
  • If I feel stressed, then I will take three long deep breaths.
  • If I’m going to write my blog, then I will close my email.
  • If my children or husband want to tell me something, then I will stop whatever I’m doing to listen to them.
  • If it is Sunday, then I will call my parents.

I’ve found if-then planning to be extremely helpful for remembering to practice strategies that keep me positive, like nurturing relationships and being healthy. What about you? What are some of your if-then plans?

From → Goals, Mastery, Success

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