Friday, August 16, 2013

Resist Temptations and Perform in the Clutch with Implementation Intentions

We have learned that planning implementation intentions can help you achieve goals in many ways. This is because planning helps us consciously envision a future specific cue and the behavior to enact in response to it.[1]. The basic premise of using implementation intentions is to 1) specify a situation suited for goal-directed behavior, and then 2) formulate the behavior that you will perform in that situation.
Today we conclude the theme of Goals by learning two specific ways in which we can use implementation intentions to increase goal achievement; 1) resisting temptations, and 2) regulating negative inner states that can harm performance (e.g. anxiety, nervousness, lack of concentration).[2]

We can employ these strategies by forming an “If/Then” implementation intention which links a situation cue (the “if”), such as a negative external event (i.e. temptations) or a negative inner state (i.e. anxiety, or nervousness), to a coping responses (the “then”.)[3]
Resisting Temptations
In 1998 Gollitzer et al found that implementation intentions can help us resist temptations, or “disruptive external events” that may hamper our goal pursuit. Specifically they found that

…[p]articipants who had to perform arithmetic problems for a period of 15 minutes were more successful in doing so despite the presentation of various interspersed attractive video clips, when participants had formed implementation intentions that specified “attractive video clips” in the if-component and an “ignore” response in the then-component.[4]

Performing in the Clutch – Regulating Inner States
Often-times performance in competitive situations is hampered by negative inner states.[5] These inner states can be categorized into negative cognitive (i.e. “not concentrating enough”), motivational (i.e., “feeling exhausted”), and emotional (i.e. feeling nervous or angry). Setting “If/Then” implementations strategies can guard against these negative inner states.[6] This is done by setting an “if” corresponding to these negative inner states (i.e. “If I am feeling discouraged”) with a suitable coping response proven to control the inner state (i.e. “Then I will calm myself and tell myself “I will win!”).[7] Gollitwer et al’s research has shown that these goal-shielding responses “can be triggered by internal cues and thereby increase performance in competition situations.[8]

Which Strategy Should We Use?
Now that we have learned about two goal-shielding strategies (resisting external temptations and resisting disruptive inner-states), there remains the question of which one we should specify for our implementation intentions. The answer to this depends on factors such as personality and the type of goal you are pursuing. For instance, in regards to personality, those who have a high capability for self-reflection might be better served by setting implementation intentions that regulate disruptive inner-states[9]. Whereas those with a low capability for self-reflection should likely set implantation intentions that regulate disruptive external events.[10] And in regards to the type of goal, goals that involve abstinence (quitting tobacco or alcohol) are best suited for forming situational cues based on inner-states.[11] On the other hand goals that are prone to disruptions (i.e. finishing a blog post over the temptation of social disruptions) might be better suited for situational cues based on external events.[12]

[1] Ester K. Papies, Henk Aarts, Nanne K. de Vries, Planningis for doing: Implementation Intentions Go Beyond the Mere Creation of Goal-Directed Associations, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology (2009), 1149.
[2] Anja Achtziger, Peter M. Gollwitzer, Paschal Sheeran, Implementation Intentions and Shielding Goal Striving From Unwanted Thoughts and Feelings, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin (2008), 288.
[3] Id.
[4] Id. at 390.
[5] Id. at 387.
[6] Id.
[7] Id.
[8] Id. at 389.
[9] Id. at 390.
[10] Id.
[11] Id.
[12] Id.

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