Implementation Intention – The Key to Consistent Effort

Do you have an effective strategy that helps you stay on track with your habits? Implementation intention is a method that could help you be specific about how you will achieve what you want. It’s used to encourage consistent engagement with your habit by including two cues in your goal – time and location. When setting goals, use the formula “I will (Behaviour) at (Time) in (Location).” For example, “I will meditate at 10 a.m. every day in my bedroom.” This strategy helps you stay motivated by eliminating choices and creating an almost automatic routine. 

Implementation intention is a strategy used to ensure that you follow through with the goals you have set for yourself. It uses two cues – time and location. The formula goes: 

“I will (Behaviour) at (Time) in (Location)” 

The behaviour component involves the habit you plan to do. The time is when you will do the action. The location is where you will do it.  

An example would be “I will run for 20 minutes at 6 a.m. in my neighbourhood trail.” 

Implementation intention is the bridge that connects your goal to how you will achieve it. It closes the gap between intention (e.g. I want to exercise more) and goal-directed behaviour (I will run for 20 minutes at 6 a.m. in the park). 

When people set goals, they usually have a difficult time acting on the goals they have set for themselves. You wouldn’t be really motivated to reach your goals if you had vague plans that didn’t detail how you would get there and when you’re going to start. So, by incorporating the time and location into the formula, you’ll have an easier time engaging with your habits consistently

A study by Stefanov (2020) shows evidence that people are more likely to commit to a habit when using the strategy of implementation intention. In the study, participants were split into two groups. The first group was instructed to take a vitamin pill every day while the second group was instructed to specify when and where they were going to take it. Results showed that the participants were less likely to miss taking their vitamin when they specified the time and location of when they were going to take it. 

Implementation intention can also be used to be break negative habits by replacing them with healthier behaviours. For example, if you want to eat healthier, you can use implementation intention to establish what you will eat for each meal and what day. For example “I will eat a salad for lunch at 1p.m. every Monday”.  

So, next time you set a goal, keep the time and location at the back of your mind. Be specific with your intentions!  

To learn more about implementation intention, check out these articles:

Stefanov, P. – Implementation Intentions: How to get Consistent Results
McKay, B., & Mckay, K. – Formula for success: the power of implementation intention. The Art of Manliness
Karim, D. – Implementations Intentions -Use this simple formula to build new habits quickly

Author: Cathy Xie
Editor: Zac Lo
Researcher: Anosha Subramaniam