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Implementation intentions

Dr. Simon Moss

Overview

To implement the goals that are selected, some individuals form implementation intentions (Gollwitzer, 1993, 1999& Gollwitzer & Sheeran, 2006). In particular, some individuals form conditional plans, in which they imagine the precise behaviors they will undertake in response to specific cues. That is, they might form an image of when, where, and how they will execute the intended behavior.

In contrast, some individuals do not form conditional plans. They might decide to execute a behavior without specifying the time, place, or context in which this act should be implemented--called a goal intention not an implementation intention.

Many studies indicate that individuals are more inclined to fulfil their goals if they form implementation intentions--that is, if they consider the conditions under which they will execute the intended behaviors (e.g., Oettingen, Hoig, & Gollwitzer, 2000). For example, in one study (Bayer & Gollwitzer, 2007), some participants were instructed to remind themselves they will proficient as soon as they struggle to solve mathematics problem--an implementation intention because their behavior was connected to a specific cue. Other participants were instructed merely to remind themselves they will proficient, called a goal intention. The implementation intention was especially likely to facilitate peformance.

The concept of implementation intentions evolved from another theoretical model, called mind set theory (see Mind set theory). According to mind set theory, individuals tend to operate in one of two modes: deliberation and implementation.

Benefits of implementation intentions

Effect size

Gollwitzer and Sheeran (2006) conducted a meta-analysis to investigate the efficacy of implementation intentions, derived from over 94 studies. This meta-analysis compared two conditions. The first condition usually involved a goal intention, in which participants formed a goal, such as "I will eat healthy food", without connecting this goal to a specific cue or context. The second condition usually involved an implementation intention, in which participants connected this goal or a specific cue or context, such as "When I feel bored, I will eat healthy food". The effect size of implementation intentions, when contrasted with goal intentions, was d = .65, considered a medium to large effect.

As Gallo, Keil, McCulloch, Rockstroh, and Gollwitzer (2009) emphasized, this effect size is, perhaps, more compelling than some practitioners might first recognize. Goal intentions alone increase the likelihood that desirable behaviors will be enacted (Webb & Sheeran, 2006). Hence, the observation that implementation intentions further augment these benefits is very encouraging.

Health

Implementation intentions have been shown to improve the capacity of individuals to initiate and maintain behaviors that fulfill their goals in many domains. For example, implementation intentions have been shown to initiate and maintain behaviors that improve health, such as screening for breast cancer (Orbell, Hodgkins, & Sheeran, 1997), screening for cervical cancer (Sheeran & Orbell, 2000), consuming healthy food (Armitage, 2004), consuming vitamin C pills (Sheeran & Orbell, 1999), and engaging in exercise (Milne, Orbell, & Sheeran, 2002& Prestwich, Lawton, & Conner, 2003& Rise, Thompson, & Verplanken, 2003).

Most of the studies in this domain have examined health behaviors that involve engaging in a suitable behavior, such as screening for breast cancer or consuming vitamin C, as highlighted by Adriaanse, de Ridder, and de Wit (2009). Fewer studies have examined the capacity to override undesirable habits, such as eating unhealthy food, smoking cigarettes, or consuming excessive alcohol (for a similar perspective, see Gollwitzer & Sheeran, 2006). In other words, few studies examine the capacity of individuals to change an existing, but unsuitable behavior into a more desirable and adaptive inclination.

Adriaanse, de Ridder, and de Wit (2009) attempted to redress this shortfall. These authors showed that implementation intentions can inhibit the habit of eating unhealthy food. Specifically, these implementation intentions were most effective when participants connected their goal to eat healthy good with the feelings or motivations they typically experience when they eat unhealthy food. They might, for example, have formed the implementation intention "If I bored, I will eat an apple". These goals were likely to be fulfilled if related to feelings or motivations that correspond to maladaptive habits rather than a typical setting, time, or place (for similar findings, see Armitage, 2004).

Emotions

Gallo, Keil, A., McCulloch, Rockstroh, and Gollwitzer (2009) highlighted that implementation intentions can also facilitate the regulation of emotions. In their studies, participants were exposed to aversive stimuli, such as pictures of disgusting material or spiders. Next, participants formed implementation intentions to either ignore the stimulus or experience pleasant emotions. These implementation intentions did indeed improve the emotional responses of individuals.

