This gap between knowing and doing can manifest itself in many situations. For example, we may want to eat healthier but we suddenly find ourselves sitting on the couch with a soft drink and a bag of potato chips. Another example is that while we find it important to take other people's perspective serious in conversations we still may suddenly find ourselves getting angry and making accusations instead of listening and showing understanding. Recognizable? Then you may benefit from if-then planning.
If-then planning is simply making a clear agreement with yourself to behave in a specific goal-oriented way in a specific situation. In other words, you say to yourself: "If X happens, I will do Y." Research by Peter Gollwitzer and his colleagues shows that using if-then planning can significantly increase your chance of being successful in challenging situations. By using if-then planning self-control becomes less important because you, as it were, put the situation in charge of your behavior. Instead of having a vague intention of eating healthier, driving more safely, or being more sensitive in your communication you formulate specific if-then scenarios such as:
- When I get into my car I will put my cell phone in the glove compartment
- When I turn on the television I will poor myself a glass of water
- When I notice something someone says annoys me I will use the plus behind the minus technique
- Goal: Know what you want to achieve. In order to know what goal-effective behavior is you will have to have a clear idea about what you want to achieve and why that is important to you.
- X: Be specific about the situation in which the goal-oriented behavior is needed (be specific about what X is).
- Y: Be specific about what the effective behavior is (your Y).