Every now and then, we set goals for ourselves, whether it’s “to run every day” or “to read a book a week.”
Unfortunately, we typically fail to reach our goals despite having the intention to fully do so otherwise.
Why is this?
It’s because studies show that having the intention to run every day or to read a book a week is not enough to get ourselves to take the steps needed to achieve our goals.
Fortunately, there’s a more effective option than merely stating an intention that you can use to achieve any of your goals.
In the book “Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way To Influence and Persuade,” psychology and marketing professor Robert Cialdini recommends using what he calls “if/when-then” plans to help you achieve your goals.
If, for example, you have the goal to eat healthier, then an example of an “if/when-then” plan would be,
“If/when, after my business lunches, the server asks if I’d like to have dessert, then I will order the mint tea instead.”
Using the “if/when-then” method may seem simple, but studies show that the effect it can have on your goal achievement will be significant.
In one study that Robert Cialdini explains in this book, epilepsy sufferers who were having trouble staying on their medication schedule were asked to formulate an “if/when-then” plan.
When the epilepsy sufferers formulated an “if/when-then” plan such as “When it is 8 in the morning, and I finish brushing my teeth, then I will take my prescribed pill does,” adherence rose from 55 percent to 79 percent.
In another study that Cialdini mentions, hospitalized opiate drug addicts undergoing withdrawal were urged to prepare an employment history by the end of the day to help them get a job after their release.
Some were asked to form an “if/when-then” plan for preparing their employment history, while others were not.
An example of an “if/when-then” plan would be something like “If/when lunch is over and space has become available at the lunchroom table, then I will start writing my employment history there.”
By the end of the day, not one person who didn’t formulate an “if/when-then” plan had started their task.
However, at the end of the same day, 80% of those who did formulate an “if/when-then” plan had turned in a completed job resume.
So, why does using the “if/when-then” approach work? There are two reasons.
First, the wording of the “if/when-then” plan is designed to help you be on high alert for specific situations to occur where a beneficial step can be performed.
Second, the wording of the “if/when-then” plan is designed to also associate specific situations with a desired action needed to achieve your goal
This is why “if/when-then” plans are far more beneficial than merely stating an intention.
Because even if you have the intention to be more healthy, for example, you’ll still consistently fail to recognize opportunities that will allow you to act in a healthy way, such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator.
So, for any goal you have, especially any goal that you are highly committed to reaching, it’d be smart to take advantage of the positive effects that “if/when-then” plans can provide.
Even seemingly intractable bad habits can be improved as a result of applying the “if/when-then” method.