Focus on the Positive Outcome of Goals

What can you do to strengthen your goal intentions?

Posted Jan 29, 2010

Getting to postive outcomesStrategies, like implementation intentions, that are meant to enhance our goal pursuit are only really effective when we already have strong goal intentions. Here's an example of strengthening an exercise intention.

I've written at length about the use of implementation intentions to achieve our goals. Implementation intentions provide the "when, where and how" of the action that we'll enact to achieve a goal.

The thing is, the same research that demonstrates the efficacy of implementation intentions at supporting our goal pursuit also underscores an important pre-condition for success:

                                                 For implementation intentions to have the desired effect,
                                                         Strong goal intentions must be made first.

I think anyone who has tried various techniques to battle their procrastination knows this. Tips and techniques to get us moving fall short if we don't first have a strong goal intention.

A strong goal intention is one where we've made a deep commitment to the goal because we really see the value of the goal. It matters to us (in contrast to goals we adopt because we feel we ought to and we falsely internalize as our own).

An example - exercise goal intentions
Most of the people I know have an exercise goal in their lives of some form. Mine is (are) perennial! We all seem to have exercise goals to enhance fitness, health, appearance, energy levels or provide stress relief. It's pretty obvious that exercise has a lot of benefits.

One approach to strengthening a goal intention is to elaborate on these positive outcomes of regular exercise. The short list above is a beginning. It's important to take the time to list these for yourself personally.

After elaborating the positive outcomes of exercise, contrast these benefits to the possible obstacles of your exercise goal: I'm always too tired after work, there's not enough time in a day, I don't like exercising, etc. Of course, implementation intentions about how you can overcome these obstacles can be formed as you go. (For more about this process of forming implementation intentions that reduce potential distractions and obstacles, see my previous post.)

This mental contrasting procedure has been shown to increase exercise immediately, and this increase held up over a two-year period. Mental contrasting - it can become another technique in your personal "toolkit" for overcoming procrastination and succeeding at your goal pursuit.

Stadler, G., Oettingen, G., & Gollwitzer, P.M. (2009). Effects of a self-regulation intervention on women's physical activity. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 36, 29-34.