Two classes of implementation intentions were formed in this study (Gallo, Keil, McCulloch, Rockstroh, & Gollwitzer, 2009). First, some participants were instructed to disregard the aversive stimulus. An example might be "if I see a spider, I will ignore it". This strategy, called attention deployment, is categorized as antecedent focused (Gross, 1998a, 1998b). That is, the strategy is designed to prevent intense emotions before they manifest.

Second, other participants were instructed to disregard the aversive stimulus. An example might be "if I see a spider, I will remain calm and relaxed". This strategy could be categorized as response focused (Gross, 1998a, 1998b). That is, this strategy is designed to modify the responses of individuals in the aftermath of an emotional experience, ultimately curbing any corresponding feelings.

Both forms of implementation intention curbed subsequent emotional reactions--at least compared to goal intentions, in which the conditional part of the sentence, such as "if I see a spider", was absent. The capacity to maintain calm emotions in response to spiders was even observed in individuals who reported a phobia of spiders. The antecedent strategy also showed diminished positivity of the P1 component, which is an element of the evoked response potential that reflects activity in the extrastriate areas of the visual cortex 100 ms after a stimulus, usually amplified by negative affective states (Gallo, Keil, A., McCulloch, Rockstroh, & Gollwitzer, 2009).

Interestingly, some of the potential adverse effects of emotional regulation did not manifest in this context. Specifically, implementation intentions to regulate emotions did not diminish the positive emotions that various pictures elicited (Gallo, Keil, McCulloch, Rockstroh, & Gollwitzer, 2009).

Other studies have also showed that implementation intentions can enhance the capacity of individuals to regulate unwanted emotions, bodily sensations, and thoughts. That is, implementation intentions that were formed to override these undesirable states enhanced the performance of tennis players (Achtziger, Gollwitzer, & Sheeran, 2008).

Future studies could examine whether implementation intentions can be applied to other forms of emotional regulation. Gross (1998a, 1998b) distinguished five distinct strategies. First, individuals might selectively approach or avoid specific contexts, settings, objects, or persons, called situation selection Second, individuals can attempt to change the emotional impact of an imminent effect, usually by modifying the context, called situation modification. Third, individuals can distract their attention or concentration from upsetting features, called attention deployment. Fourth, individuals can activate alternative meanings or interpretations of some situation, called cognitive change, an example of which is reappraisal. Finally, individuals can modify their inclinations to demonstrate specific responses after an emotion has been evoked, called response modulation, an example of which is suppression.

Overcoming anxiety during interpersonal settings

On many occasions, individuals feel uneasy or anxious in social settings, especially if they need to interact with strangers or people from another race or ethnicity. If individuals form the implementation intention to focus their attention on the task or remind themselves they are confident, they can withstand this anxiety more readily. That is, they are more motivated to sustain the conversation or interact with this person in the future despite their anxiety.

A series of studies, reported by Stern and West (2014), confirm this possibility. In one study, pairs of participants completed a task in which they interacted without seeing each other. Instead, they needed to touch the hands of one another through a hole. One person would form a hand signal& the other person attempted to guess the hand signal. This task has been shown to provoke discomfort and anxiety. Before completing this task, some participants formed the implementation intention "If I feel anxious, I will focus on the task". They repeated this intention three times and then transcribed this intention from memory. Other participants merely formed the goal intention ?I will focus on the task?. Finally, participants reported their level of anxiety as well as the likelihood they would like to interact with this person in the future. Relative to goal intentions, implementation intentions increased the likelihood that participants would like to interact again but did not significantly affect anxiety.

In the second study, some participants formed the implementation intention to remind themselves they are confident whenever they feel anxious while interacting with other races. Other participants formed the goal intention to remind themselves they are confident or formed no intention at all. Subsequently, they reported on their anxiety and willingness to continue interactions with people from other races, both one week and one year later. Goal intentions were more likely than implementation intentions to increase the willingness of participants to sustain the first interaction with a person from another race. But, implementation intentions were more effective in subsequent interactions--and this benefit of implementation intentions was even observed a year later. A subsequent study replicated this finding but with a behavioral measure of willingness to interact: the distance from which a person sat from someone of another race.

Arguably, goal intentions may initially be effective, because they are more common and thus familiar. But, over time, implementation intentions are more effective because they are primed without effort.

Transference

Individuals are often susceptible to a tendency, called transference, in which their experiences with other people in the past, such as an abusive parent, bias their perceptions of someone else who may, superficially, seem similar. Interestingly, as Przybylinski and Andersen (2013) showed, implementation intentions can be utilized to restrict transference.

t were used to generate stimuli for subsequent sessions. For example, they identified the name of a person to whom they are close, but with whom they sometimes demonstrate a bad habit, such as becoming defensive. Finally, they specified 7 positive and 7 negative descriptions of this significant person in their lives, sometimes called a significant other.

