Wanting to do something is an important step forward, but it typically doesn’t get you very far. To take action, you need a clear and detailed plan.
For example, if your goal is to make dinner, you would:
1. Pick a recipe
2. Write a grocery list
3. Buy ingredients
4. Make time to cook
Easy. You can already picture yourself sitting down to a homemade meal.
Fast forward to the supermarket, where you discover that the main ingredient in your recipe is sold out. Ummm… what now?
When you hit an obstacle, it’s easy to feel defeated — and fall back into old habits. You can’t get the ingredients you need, so you might as well buy a frozen pizza and be done with it.
By putting a little more work into your plan, you can prevent those moments from happening.
There are two words that can help you stay on track: if and then.
If/then clauses — as in, if they’re out of scallops, then I’ll get shrimp instead — should be part of every plan you make in Omada. Yes, brainstorming potential obstacles (and how you’ll respond) takes time. But it dramatically boosts your ability to follow through.
Research shows that if/then plans are effective at helping people get started, stay in control, and achieve their goals.
One study found that women who used if/then plans as part of a weight loss program lost twice as much weight as the control group. Other studies reveal that dietary goals like cutting back on snacking, reducing fat, and eating fruits and vegetables are more doable when if/then plans are involved.
If/then thinking helps because it prepares you for setbacks. Few experiences on your path to better health are going to go perfectly. Change requires trying new things, and some of those things will go wrong, despite your best efforts. That’s a normal part of this process — but there’s always a next step forward.
As you craft your own if/then plans, here are a couple of things to keep in mind:
–> Set a clear and specific goal (a.k.a. a SMART goal). For example, “I will make a veggie-packed dinner tonight” versus “I will eat healthier.” When goals are too vague or broad, it’s difficult to anticipate specific obstacles that could get in the way. With small, concrete goals, potential pitfalls are easier to anticipate.
–> To predict obstacles, look to the past. When you think about the situations you’ll encounter on the way to your goal, consider how you’ve handled similar ones in the past. Take our dinner example: Have you ever planned to make dinner and not followed through? If so, what happened? Did you get too busy to go to the store? Were you derailed by high prices or sold-out ingredients? Plan ahead for those exact situations. If they happen again, then what will you do?
While thinking through if/then plans is a good start, writing them down is even better. When a “if” situation comes up, you want your “then” plan to automatically pop up in your head. Putting pen to paper helps cement that connection. No scallops? No problem. Cue the shrimp.
Check out this example of a plan that taps into the power of if and then:
1. Pick a recipe (if I don’t find a new one, then I’ll make my stand-by beef stir fry)
2. Write a grocery list (if I forget my list, then I’ll look up the recipe online)
3. Pick up the ingredients (if something is out of stock, then I’ll do some quick internet research to find a substitute)
4. Make time to cook (if I’m running late, then I’ll buy pre-chopped veggies and find a sugar-free stir-fry sauce instead of making it from scratch)
Which goal are you working on this week? How can you use if/then plans to raise your chances of following through?
Luszczynska A, Sobczyk A, Abraham C. Planning to lose weight: randomized controlled trial of an implementation intention prompt to enhance weight reduction among overweight and obese women. Health Psychol. 2007 Jul;26(4):507-12. doi: 10.1037/0278-6220.127.116.117
Rothman AJ, Sheeran P, Wood W.. Reflective and Automatic Processes in the Initiation and Maintenance of Dietary Change. ann. behav. med. (2009) 38 (Suppl 1):S4–S17. doi: 10.1007/s12160-009-9118-3.
van Dillen SM, Noordman J, van Dulmen S, Hiddink GJ. Setting goal and implementation intentions in consultations between practice nurses and patients with overweight or obesity in general practice. Public Health Nutr. 2015 Nov;18(16):3051-9. Doi: 10.1017/S1368980015000075. Epub 2015 Feb 5.