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Program Yourself to Attain Goals

January 23, 2018

We are less than a month into 2018. Has anyone given up their New Year’s resolutions yet?

Hopefully not, but by mid-February I expect the gyms that are so crowded now will gain considerable elbow room. And according to Statistic Brain, only 9.2% of New Year’s resolution makers will end up judging their efforts a success. Apparently old fashioned willpower is in short supply.

Fortunately there is a new trick for creating more of it, targeted to where you need it in your life.

What You Should Know

Computers are very reliable decision-makers. They make decisions according to “If-Then” logic written into their programming. For instance, some cars will now hit the brakes for you to avoid a collision. Generally speaking, such a car has a computer which has been programmed with the following logic: IF the car is about to collide with an object in front of it THEN apply brakes automatically.

Peter Gollwitzer, a psychologist at New York University, says people should program themselves with similar logic to better attain their goals. He calls it “implementation intentions.” For instance, let’s say your 2018 goal is to get in better shape. You might resolve to eat better and exercise more. Simple, right? But the reason many don’t keep such resolutions is that they are not specific. How will you eat better? Where and when will you exercise? The lack of detail makes it easier to cheat the resolutions.

What You Should Do

A better way to attain goals is to write out your resolutions in the form of IF-THEN statements, such as:

  • IF it is Monday-Wednesday-Friday at 6:00 pm, THEN I will finish what I am doing and leave for the gym.
  • IF I go to a restaurant for dinner, THEN I will eat only half my entrée and take the rest home for the next day’s lunch.

This method doesn’t just lay out what you want to do; it lays out how you will do it. It cues your brain for success at your goal, sort of like programming your own internal computer. It is also very flexible, applicable to virtually any personal or professional goals you may have, any time of the year.

But does the method work? Gollwitzer and a colleague reviewed 94 different studies and found a “medium to large effect” of IF-THEN style planning on goal attainment. Psychology Today reports on one particular study where 91% of participants who used IF-THEN planning stuck with an exercise program. Only 39% of the other participants did.

Ultimately, the IF-THEN approach works because instead of lazily adopting a vague goal, which is actually akin to making a wish, it forces you to think through what you are trying to do, then guides you along the way. That’s something I understand from working with clients on their retirement. It’s the difference between making a wish and making a plan.

Feel free to contact me at 713.964.4028 or if you’d like to discuss this topic, or others, further, or explore ways we might collaborate in the future. 

Filed Under: Building Wealth

Written by PartnersInWealth

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