Making intentions concrete—Trigger-Action Planning
I’ll do it at some point.
I’ll answer this message later.
I could try this sometime.
For most people, all of these thoughts have the same result. The thing in question likely never gets done—or if it does, it’s only after remaining undone for a long time and causing a considerable amount of stress. Leaving the “when” ambiguous means that there isn’t anything that would propel you into action.
What kinds of thoughts would help avoid this problem? Here are some examples:
When I find myself using the words “later” or “at some point”, I’ll decide on a specific time when I’ll actually do it.
If I’m given a task that would take under five minutes, and I’m not in a pressing rush, I’ll do it right away.
When I notice that I’m getting stressed out about something that I’ve left undone, I’ll either do it right away or decide when I’ll do it.
I’m going to get more exercise.
I’ll spend less money on shoes.
I want to be nicer to people.
When I see stairs, I’ll climb them instead of taking the elevator.
When I buy shoes, I’ll write down how much money I’ve spent on shoes this year.
When someone does something that I like, I’ll thank them for it.
The trigger is clear. The “when” part is a specific, visible thing that’s easy to notice. “When I see stairs” is good, “before four o’clock” is bad (when before four exactly?). [v]
The trigger is consistent. The action is something that you’ll always want to do when the trigger is fulfilled. “When I leave the kitchen, I’ll do five push-ups” is bad, because you might not have the chance to do five push-ups each time when you leave the kitchen. [vi]
The TAP furthers your goals. Make sure the TAP is actually useful!
[i] Gollwitzer, P. M. (1999). Implementation intentions: strong effects of simple plans. American psychologist, 54(7), 493.