In the second session, participants were exposed to 30 sentences, describing one of three people. One of these people closely resembled a significant other. Their task was to memorize the attributes of each person. To improve their performance on this task, some participants were encouraged to set implementation intentions like "If a feature of this test reminds me of a significant other, then I will ignore this resemblance!" Other participants were encouraged to set goal intentions only, such as "My goal is to ignore any resemblance that a feature might have to a significant other!"). Finally, some participants did not engage in either of these strategies.

Amongst other tasks, a recognition memory test was also administered, in which participants needed to determine whether a series of statements about each of three people had been presented earlier. Some of these descriptions were statements the participants had specified in the earlier section but not statements that applied to the three people. If participants had formed implementation intentions, they were not as likely to confuse statements about the significant other with statements about about the three people.

Environment

Implementation intentions have also been shown to foster behaviors that protect and preserve the environment. Implementation intentions, for example, have been used to promote the frequency of recycling (Holland, Aarts, & Langendam, 2006).

Prejudice

Implementation intentions can also be utilized to shape the implicit or tacit attitudes of individuals. For example, Stewart and Payne (2008) showed that forming the implementation intention to entertain thoughts that contradict stereotypes can affect implicit attitudes. In their study, European Americans formed implementation intentions. For example, some participants formed the intention to repeat the word "safe" to themselves whenever they were exposed to an African American.

As a consequence of forming this intention, they were less likely to demonstrate implicit attitudes against African Americans. In particular, usually, when African Americans appear on a screen, participants can subsequently recognize guns more rapidly than tools& that is, they associate African Americans with aggression. This association diminishes after individuals form the intention to repeat the word safe to themselves whenever they were exposed to an African American.

This study also highlights the disparate implications between implementation intentions and goal intentions. That is, in previous research, goal intentions have sometimes been shown to amplify stereotypes. Payne, Lambert, a nd Jacoby (2002), for example, instructed participants to refrain from applying stereotypes to their evaluations. This warning, however, merely amplified biases. This finding implies that forming the goal to minimize bias--rather than connecting this goal to a specific context or cue--may be ineffective (see also Galinsky & Moskowitz, 2000& Liberman & Foerster, 2000& Macrae, Bodenhausen, Milne, & Jetten, 1994).

Habits

Implementation intentions can also be applied to overcome habits (e.g., Adriaanse, de Ridder, & de Wit, 2009). However, the objective to overcome habits is more difficult than is the objective to execute some desirable behavior. In particular, habits, such as smoking cigarettes or eating unhealthy food, are executed in a diversity of contexts. As a consequence, implementation intentions in which individuals imagine executing some act, such as the abstention from cigarettes or unhealthy food, in a specific context will not be effective. These intentions are unlikely to generalize to other contexts or settings.

To overcome this problem, Adriaanse, de Ridder, and de Wit (2009), recommended that individuals imagine executing some act in response to a specific motivation--called motivational rather than situational cues. Specifically, in their studies, participants specified the reasons or motivations that elicit some habit, such as eating unhealthy food. Next, participants imagine acting desirably in response to this motivation. They might, for example, form the implementation intention to: Whenever I feel bored, I will eat an apple.

These implementation intentions were effective. In contrast, traditional implementation intentions, in which the intention was connected to a specific time and place were less effective.

Self control

In many instances, individuals relinquish their overarching goals and yield to their temptations. For example, when exposed to desserts, they might abandon their usual goal to diet and surrender to their urges. To override this problem, participants can form implementation intentions that invoke their overarching goal. They can, for instance, form the intention "If I am exposed to tempting food, I will think of dieting".

Van Koningsbruggen, Stroebe, Papies, and Aarts (2011) undertook research that confirms this possibility. In this pair of studies, some of the participants were often unable to maintain their diets. In one condition, participants were asked to form an implementation intention to invoke their overarching goal?-to diet?-whenever they observe tempting foods, such as chocolate, pizza, fries, cookies, and chips. That is, they formed the implementation intention "The next time I am (tempted by these foods), I will think of dieting". In one control condition, participants were formed an implementation intention to suppress these urges and avoid the food, such as "The next time I am (tempted by these foods), then I will not eat it". Finally, some participants did not form any implementation intentions.

