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The simple brain hack that will make achieving your goals so much easier


1369264619 brain woman with open head pulling at string stock illustrationAfter goal setting comes the less exciting day-to-day work, but using “if-then” statements can help you see it through.

Malte Mueller/Getty Images

  • A technique psychologists call “implementation intention” can help you stick to your goals.
  • Motivation is not always enough — “pre-determined goal-directed behaviors” keep you focused longer.
  • People are more likely to reach their goals if they train their brains to use “if-then” statements.

As entrepreneurs, most of us are goal-driven, and we’ve learned how to set clear, juicy goals and then break them down into game plans of smaller projects and tasks. The challenge comes when it’s time for you and your team to actually to follow those game plans.

After the thrill of setting that awesome goal, comes the day-to-day work that’s often not so exciting. So how do you keep yourself and your team moving forward? How can you stay on track and consistently hit your daily, weekly, and quarterly goals?

One of the answers is in the simple brain hack that psychologists call “implementation intention.”

What the research shows

Peter Gollwitzer, a psychology professor at NYU, first coined the term in the 1990s. He realized that many people set goals, but not many achieved them because they didn’t take the action they needed to take. Dr. Gollwitzer showed that the difference wasn’t just motivation — as some people were highly motivated and still didn’t do what they needed to do — but people were much more likely to reach their goals by figuring out “pre-determined goal-directed behaviors” and turning them into habits.

Rather than just coming up with a strategy to achieve a goal and then breaking it down into tasks, Dr. Gollwitzer found that people were more likely to succeed if they trained their brains to choose to do the things that they needed to do by using “if-then” statements (you can also use “when-then” statements).

He and his colleagues ran over 400 studies using every type of goal: quitting smoking, voting, healthy eating, exercising, and even using condoms. All the studies showed that implementation intentions made a massive difference in the results people got.

Get to your goal using “when-then”

How does it work? For example, let’s say that you want to grow your business and getting lots of 5-star testimonials will help. So, you decide to get 100 testimonials this quarter (about eight per week), and you’ll get them by calling 20 past clients per week, just four every day.

Sounds simple, right? But this kind of project easily gets lost in the shuffle. You mean to do it; you know it’s important, but other things that seem more urgent pop up. Eventually, you might even forget about getting those testimonials completely.

With implementation intention, you start with the statement, “When ___, then I will ___.” You not only say what you’ll do, but also give it a specific time and place. In this case, you might say, “When I get to the office, and before I even look at my emails, I’ll call four past clients for testimonials.” This tells your brain exactly when to be ready to make the calls. It sets up your energy and focus. By doing it over and over, your brain is automatically triggered to sit down and make calls as soon as you walk into your office.

James Clear talks about this in his book “Atomic Habits.” He points out that setting up implementation intention keeps you from deciding whether to do something every single time. You don’t need to be super motivated that day, and you don’t need to use your willpower to get yourself to do it. You just do it because, after a while, it would feel weird not to do it, just like not brushing your teeth before bed would feel strange.

Overcome obstacles using “if-then”

Implementation intention also helps you pre-plan for obstacles you might encounter and helps get you through them. Say you know that your morning calls will often get interrupted by team members who need your input. You know something like this is bound to happen, so before it does, you figure out, “If ___ then I will ___.”

“If I get interrupted, I will ask the person (unless they are bleeding to death) to give me 15-20 minutes.” Or maybe you decide, “If I get interrupted in the morning, I will close the door and eat lunch at my desk to make my calls.” The strategy you use to handle the obstacle is up to you. The point is that you already have it figured out and know exactly how to stay on track despite anything that tries to get in the way.

Athletes have used this for years. Marathon runners know they’ll run into “the wall” at about 18 to 20 miles. Rather than getting blindsided, they figure out ways to handle it before the race. They’ll slow their pace and take some sports gel. They’ll pay attention to the cheering crowd or focus on a certain mantra. They don’t try to figure out how to deal with the wall when it’s happening. They have a plan, so it doesn’t throw them off their goal.

When I started coaching, I realized that many of my students hit a wall about three months in. They were learning and implementing different marketing strategies — but these strategies take some time, so they didn’t see any results yet. We learned to warn them ahead of time. “Hey, you might not see results for 4-5 months. That doesn’t mean you aren’t on track. If you’re doing the work, results will come soon.”

Then we help them with “if-then” strategies. “If you feel stuck or discouraged, then call in during office hours.” An implementation intention is a brain-hack tool that helps you take the steps you need to take, whether you’re feeling motivated or not. You set up the implementation intention by saying what you’ll do and precisely when you’ll do it, and you pre-plan how you’ll deal with obstacles to stay on track.

James Clear wrote: “Anyone can work hard when they feel motivated. It’s the ability to keep going when work isn’t exciting that makes the difference.”

Read the original article on Business Insider