How do you put motivation into action

Implementing resolutions with success

CONSTANCE. Good resolutions, such as a healthier diet or more exercise, are made quickly. But even if you firmly commit to putting a resolution into practice, the gap between good intentions and successful implementation is often large.

"We tend to overestimate the effectiveness of goals and underestimate the effectiveness of planning when, where and how we want to act," says the psychologist Frank Wieber from the University of Konstanz in a message from the German Society for Psychology (DGPs).

Findings from motivation research show that so-called if-then plans are an effective self-regulation strategy, the press release goes on to say. You can help people bridge the gap between good intentions and successful execution.

If-then plans determine when, where and how to behave in certain situations. For example, if the goal is: "I want to incorporate more exercise into my everyday life!", An associated if-then plan could look like this: "And whenever I want to use the elevator, I take the stairs!"

Plans change the way information is processed

Together with his colleagues, Wieber has summarized the results of more than 200 studies on the effectiveness of if-then plans in a review article (Frontiers in Human Neuroscience 2015; online July 15).

The studies on attention and memory contained therein show that if-then plans help to recognize critical situations more quickly, to remember the behavior undertaken more quickly and to act immediately as planned without having to think twice.

In physiological studies, the brain activity was examined in anxiety patients, for example. The results show: In response to certain stimuli (e.g. pictures of spiders), test persons who have formulated if-then plans ("If I see a spider, then I ignore it!") Show very early in certain brain regions (according to 100 milliseconds) higher activity.

In addition, imaging studies have shown increased activity in brain regions that typically control well-trained actions. Those who formulate if-then plans train themselves mentally. It was also shown that the implementation of the if-then plans still works well even in stressful situations.

Who benefits in particular?

Some people have problems controlling their actions, for example patients with certain brain injuries. Behavioral studies with them show that if-then plans are an easy-to-use strategy for action to improve the putting of intentions into action, the DGPs said in the press release.

Even children diagnosed with ADHD can be supported by concrete if-then plans in controlling undesirable behavioral impulses. For example: "Whenever a noise distracts me while doing homework, I ignore it and concentrate on my tasks!".

"Good resolutions don't have to be as bad as their reputation," says Wieber. "Set specific goals that are personally desirable and seem feasible. Plan how you can overcome the most critical obstacles in everyday implementation. Then you have a good chance of realizing your resolutions and thus your general skills as an effective behavior manager to train." (eb / ice)