To examine the success of these implementation intentions, participants completed a word completion task. That is, a series of words was presented. For some of these words, a few letters were omitted. The task of participants was to identify these words.

In some instances, the answer was related to dieting. Furthermore, when the answer was related to dieting, the previous word was sometimes, but not always, associated with some temptation, such as chocolate or pizza. If the implementation intentions are effective, the goal to diet should be elicited by exposure to temptations. That is, these participants should rapidly identify words that relate to dieting after these items follow the temptations.

In participants were often unable to maintain their diets, the implementation intention to invoke their overarching goal-?to diet?-was more effective than was the implementation intention to suppress the urge and avoid the food. That is, when individuals formed the implementation intention to "think of dieting" after they are "tempted by foods", they rapidly identified words that relate to dieting after these items followed the temptations. This implementation intention ensures the goal to diet remains salient in response to temptations, a key predictor of dieting success. The implementation intention to suppress the urge, however, may actually increase the salience of temptations instead.

Complex behaviors

Implementation intentions can be utilized to initiate a complex sequence of behaviors as well. An unpublished study, conducted by Wieber, Odenthal, and Gollwitzer (2009& cited in Gollwitzer, Wieber, Meyers, & McCrea, 2010), illustrates this possibility. In this study, some participants, before completing a lexical decision task, formed the implementation intention: "If the word jug shows up, then I will first press the l key, followed by the right mouse key, and the right floor key". Other participants formed similar implementation intentions, but included only the first act in this sequence--"If the word jug shows up, then I will first press the l key"--even though their task was to execute all three acts. Finally, some participants did not form implementation intentions at all.

If participants formed either the complex or simple implementation intention, they pressed the l key more rapidly. But, only participants who formed the complex implementation intention executed the other acts rapidly as well.

Implementation intentions versus other techniques

Veling, van Koningsbruggen, Aarts, and Stroebe (2014) compared the benefits of implementation intentions with the benefits of a technique that changes automatic associations-a variant of the go-no go task. In particular, this study was undertaken to examine which techniques should be applied to improve the eating habits of individuals.

In this study, some participants completed implementation intentions. They repeated to themselves sentences like "When I open the fridge, I will think about eating healthy food". Other participants completed a variant of the go-no go task. A series of foods was presented on a screen. Participants needed to press a button whenever they saw food, except when the food was unhealthy. Consequently, they developed an association between unhealthy food and restraint. Finally, some participants completed neither of these tasks.

If people were very committed to lose weight, the implementation intentions were more likely than was the go-no go task to reduce weight. If people were not as committed to lose weight, but nevertheless reported an elevated BMI, the go-no go task was more effective.

Mechanisms that underpin the benefits of implementation intentions

Implementation intentions are assumed to act like habits. That is, both implementation intentions and habits represent behavioral inclinations that are instigated automatically--that is, without conscious intention, effort, or delay--by specific cues or prompts (Aarts & Dijksterhuis, 2000& Adriaanse, de Ridder, & de Wit, 2009). Nevertheless, implementation intentions and habits are not equivalent.

In particular, implementation intentions originate from conscious and deliberate planning. In contrast, habits emanate from repeated actions in response to the same cue in similar contexts (Aarts & Dijksterhuis, 2000).

Two processes underpin the benefits of implementation intentions (Webb & Sheeran, 2007& see also Aarts, Dijksterhuis, & Midden, 1999). First, implementation intentions amplify the association between some cue in the environment--or individual--and the intention to pursue some goal (Webb & Sheeran, 2007).

Second, implementation intentions magnify the accessibility of both the goal and the cue (see& Gollwitzer, 1999&Parks-Stamm, Gollwitzer, & Oettingen, 2007). That is, cues or contexts in which the behavior is suitable become more accessible or salient (Henderson, de Liver, & Gollwitzer, 2008). For example, if individuals form the intention to purchase an apple as soon as they pass a vendor, they might become more likely to notice a person who sells fruit.

As a consequence of these mechanisms, implementation intentions increase the likelihood that intended behaviors are indeed enacted. Specifically, implementation intentions facilitate three processes. First, implementation intentions ensure that specific intentions are initiated, rather than overlooked, when the relevant cue or context is encountered (e.g., McDaniel, Howard, & Butler, 2008). In other words, implementation intentions improve prospective memory--in which participants remember to perform tasks they had planned previously.

