Implementation Intentions

May 21, 2020

We all struggle to some degree with implementing new habits.

We have great ideas and good intentions, but often fall short when it comes to integrating that new behaviour into routines.

Think about something you’ve been meaning to get around to, or a hobby you’ve always wanted to start, but never seem to find the time for it.

What is often missing from these goals is a strategy to implement them.

That’s where the idea of an implementation intention comes in.

Author and habits expert James Clear defines an implementation intention as, “a plan you make beforehand about when and where to act.”

The results speak for themselves.

In a study conducted here in the UK, researchers compared the exercise habits of three groups of participants. Compared to the control group, the group that made a plan for when and where they would exercise were twice as likely to meet the exercise goal.

Here’s the kicker: simply being motivated to change made no difference. Only those who made specific plans fared better.

The researchers gave the second group a presentation on the health benefits of exercise alongside resources to demonstrate the value. But even so, this “motivation group” fared no better than the control group who was simply asked to track their exercise.

Why does this matter to you?

Well, remember that hobby or project you wanted to start?

You have now the tools to turn that dream into a reality.

Start small by making a plan for exactly when and where you will make time for that activity, and add it to your calendar…right now!


Having tried, failed, and then succeeded in creating a few positive habits in my life, I’ve learned some lessons along the way. Here are a few tips based on my experience.

Start Ridiculously Small. Whether it’s reading more or learning to meditate, start by taking baby steps. Limit yourself at the beginning and focus on consistency in order to build momentum. For example, I’m currently learning guitar and practice just 10 minutes a day.

Practice Self Compassion. The biggest enemy of behaviour change might be yourself. I used to beat myself up whenever I would miss a day or two of exercise, and sometimes that would be the end of the new habit altogether. By treating yourself with kindness, it’s easier to brush off a missed day and get back on track. Remember, we’re all human.

Implementation Intention Formula. This simple outline from Clear’s Atomic Habits has helped me a lot. Here is a simple sentence you can fill out to make your intention clear: “I will [BEHAVIOUR] at [TIME] in [LOCATION].” For example, “I will meditate for one minute at 7:00am in my kitchen.”


“Knowledge isn’t power until it’s applied.”

— Dale Carnegie