Real Magic: How One Sentence Triples Successful Behavior Changes
“Indeed, to cast a spell, is simply to spell, to manipulate words, to change people’s consciousness.” — Alan Moore on Magick
My Enlightenment Amnesia Loop
I see it in my life, in my friends lives, and on r/psychonaut. We glimpse deep truths in our psychedelic adventures, vow to change the way we live, and in a couple of weeks, we are back into our old programs.
This loop of glimpsing enlightenment without being able to manifest the lessons in my life led me to researching the science of habit change.
I’m a trained psychologist, (only a BS in Cog Psy), so I lean towards the scientific method to guide what information I share as advice. I am not a dogmatic rationalist, but I believe it is one of the best tools we’ve developed for mapping this verbing Rorschach Inkblot we call reality.
It is with this mindset that I share the science of Implementation Intentions. Taking the couple of minutes to read this post and write down how to use it will increase the likelihood of you acting on some piece of the wisdom you gain in your next mind manifesting incursion into psychedelia (our simply doing the thing you told yourself you’d do).
I want to share maybe the most practical and effective technique I’ve found in the behavior change literature. It is literally modern magic. My idea of magic is influenced by Alan Moore. Language is magic, spelling is literally the creation of spells. And this is a spell that a German scientist has found can as much as triple our chance of executing goals we set ourselves.
I’ll introduce the researcher, the study, and then the technique. If you’d like to go right to the technique, scroll to the Implementation Intention Section.
A Modern Magician
Peter Gollwitzer is a German research scientist who explores goal pursuit. He has categorized goal pursuit into 4 stages.
Predecisional is not having any motivation or urge to obtain a goal.
The preactional stage is the state described in the introduction. We have chosen to embark on obtaining a goal. The Actional phase is when we perform the action we think will help us reach our goal. And the postactional phase is where we look at the result of our action and determine if it actually helped us.
It is between the preactional and actional stages that Gollwitzer found most people fail.
Thus the birth of his spell, Implementation Intentions.
An implementation Intention is a simple “if, then” sentence we write beforehand. Gollwitzer began testing this spell.
“Almost one hundred college students were asked to select a project that they wanted to complete during their Christmas break. Because this is a notoriously hard time of year to work, the students were unlikely to select and complete any work, according to them. But of the students who were asked to specify exactly what they were going to do, what situation they would use to prompt them to initiate goal-directed activity, and when they wanted to be done, 62 percent of the students who furnished their if-then scenarios were successful versus 22 percent who had not taken that extra step. Accomplished goals included writing a report, finishing a novel, and buying career-related textbooks.”
Using the Implementation Intention almost tripled the chance that people who already wanted to do something, actually did it. What may be even more insightful than the Implementation Intention is how few actually do what they set out to do.
Skeptic note: There is much more research on implementation intentions than this single study, but to keep this post focused, I won’t go over more. If you are interested in more research, Google Scholar is my go to.
Anatomy of Implementation Intentions
This is real life magic 101.
This is a simple guide you can use for the rest of your life to increase your chances of achieving your goals.
The anatomy of this spell is specifying what behavior we will perform when we encounter a specific environment/situation, to achieve our desired goal.
Here is how the sentence looks:
“When I encounter (a specific situation), I will (perform the following behavior), to (achieve specific goal.)”
My Meditation Implementation
I had tried 4 separate occasions in the last 4 years and failed to make the habit stick. (Yeah, New Year’s resolution syndrome.) This last time, the fifth time, I knew about implementation intentions, wrote one, and I am in month 5 of meditating almost everyday. Here is a picture of it from my instagram.
“I will meditate for ten minutes (the behavior) before I leave my room (the trigger/situation), everyday.”
(As you can see, young Erick did not know to specify the goal lol.)
Some more Examples
“I only check social media after 4 pm because I want to engage in deep work everyday.”
“The first thing I do when I wake up is go greet the sun and think of one thing I’m grateful for, so I may stay mindful of my blessings.”
“After I brush my teeth at night, I will text one person a specific reason why I appreciate them, because I don’t tell my friends enough how special they are.”
“When I read a Medium article that inspires me, I will write an implementation Intention for implementing one key idea so I can act on the advice.”
“When I am done reading this post, I will write down the anatomy of an Implementation Intention and keep it on my desk so I can improve my likelihood of achieving my goals and helping my friends.”
Tips And Guidelines
Write it down. The why behind why this works is not clear, but studies find that writing down our goals improves our chances of success. I love notecards and whiteboards.
Set the behavior as something you seek to obtain, not something to avoid. Due to what is called the white bear effect, our success increases if we aspire to perform a positive action rather than avoid a negative one.
Implementation Intentions work better if you hinge them on the start or end of a habit you already do (you’ll notice I’ve built that into each of the examples.)
Keep the habit change small. Most people fail in goal achievement/habit change because they fall prey to what is called “The Planning Fallacy.” We try to do too much, too soon. If you want to meditate for 20 minutes each day, make the implementation intention for 2 minutes (you can always go more, but there will be many days you will be thankful for the 2 minute goal.)
Measure your progress. If you checked my instagram, you’ll see my white board. This is the simple analog device that has been tracking my progress all year. A note card is just as effective. Keep it simple.
What is Your Spell?
Is there a specific insight you discovered on a psychedelic trip you want to implement? Is there a goal you want to reach but have had a hard time achieving? Is there someone you know who would find value from Implementation Intentions?
Please share your Implementation Intentions. I will help anyone who has questions. This is a remarkably powerful tool most people are unaware of. It has changed my life. I hope it will help you change yours.
Always with love. Namasteezy.