Second, in addition to initiation, implementation intentions ensure these planned behaviors or courses of action are maintained. That is, after a sequence of behaviors is initiated, implementation intentions also ensure that other stimuli or opportunities do not distract the individuals from this pursuit (e.g., Achtziger, Gollwitzer, & Sheeran, 2008). To illustrate, implementation intentions ensure that individuals continue to pursue their goals even when distracting stimuli, such as attractive videos, as presented (Gollwitzer & Schaal, 1998).

Indeed, implementation intentions can overcome the Simon effect. In an experiment conducted by Cohen, Bayer, Jaudas, and Gollwitzer (2008), for example, individuals had to press either the left or right of two buttons, depending on whether a tone that was presented was low or high in pitch. On some trials, the tone is presented on the left side of the body when the right button needed to be presented, or vice versa--and this incongruity tends to slow reaction times.

This delay, however, diminished if individuals had formed the implementation intention. An example might be "if I hear low tone on the left side, I will press the right button is rapidly as possible". These intentions ensured the incongruity between the position of a tone and the location of a button did not prolong the reaction times.

Third, implementation intentions inhibit other behaviors or tendencies that would disrupt the desired goal. That is, when implementation intentions are formed, individuals are more inclined to disengage from behaviors that contradict their intended courses of action (Henderson, Gollwitzer, & Oettingen, 2007).

Finally, implementation intentions, because they do not demand deliberate effort, conserve resources. That is, individuals are able to initiate and maintain their intended courses of action with limited effort. This effort or control, therefore, can be devoted to other activities (see Webb & Sheeran, 2003).

Implementation intentions and automaticity

Indeed, many studies indicate that such intentions are initiated automatically (e.g., Gollwitzer & Schaal, 1998& Gollwitzer & Sheeran, 2006), as defined by several properties. First, goals and plans are initiated more rapidly when implementation intentions are formed (Gollwitzer & Brandstatter, 1997). Second, goals and plans are executed efficiently, demanding fewer psychological resources. To illustrate, these goals and plans do not disrupt the performance of other tasks (Brandstatter, Lengfelder, & Gollwitzer, 2001). Third, goals and plans can be initiated without conscious deliberation--that is, even when attention is focused on another activity (Sheeran, Webb, & Gollwitzer, 2005).

Implementation intentions and ego depletion

Because effort is conserved, individuals can devote more mental energy to other tasks. That is, tasks that entail the suppression of innate inclinations, such as difficult activities, utilize resources from a limited supply (see Ego depletion), as proposed by Baumeister, Bratslavsky, Muraven, and Tice (1998). Usually, rehearsing a specific plan will utilize these resources. However, implementation intentions obviate the need to rehearse a specific plan and thus conserves these resources.

Consistent with this premise, Martijn, Alberts, Sheeran, Peters, Mikolajczak, and de Vries (2008) showed that implementation intentions promotes persistence. In their study, participants were encouraged to visit a website. Some of the participants also formed implementation intentions. That is, they reflected upon when and where they will visit this site. However, the site was initially unavailable. Participants who formed the implementation intention were more likely to visit the site again, even after their initial attempts had been obstructed.

This finding is compelling. Conceivably, the implementation intention might have been unsuitable in this setting, because participants could not execute the intended behavior in the contexts they initially envisaged. However, implementation intentions reduce the expenditure of effort, ensuring mental energy is available to other activities. As a consequence, participants could devote this mental energy to forming strategies that facilitate persistence.

Similarly, studies show that implementation intentions are especially effective when the behaviors that need to be enacted are inconvenient (Gollwitzer & Brandst??tter, 1997), because they shield individuals from distractions. That is, when the imagined time and place arises, the motivation to engage in the desired act is rapid and effortless (Gollwitzer, 1993, 1999& Gollwitzer & Brandst??tter, 1997)

Implementation intentions and attention

Although implementations intentions do not deplete resources, they do shift attention from one cue to another cue. That is, when people form implementation intentions, they relate a goal, such as "Eat healthy food", to a cue, such as "Near the refridgerator". Implementation intentions tend to amplify the salience of this cue--in this instance, the refridgerator--and diminish the salience of other cues, such as the sink.

This possibility was confirmed by Parks-Stamm, Gollwitzer, and Oettingen (2007). In this study, participants listened to a story. Their task was to identify all the five letter words. They were informed that Laura and mouse were the two most common five letter words in this story.

Some participants were instructed to form the implementation intention "If I hear the word Laura, I will press the L immediately". This implementation intention enhanced the tendency of participants to detect the word Laura but overlook the other five letter words.

