Implementation Intention: What It Takes To Show Up

Years ago a woman conducting a sales training program that I attended said, “Ninety-five percent of sales people hate making cold calls and the other five percent lie about it.”

While I don’t think that exercising is to that extreme, there are certainly days when the vast majority of us wake up and think of one more rationalizations as to why we can’t exercise that day. The others – maybe they’re truly committed.

Peter Gollwitzer, a social psychologist at NYU, is a leading researcher on what he’s entitled “Implementation Intention.” The concept is that if we plan in advance when, where and how we’ll complete a goal, we’re more likely to succeed. Making highly specific plans for automatic behavior helps. For example, the action you’ll take when tempted by fattening food at a party.

 Studies have shown that this idea works; those who use it are more successful in starting an activity, like exercise or healthy eating, and in making the process feel automatic over time. It seems to work best with goals that are more challenging to complete. I think these two qualify.

 Chip and Dan Heath, authors of Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, use the concept of “Action Triggers.” The idea is that a specific event will trigger action. For example, “I’ll go for a two-mile walk every day immediately after breakfast.”

 Here are a few ways to use these concepts:

  • Lay out the clothes required for your particular exercise activity the night before. When you get up, put them on without thinking about it. First step accomplished.
  • My wife Deb says that what works for her is to record her exercise commitment in her calendar – date and time. She religiously reviews her calendar every morning and does what she’s committed to do.
  • Make a commitment to one or more friends that you’ll meet them at a certain time to exercise – walk, cycle or work out at a gym together. Members of my cycling group do this and, except on rainy days, we show up.
  • If you’ve committed to improve your eating habits, plan in advance what you’ll do when confronted with temptation. For example, “When I go to a party I’ll drink no more than two glasses of wine and won’t eat any nuts.” Success at following your intentions breeds more success.

Do you have some techniques that you’ve found useful in sticking with your commitments? If so, I’d love to hear from you; leave a message at my website.

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1 Response to Implementation Intention: What It Takes To Show Up

  1. Tom Hart says:

    Making the exercise pleasant so I want to do it….so I run along the river where it’s pretty or try to go hiking. If the weather is really bad I’ll even put the bike on the trainer and watch a game….going hard during the commercials let’s you enjoy the game more.

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