Implementation Intention: An Easier Way to Tackle Obstacles

Superpower-Oliver Burkemann

There could be two ways to do it – a task, a project, a goal.

One way is to take the Stoic, hard-knuckled approach – hard skinning oneself, to cultivate the capacity to withheld oneself in any weather is one way.

However there is another way . The idea is to trick our mind to enjoy or love doing what needs to be done. This trick work in two ways by following the if-then plan. One way is remind oneself of all the negative things that could happen if we don’t do what needs to be done and another way is to entice ourselves to see the positive outcomes possible if we do what needs to be done at hand. This is the greatest secret I learnt from myself.

I was about to have dinner and one of the recent vow that I took for myself is to avoid or at the least reduce my meat consumption. I had a great time in the office today and I wanted a treat for myself. My mind started reeling and carved for to treat myself with a chicken tikka for the dinner. I even started to contemplate upon my dinner menu – whether to have it chappati or dosa or parotta. The moment arrived when I had arrived. Something tipped in my head and said to me, ‘Sathya remember not to eat meat?’ In that moment I realized that I had to somehow compromise myself and my carving not to order and eat meat. I made this old obstacle-facing plan – called the ‘Implementation Intention’ plan or ‘If-then’ plan. It is plain old thought-chaining trick. I knew I cannot rationalize with my carvings and suggest not to eat meat. I have to eat something, so instead of falling for its bait, I said today I reminded myself not to eat meat, may could taste the chicken curry for chappati. If I liked the taste of it, I will order full plate chicken. Now I know that I never liked to have eaten chicken though I want to eat it. I never liked being fulled over red meat and hated the bad stomach and mouth punge. I never can get away the disgust of eating meat as well. With this thought in my mind, once I took the chicken curry I knew that I am not going to like to order for chicken. In fact, after tasting some chicken curry, I actually ordered veg kuruma for my chappati. It is an interesting trick on facing the obstacle especially fighting the carving and emotional behavior. It is called implementation intention.

Now try it, think of any bad habit you want to stop. Use this simple template and make a statement out of it.

For me it was, ‘If I feel like eating chicken, then I remind myself of its bad taste and aura.’

Similarly you can remind yourself to do this.

Few examples are,

‘If I feel like smoking, I will buy a chewing gum for myself.’

‘If I feel like overeating and ordering more, I will order a salad or an egg to close my meal.’ (I use this every other time)

‘If I feel like not writing, I just tell myself to write just one line/ sentence.’ (This article started with writing that one sentence. haha)

‘If I feel tired or tell excuses to myself of not wanting to exercise, I tell myself to do just 2 pushups/ 2 squats. (Just an hour before I did just that. My quota for today’s exercise is done.)

Here you can see an interesting pattern. There is always a replacement habit for the existing bad habit. Also the replacement habit or action or behavior is so tiny/ mini it should be easier to do than the bad habit in the first place.

Usually a trick that always works is connect with the particular bad habit with the negative emotion or outcome that it can create. Sometimes it is best to scare ourselves out of the bad habit. If it doesn’t work, think of the positive outcome that one might feel of not doing the bad habit – feeling healthy, feeling safe, etc.

Another trick that I tell myself to do is despite the tiny-ness of the habit, I pretend myself of doing a full workout or full savings. For example, I have been wanting to save for quite sometime and I want to create a discipline of putting money into my piggybank (it is actually a piggybox) everyday. Saving Rs.10 everyday didn’t excite me, saving Rs.1000 is simply not possible. But pretending myself to save Rs.1000 everyday though I drop just Rs.10 or Rs.100 or Rs.500 had kept the momentum going. Sometimes I eventually deposit Rs.1000 as well as I did today. It is fantastic. I even calling my saving box as – Rs.1000 saving box, despite the fact that I may not be saving Rs.1000 every day.

Try this simple trick to get you back on track and help you rise above.

Called ‘Implementation Intention’, it follows a simple syntax: ‘If this… then that… ‘

You see, our mind needs to be tricked into doing things. It is the mind that is our worst enemy and it is our mind/ thought our weapon against it and to refine it. We don’t have an option.

It is about choosing what we want to trick ourselves into.

We can either trick ourselves into thinking – so what it is just another puff and I am not going to die out of it, or it could be otherwise as well telling our mind that it is Rs.1000 saved today, though I deposited just Rs.100. yes, somewhere back of our head there is going to be a voice that is going to tell ourselves or even laugh saying you are tricking yourself. So what- it is for a greater good you say to yourself. Yet another trick.

So there you have it. Use the full power of ‘If-then’ idea and start small. Why small is the new big… I like that idea.

With this method, I have made the following habits stick:

  • Practicing Yoga everyday
  • Meditating everyday even it is just for 10 minutes
  • Writing everyday
  • Reading everyday

Now it’s your turn.

  • Think about what is one goal/ habit you want to develop?
  • Think of an obstacle, a prick that is not letting you pursue or practice your goal or habit
  • Device an if-then plan to face the obstacle when faced

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