Arguably, to override this problem, participants could refer to broader cues, such as "If a read a five-letter word, I will press a button". But, if the cue is not salient enough, the goal may not be activated. The benefits of implementation intentions, therefore, would diminish.

One unpublished study, conducted by Wieber, Odenthal, and Gollwitzer (2009& cited in Gollwitzer, Wieber, Meyers, & McCrea, 2010), provide some evidence of this principle. While completing a simulated car race, some participants formed a specific implementation intention such as "If I see a black and white curve road sign, I will immediately adapt my speed". Other participants formed a more inclusive implementation intention such as "If I enter a dangerous situation, I will immediately adapt my speed". The more specific implementation intention enhanced performance, even though not all the dangerous situations were earmarked with black and white curve road signs.

Consolidation of the behavior

Most scholars ascribe the benefits of intention memory to entrenched associations between the cue or context and the desired behavior. That is, the cue or context is assumed to activate representations of the intended behavior automatically (e.g., Webb & Sheeran, 2007).

Nevertheless, Papies, Aarts, and de Vries (2009) showed that other mechanisms, in addition to these associations between the cue and the behavior, must also underpin the benefits of implementation intentions. In their study, participants undertook a series of tasks. They were also told that, after completing this study, they should open the door of this laboratory and turn right before walking to the cafeteria and then returning to the experimenter. This behavior deviated from their usual preference to turn left instead.

Some participants formed a traditional implementation intention. In particular, they were asked to describe the cue--opening the door--followed by the intended behavior--turning right. Other participants, instead, undertook a task in which they formed associations between opening the door and turning right. Specifically, participants received various sets of three items. On the key trial, the items were "return to the experimenter", "opening door", and "turning right". Their task was to consider how these items are associated.

Their behavior was assessed twice: immediately after this session as well as one week later, after another set of unrelated tasks. After the first session, the formation of associations between opening the door and turning right was as effective as implementation intentions. Participants who completed these exercises were more likely than individuals allocated to a control condition to follow the instruction and turn right.

However, on week later, participants were more likely to follow the instructions, turning right rather than left, if they had previously formed an implementation intention. Merely forming an association between opening the door and turning right was not as useful--and indeed no more effective than a control condition.

According to Papies, Aarts, and de Vries (2009), implementation intentions involve mental simulations that might consolidate the memory representations of intended behaviors. These representations might be more accessible in general, which could bias behavior. This mechanism could explain the finding that implementation intentions enhance the maintenance, and not merely the initiation, of behavior (e.g., Holland, Aarts, & Langendam, 2006).

Antecedents to implementation intentions

Ridder, De Wit, and Adriaanse (2009) showed that some individuals spontaneously form implementation intentions. That is, they reflect upon the contexts in which they will implement their plans or goals, even if they have not been instructed or encouraged to form these intentions.

In particular, only intrinsic, and not extrinsic, motivation predicted the inclination of individuals to form implementation intentions to eat healthy food. In other words, only if individuals perceive the goal as fulfilling or enjoyable will they maintain the progress and determination that is need to form implementation intentions. Only these individuals endorsed statements like "I have a specific plan of when, where, or how I will improve my diet".

Self-affirmation

According to Ferrer, Shmueli, Bergman, Harris, and Klein (2011), self-affirmation, in which individuals reflect upon their main values or strengths, encourages individuals to formulate implementation intentions spontaneously. In their study, some individuals engaged in self-affirmation. That is, they wrote about a value they regard as vital to their lives, focusing on why this value is important. In the control condition, participants wrote about their least important value. Next, all participants read an article that underscores the association between alcohol consumption and breast cancer.

Finally, participants completed a series of measures, some of which gauge whether or not the participants had formed implementation intentions to reduce their intake of alcohol. In particular, they were asked to describe the activities or phases they may undertake to fulfill this goal. The degree to which these descriptions comprised the features of implementation intentions--the time and location in which they will reduce their intake of alcohol, for example--was assessed.

If participants had completed the self-affirmation exercise, they were more likely to indicate the time or location at which they would refrain from alcohol. Arguably, self-affirmation instills the clarity and confidence that is needed to change. Consequently, individuals associate self-affirmation with the processes that facilitate change, such as implementation intentions.

