Implementation Intention - Concept


Following the argumentation that people generally do have good intentions but fail to act on them (Orbell & Sheeran, 1998) the essential question is how goal intentions, once set, will more reliably lead to goal-directed behavior and attainment of goals.

Goal achievement normally makes necessary certain goal-directed behavior. There are various reasons why goal-directed behavior rarely is successful. For example, it is very common that people do not initiate goal directed behavior in the first place or they get distracted along the way. Reasons for a lack of initiation of goal-directed behavior may be distractors or the fact that some opportunities for goal directed behavior show themselves only a short period of time. The other problem, inability to continue striving, is a very common problem when striving for a long-term goal which does not show an immediate effect and is related to high personal costs (e.g. healthy diet).

Both, the problem of action initiation and the problem of maintenance of goal-directed behavior, can be faced by using implementation intentions. This if-then-plan does not name a goal in its unspecific form (e.g. goal intentions such as: "I want to reach X") but rather connect a critical situation (an opportunity for goal attainment) with a goal-directed behavior and thereby lead to automatization in goal striving. Having formed a concrete plan involving a specific situation, this situation becomes mentally represented and activated which leads to better perception, attention and memory concerning the critical situation. As a result, the chosen goal-directed behavior (the then-part of the plan) will be performed automatically (without conscious effort). This has various advantages such as having more cognitive resources available for other tasks or not easily becoming distracted. It is also assumed that an implementation intention, once set, will run non-consciously. This process is also called strategic automaticity.

After all, the strength of commitment related to both the plan set and the goal is very important for the implementation intention to have an effect on peopleĀ“s behavior. Without commitment, an implementation intention will hardly have an effect on goal-directed behavior.

Speaking in terms of the phase model of action (Gollwitzer, 1990), the use of implementation intention takes place in the postdecisional phase (implemental mindset, volition is the driving force of action) which follows the predecisional phase (deliberative mindset, motivation is the driving force of setting goals). In the implemental mindset, a person is already committed to a goal and an implementation intention can be a good strategy to reach this goal.

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