Change Fest’ – Implementation Intentions

by | Jan 3, 2013 | Blog, Jessica Chivers, Mind & Personality, Personal Effectiveness | 0 comments

It’s January and if you’re looking to make a change, this insight from the world of psychology will be a help. This was first written and published as a ‘Flourishing Female’ column in January 2011.

Have a good Crimbo and a sparkly new year? Eat a few too many mince pies? I hope so, they’re scrumptious and it’s so long until you get to eat them again. You should have seen my face fall when I decided must bake more betwixt Crimbo and NY only to find supermarket shelves cleared of mincemeat and replaced with Easter eggs. Shock mock horror! Must take advantage when you can – make hay whilst the sun shines and all that.

This month’s Flourishing Female newsletter is not about eating pies though (it is January: pastry is a dirty word) but about giving you a deliciously simple technique from the world of psychology (“implementation intentions”) to turn the big, small, ‘silly’ and uniquely personal ambitions in your head into reality. I don’t advocate New Years’ Resolutions or setting ambitious life plans in January because I don’t think it’s a time of year conducive to making them fly. BUT, I’m writing about goals now so you can mull it over and start tinkering and plotting when you’re ready. Typically I like to vision board and set some goals for myself in the spring.

Before I reveal the simple brilliance of implementation intentions you need to have clarity about the goal or outcome you’re striving for. If you want a new job, which job? When and where? If you want more down-time, how much? And what exactly does downtime look, feel and sound like? If you want to bag a lucrative contract, how much do you want to earn from it and on what terms?

When you work out exactly what you want before you set off you’re more likely to get there. It’s what new coaching clients and I do in our first meeting so we both know the purpose of our coaching relationship. There’s a part of the brain called the reticular activation system (RAS) that helps us notice things connected to our goals – so the crisper our goals are, the better the RAS can filter the world and bring things to our attention to support our endeavours. As you may remember or be agonising about at the moment, it’s no coincidence that as soon as you decide you want to have a baby you see pregnant women everywhere.

But let’s not get distracted with babies right now. Once you’ve got the glorious end goal in mind (a lucrative 6 month contract; a luxurious soak in the tub and an evening free of domestic chores once a week; a 10K race and £500 raised for the NSPCC by August or a fresh career challenge within the next six months, for instance) the next step is to write a list of actions you could take to get you there.

For example, if you’re striving for a fresh career challenge you might decide you want to:

  • Subscribe to an industry publication
  • Read said publication on regular basis
  • Regularly review job websites
  • Refresh your CV and send out on spec
  • Identify skills gaps and work to plug them
  • Approach someone to act as mentor
  • Reconnect with known recruitment consultants
  • Pay attention to what’s going on in organisations you’d like to work for

Psychologists Peter Gollwitzer and Paschcal Sheeran have found that people who link these actions to a particular trigger, are more likely to achieve their goals. Automatising behaviour by using a trigger is what is meant by implementation intentions or ‘if-then plans.’

For instance:

  • If I get paid this month I will subscribe to X journal on the day the money goes into my account 
  • If I am free over lunch I will read X journal 
  • If the kids are in bed before 8pm any evening I will search X, Y & Z job sites or work on refreshing my CV for an hour
  • If I have a 1:1 with my manager I will ask for feedback on the skills she thinks I need to develop to take the next career step

Setting implementation intentions is a simple yet powerful and proven technique.

In the words of Gollwitzer and Sheeran the reason why it works is because: “People who form implementation intentions are in a good position to recognise opportunities to act and respond to these opportunities swiftly and effortlessly.”


Do also see other related posts:

Change fest – Doing Something Different

Change fest – Spotting Opportunities

Change fest – Ditch the Diet

Change fest – Comparisons

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