Factors that might enhance or inhibit the benefits of implementation intentions

Implementation intentions are not always effective, implying that some factors might inhibit the benefits of this technique. Indeed, Budden and Sagarin (2007) showed that implementation intentions can even reduce the likelihood that individuals execute some intention. In this study, some participants formed implementation intentions to exercise over the next week. They were asked to identify the form of exercise they plan to undertake, such as cycling, the time and days in which they plan to complete these routines, and the location in which they would like to exercise. Other participants did not form these implementation intentions.

Overall, implementation intentions were inversely related to exercise behavior. Conceivably, implementation intentions might encourage more rigid behavior. When these explicit intentions are thwarted, individuals might relinquish their intentions. Implementation intentions that also entail responses to obstacles might override these impediments.

Anger

When people feel angry, they are more likely both to establish, and then to execute, implementation intentions (Maglio, Gollwitzer, & Oettingen, 2014). In particular, anger instills a sense of control. Angry people feel like they can shape events. Sad people, in contrast, do not feel they can shape events: Instead, they feel that other circumstances will shape their lives. Consequently, when people feel angry, they demonstrate more initiative. They strive to implement plans proactively rather than wait until some event transpires. Consequently, they are more inclined to formulate implementation intentions.

Maglio, Gollwitzer, and Oettingen (2014) conducted a set of studies that substantiates this argument. In one study, students described their main academic goal. Next, they imagined a scenario that was intended to evoke either anger or sadness. Finally, they completed a task that assesses whether they had formed implementation intentions. In particular, they were asked to consider their academic goal and then to complete a series of incomplete sentences. Four of the incomplete sentences corresponded to implementation intentions, such as "If - - occurs, then I will - - ". Four other incomplete sentences corresponded to goal intentions, such as "In general, I will - - ". Participants completed the four incomplete sentences that most closely matched their thoughts. If individuals were induced to feel angry instead of sad, they were more inclined to complete the sentences that correspond to implementation intentions. Hence, anger seems to promote the completion of implementation intentions.

Another study showed that anger also enhances the capacity of individuals to execute plans and intentions. That is, if angry rather than sad, participants were more likely to fulfill their instruction "If the number 3 appears, I will press the x key as rapidly as possible". Presumably, the sense of control or efficacy associated with anger also activates mechanisms that initiate intentions.

Perfectionism

Implementation intentions are not effective in individuals who are concerned they might disappoint other colleagues, friends, or relatives--a form of perfectionism. When these individuals imagine the precise time and context in which they will fulfil a goal, they become more aware of the prospect they might fail. As a consequence, they experience anxiety and distress, curbing their motivation and persistence (Powers, Koestner, & Topciu, 2005).

Intentions about behaviors to avoid

Usually, when individuals form implementation intentions, they specify the behaviors they would like to undertake in the future. They might, for example, specify to themselves "If I am hungry, I will eat an apple". Occasionally, however, individuals might form intentions about the behaviors they would like to avoid. They might form the implementation intention "If I am hungry, I will avoid cake".

Unfortunately, implementation intentions that specify behaviors that individuals should avoid are often ineffective. Specifically, as Adriaanse, van Oosten, de Ridder, de Wit, and Evers (2011) argue, the cue, in this instance the hunger, might elicit attempts to suppress an urge, in this instance to consume cake. As research on ironic rebound demonstrates, suppressed urges often return, usually more intensely than before. Individuals may experience a powerful motivation to consume the cake. Adriaanse, van Oosten, de Ridder, de Wit, and Evers (2011) undertook a series of studies that confirm this possibility.

Commitment to goals

Sometimes, individuals feel committed to a goal. That is, they have decided to pursue this goal and refrain from considering alternatives. On other occasions, individuals may not have entirely committed to a goal. They might claim, for example, they want to lose weight or eat healthy food, but actually are still in the process of considering alternatives. As Sheeran, Webb, and Gollwitzer (2005) showed, implementation intentions are not as effective if people do not feel committed to their goals.

Difficulty or magnitude of the goals

As Dalton and Spiller (2012) showed, if people need to complete six or so tasks, implementation intentions are not as effective--unless these people believe that other individuals completed more tasks. In particular, implementation intentions are effective only if people feel the tasks are feasible.

To illustrate, in one study, participants were instructed to create six photographs, such as photographs of themselves ordering lunch, using the internet, eating dinner, waiting at the bus stop, arriving to class, and walking in their pajamas. If participants were informed that some other individuals were asked to create ten photographs--and hence felt their task was feasible in comparison--implementation intentions were effective. That is, relative to individuals who formed goal intentions only, individuals who formed implementation intentions were more likely to submit all six photographs. However, if participants had not been informed that some other individuals were asked to create ten photographs, implementation intentions were no more effective than goal intentions.

