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Plan to Succeed

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Many people fail to reach their goals. 


To turn your ambitions into reality, make concrete and specific plans.


Psychologists Peter Gollwitzer and Veronika Brandstätter randomly assigned 86 college students to one of two conditions. Students in the control condition received an assignment to write a detailed report on how they spent the Christmas holidays. Students in the treatment condition received not only this assignment, but also instructions for developing strategies to complete this assignment. For instance, treatment condition students picked a time and place to write the report, visualized writing the report, and silently repeated their commitment to writing the report. The researchers call these concrete and specific plans for meeting a goal implementation intentions.

Gollwitzer and Brandstätter predicted that developing implementation intentions would increase students’ follow-through on the writing task. Indeed, while only 32% of the students in the control condition submitted their assignments, 71% of students who specified implementation intentions met this goal. Students in the treatment condition even completed their assignments earlier than those in the control condition.

Why This Works

Completing tasks is much easier when people establish a clear plan of attack.

When This Works Best

Using implementation intentions works best when people are highly motivated to reach a goal but can’t get started or become overwhelmed by the scope of the task.

The Original Study

Gollwitzer, P. M., & Brandstätter, V. (1997). Implementation intentions and effective goal pursuit. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 73(1), 186-199.

Related Topics

Education Health


Text by Lily Zheng

Image CC by Dafne Cholet