Working toward Goals with “Implementation Intentions”

Heidi Grant Halvorson

Heidi Grant Halvorson

Heidi Grant Halvorson of Columbia University investigates self-motivation, and concludes that people are motivated by goals that provide opportunities for:

  • Relatedness to others
  • Competence in performing skillfully
  • Autonomy in directing the effort
Daniel Pink

Daniel Pink

This model is similar to Daniel Pink’s emphasis in Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us

  • Autonomy, controlling over work content and context
  • Mastery, improving skill in work over time through persistence, effort, corrective feedbackDrive
  • Purpose, being part of an inspiring goal

Related post:  Career Navigation by Embracing Uncertainty

9 ThingsHalvorson offers specific recommendations on setting and achieving goals in Nine Things Successful People Do Differently.

She advocates adopting an incremental approach to “get better” in achieving goals rather than to achieve the goal immediately.

Among Halvorson’s research-based suggestions for goal-seekers:

Juliana Breines

Juliana Breines

  • Exercise self-compassion, willingness to acknowledge mistakes with kindness
    Serena Chen

    Serena Chen

    and understanding.
    This perspective increases performance in various contexts, according to research by Berkeley’s Juliana Breines and Serena Chen and University of Texas‘s Kristin Neff.

    Kristin Neff

    Kristin Neff

  • Consider the larger context of specific productive actions, to provide meaning for doing what needs to be done (such as exercising for 20 minutes, starting on a project)
  • Rely on specific “implementation intentions”, a formula to prepare responses for challenging triggers: If x occurs (specify time, place, circumstance), then I will respond by doing, thinking, saying (specific thought, action) “y” : “When it’s 7 am, I will walk for 10 minutes”; “When I feel anxious, I will focus on inhaling and exhaling slowly for 60 seconds”
Teresa Amabile

Teresa Amabile

Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer‘s study of employees at seven companies also focused on The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work .
They identified “catalysts” and “nourishers” that enable goal persistence: The Progress Principle

  • Capitalize on preferred motivational style:
    -“Promotion-focused” (maximize gains, avoid missed opportunities, powered by optimism)
    -“Prevention-focused” (minimize losses, variance, powered by cautious pessimism)

    • Build willpower by committing to one specific, positively-stated behavior change (“walking for 10 minutes a day, every day” instead of “not sitting around all day”) and applying “implementation intentions” to overcome challengesRelated post: Two Approaches to Following-Through on Plans, Adapting to Changes
    • Protect willpower reserves by selecting  a limited number of achievable goals, to avoid feeling overwhelmed
    • Enlist “mental contrasting” to think positively about the satisfaction of achieving the goal and realistically about the challenges to attain it.
Carol Dweck

Carol Dweck

Halvorson collaborated with Carol Dweck of Stanford on Succeed: How We Can Reach Our GoalsSucceed

They quoted Henry Ford’s assessment that “whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re probably right” to underscore the value of optimistic engagement with goals.

Henry Ford

Henry Ford

The team synthesized Dweck’s work on “mindsets” from Mindset: The New Psychology of Success with Halvorson’s recommendations for setting, monitoring, protecting, executing, and celebrating goals.  Mindset

An earlier post, Developing a SMARTER Mindset for Resilience, Emotional Intelligence – Part 2 outlined Dweck’s model of Mindsets:

• Fixed Mindset, a belief that personal capabilities are given, fixed, limited to present capacities, associated with fear, anxiety, protectiveness and guardedness

• Growth Mindset, a view that personal capabilities can expand based on commitment, effort, practice, instruction, confronting and correcting mistakes, linked to nurturing teamwork and collaboration.

Peter Gollwitzer

Peter Gollwitzer

Peter Gollwitzer of Columbia added to the discussion of “mindsets” by distinguishing the Deliberative Mindset of evaluating which goals to pursue versus the Implemental Mindset of planning goal execution

His team found that the Deliberative Mindset is associated with:

  • Accurate, impartial analysis of goal feasibility and desirability
  • Open-mindedness

In contrast, the Implemental Mindset is linked with:

  • Optimistic, partial analysis of goal feasibility and desirability
  • Closed-mindedness

Halvorson, Dweck and Gollwitzer’s social cognition research on self-determination and motivation are translated from laboratory findings into practical action steps:

  • Adopt a supportive “mindset”
  • Practice “self-compassion” in addressing setbacks to achieving goals
  • Design effective triggers and responses
  • Use “implementation intentions” and “strategic automation” toward desired self-managed goals
  • Consider incremental progress toward goals-*What approaches help you work toward goals?

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12 thoughts on “Working toward Goals with “Implementation Intentions”

  1. Jennifer Hartnett-Henderson

    Some of the NeuroLinguisticProgramming literature refers to “future pacing” or what will it be like when. This seems most closely aligned with Amabile and Kramers Build Willpower approach. Thanks for sharing such a comprehensive post on the topic! Jennifer

  2. kathrynwelds Post author

    Thanks so much, Jennifer, for pointing to NLP’s “Future Pacing” construct. An upcoming post will share recent research on people’s tendencies to misjudge possible future states and how they might change in future. I’ll be eager to learn whether you find that these findings have a “ring of truth.”

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