Saturday, January 23, 2010

how to implement goals

When it comes to achieving goals, it has been long recognized that simply having goals isn't enough, though it is a start. One way of trying to make goals a reality is expressed with the acronym SMART. According to this approach goals should be: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Trackable (but you'll find other substitutions for these words as well). I have tried to use this with some of my clients, with mixed results.

I recently came across another method that appears to hold more promise for reaching goals, through the formation of implementation intentions. In short, one makes predecisions of the format: if situation X is encountered, then I will perform behavior Y.  (To this one can add "even if..." and/or "so that I can [goal]" to the end of the sequence.)  This all goes back to self-regulation and the T.O.T.E. model of feedback loops, where an implementation intention defines the "operate" portion of that sequence.  The wonderful thing about implementation intentions is that conscious intent is not needed and goal directed action can become virtually automatic. Since behavioral cues are now in the environment; thinking or reminding oneself about the goal is no longer the primary stimulus for action. It is especially useful for resisting temptations and, by extension, may also be used for impulse control as well. Studies have shown that this is an effective strategy for performing tasks such as math homework, and it can even help six-year olds to not procrastinate. Temptation-inhibiting implementation intentions are not immune to self-deception however, so this approach isn't by any means a panacea.

Here's an example:
Primary Goal: Maintain personal health, and employee and academic performance.
Secondary Goal: Improve my digital media and language skills.
Implementation Intentions (taking only primary goals into account right now):
If dishes have been in the sink for more than three days, then I will do them. If it is six o'clock at night, then I will do my math homework for one hour. If I have documentation to finish, then I will do that at work. If I want to read a construction book, or use the Internet, then I will, provided there are no dishes, math, or documentation remaining to be done and it is earlier than eight at night.

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