Presumably, if individuals feel their goal is feasible, they feel more committed to this pursuit. Implementation intentions are effective only when individuals also feel committed. Indeed, other studies in this report showed that level of commitment determined whether the implementation intentions would be effective.

Level of goal conflict

Sometimes, an intention of individuals, such as to exercise more often, seems to conflict with their other goals, such as to relax the body more. In these instances, implementations intentions may not be effective. Instead, individuals need to specify how they will address potential obstacles, temptations, distractions, habits, and other complications that could unfold, called coping planning. In other circumstances, an intention of individuals does not seem to conflict with their other goals. In these instances, implementations intentions may be effective even without coping planning (Carraro & Gaudreau, 2015).

To illustrate, in a diary study, conducted by Carraro and Gaudreau (2015), university students specified an exercise and academic goal, such as to walk 30 minutes a day and to review one class each evening. Next, they indicated the extent to they contemplated when, where, and how to progress on each goal, called action planning--a technique that is similar to implementation intentions. In addition, they indicated the degree to which they considered how to accommodate obstacles, temptations, distractions, habits, and other complications, called coping planning. Then, they indicated the degree to which they feel these two goals conflict with each other as well as daily progress on each goal.

As hypothesized, when the goals were perceived to conflict with each other, coping planning but not active planning was positively associated with progress. In contrast, when the goals did not seem to conflict with each other, active planning was positively associated with progress. These findings imply that implementation intentions should be complemented with plans on how to prevent or respond to complications, as scholars have suggested in the past, especially when goals may conflict to some degree.

Self-efficacy

If an action is difficult, self-efficacy can moderate the effects of implementation intentions on goal attainment. For example, in one study, the self-efficacy of participants to complete Raven's Advanced Progressive Matrices was manipulated. In particular, to increase self-efficacy, the practice items were relatively easy for some participants only. Next, half the participants formed the implementation intention to perform well on this test. The test comprised easy, medium, and difficult items. Implementation intentions to perform well did indeed enhance performance on the difficult items, but only if self-efficacy was high.

Presumably, implementation intentions primed the motivation of individuals to perform well. However, these implementation intentions did not prime the tendency to persist. Self-efficacy, however, has been shown to increase the capacity of individuals to withstand obstacles and, therefore, inspired the participants to persist on the difficult items.

Plausibility of the goal

Sometimes, individuals perceive a goal as remote or unlikely. They do not feel confident they can achieve some objective or target, such as lose the weight that a doctor recommends. In these instances, implementation intentions, or at least concrete plans in general, can actually diminish the likelihood these people will achieve these goals (Townsend & Liu, 2012).

For example, in one study, undertaken by Townsend and Liu (2012), participants completed a survey, referred to as a health questionnaire, to prime the goal of health. In addition, to reinforce this goal, a list of foods was presented& participants indicated which foods are healthy and which foods are unhealthy. Next, some participants were asked to plan the meals they will eat that day. In the control conditions, participants formulated plans on an unrelated goal, such as their schedule of study, or described the tasks they completed the day before. Then, participants indicated their weight--a measure of whether the goal seemed remote or not--and their self-esteem. Finally, participants were offered an opportunity to consume either a healthy or unhealthy food.

In general, relative to the other participants, the individuals who planned their meals were actually more likely to choose the unhealthy option. However, this consequence of planning was pronounced only in people who perceived themselves as overweight, presumably because the goal seemed more remote in these individuals. Arguably, if a goal seems remote, a concrete plan might only highlight the difficulties these individuals need to withstand or overcome, evoking negative emotions, and compromising self-control. Indeed, as one study showed, emotional distressed, as gauged by a word completion task, mediated this relationship between planning and limited self-control when the goal seemed remote or unlikely (Townsend & Liu, 2012). Furthermore, this pattern of observations was observed only when the plans were concrete rather than abstract.

A final study showed that, after individuals are exposed to photographs of very slim people, planning of meals is especially likely to increase the likelihood these participants will choose the unhealthy option. That is, after observing slim rather than obese people, individuals tend to feel overweight in comparison. The goal to lose weight seems more remote. Concrete plans merely amplify the implausibility of this goals, evoking negative emotions and compromising self-control (Townsend & Liu, 2012). Whether this problem with planning also applies to implementation intentions in particular, rather than concrete planning in general, was not assessed in this study.

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