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Double the Success Rate with One Simple Sentence

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Double the Success Rate with One Simple Sentence

-The Power of Implementation Intention-

(5 min read or 30s read if you jump to the summary at the end)


Yeah, the title might sound oversimplified, but it's true. 


As James Clear shares in his book Atomic Habits, laying out what is called an implementation intention can more than double the normal success rate. 


That’s an impressive statistic, but it begs the question:


“What is an implementation intention?”


Luckily, it’s not some complicated process or protocol. In fact, it’s quite simple. 


It’s a fill-in-the-blank sentence and here is the basic format:


I will (behavior) at (time) in (location).


That’s it.


But don’t be deceived by its simplicity. 


Defining when and where for you to execute a particular behavior drives compliance through the roof. 


And, since you create the implementation intention, you get to individualize it so it fits better into your lifestyle. This fit can make the new behavior both more enjoyable and more consistent.  


This modest sentence establishes a straightforward plan that removes ambiguity, and the clarity that arises makes you far more likely to follow through. 


How much more likely? 


Is it really “more than double” like the blog title says? 


Here are the facts. 


In a 2001 study concerning exercise frequency, individuals were put into one of three groups. 


-The first group was asked merely to track their exercise frequency. 

-A second group was given motivational information about the benefits of exercise. 

-A third group was given the same motivational information as the second group and asked to complete the following implementation intention sentence: 


During the next week, I will partake in at least 20 min of vigorous exercise on ______________(day)

at ____________(time) in ___________(place).


And the results were: 


  • 38% of the group that was asked  to only track exercise successfully trained at least once per week. 

  • 35% of the group who received the motivational information successfully trained at least once per week. 

  • 91% of subjects in the group that was asked to complete the implementation intention exercised at least once a week.


That’s impressive! 


91% of the implementation intention group trained at least once a week as compared to the next closest group at 38%! That’s more than double the success rate. The title remains oversimplified but also true. 


Strong work from the simple act of filling in the blanks. 


As we revisit the basic framework of the Implementation Intention sentence:


I will (behavior) at (time) in (location).


We can begin to view it critically and see its power. It embodies many of the facets of another successful framework many people are familiar with - S.M.A.R.T. goal setting. When completed, the implementation intention is:


  • Specific – it clearly defines the particular targeted behavior 

  • Measurable – did that behavior get executed or not?

  • Achievable – assuming the participant is choosing a behavior they can accomplish 

  • Relevant  - the behavior should be aligned with an individual’s goals

  • Timely – after all, time is one of the blanks to fill in 


When this fill-in-the-blank template is completed, a simplistic plan emerges, and clarity appears. And with a plan in place, execution skyrockets. 


This framework could be used for any number of healthier behaviors. Let’s walk through a few examples following the basic Implementation Intention framework:


I will (behavior) at (time) in (location).


I will journal for 5 minutes at 9 am at my breakfast nook.


I will drink 12 oz of water when I wake up at my nightstand.


I will walk for 10 min when I get home from work around my neighborhood path.


I will drink my collagen when I have my first cup of coffee at my kitchen counter.


The implementation intention produces a plan. The plan dramatically increases compliance. With such a simple strategy to double effectiveness, why don’t more people use it? 


Maybe a better question is: Do they really want to? 


This implementation intention is a bit of a two-way street. 


It seems that your heart must be in it. 


In a study from 2005, when people had no intention of pursuing a particular health goal, they were unlikely to form an implementation intention that adequately spelled out the when, where, and how the goal will be pursued, even when they were asked to do it.


So, if you are having trouble executing an implementation intention, it may be time to examine the goal. Does it truly align with the values, resources, goals, and the season of life of the individual setting the intention? 


That’s worth examining. 


To sum it up…the Summary:


  • Simply completing the Implementation sentence appears to dramatically impact consistency of behavior. 


  • A simple framework for the implementation Intention is: 


I will (behavior) at (time) in (location).


  • If an individual doesn’t complete the implementation intention or isn’t executing on it, it may be time to re-examine the goal.


One sentence takeaway: 

Get yourself or your clients to pin down the WHEN and the WHERE of their desired behaviors and see consistency skyrocket. 




Sarah Milne, Sheina Orbell, and Paschal Sheeran, “Combining Motivational and Volitional Interventions to Promote Exercise Participation: Protection Motivation Theory and Implementation Intentions,” British Journal of Health Psychology 7 (May 2002): 163–184.


Sheeran, Milne, Webb, & Gollwitzer, 2005. Sheeran, P., Milne, S. E., Webb, T. L., & Gollwitzer, P. M. (2005). Implementation intentions.  In M. Conner & P. Norman (Eds.), Predicting health behavior (2nd ed., pp. 276-323) Buckingham, UK: Open University Press.


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