Gollwitzer, P. M. (2015). Setting one’s mind on action: Planning out goal striving in advance. In R. A. Scott & S. M. Kosslyn (Eds.), Emerging trends in the social and behavioral sciences. New York: Wiley.
Ineffective goal striving may be overcome using a simple self-regulation strategy: preparing goal striving in advance by forming implementation intentions (i.e., making if-then plans). This strategy helps to cope with the classic challenges to goal striving: getting started, staying on track, not overextending oneself, and disengaging from faulty means. Interestingly, these beneficial effects are observed no matter whether hindrances from within (e.g., ego depletion) or outside (e.g., social influence) the person are to be dealt with. In this essay, the processes on which the beneficial effects of implementation intentions are based will be discussed by pointing to relevant research using cognitive task paradigms and assessing brain data. Moreover, recent findings are reported demonstrating that implementation intentions can be used to curb reflexive cognitive, affective, and behavioral responses that interfere with a person’s focal goal pursuit. In closing this essay, a behavior change intervention (i.e., mental contrasting with implementation intentions) is introduced that establishes the prerequisites for implementation intention effects to occur, and research areas in psychology are pointed to that could benefit from conducting implementation intention research.