Let’s Goal Girls: If-Then Planning

Let’s Goal Girls: If-Then Planning

Author’s note: I am so pleased and excited to share with you an excerpt from Let’s Goal Girls, a book that my dear friend Susan Young and I are writing together! Let’s Goal Girls will be published next year, and it is the culmination of our decades of experience and passion for helping people improve their lives. This book is full of tips and advice backed by years of research, as well as exercises to help you: set and achieve your goals, maximize your potential, overcome challenges, and strike a healthy work/life balance. We hope you enjoy the following excerpt from the chapter, “Designing Your Flight Plan.” 

If-Then Planning

According to NYU psychologist, Peter Gollwitzert, one of the world’s leading experts in research in motivation science and goal attainment, no matter what goal you are working on– whether it’s stopping negative self-talk, losing weight, avoiding prejudicial thoughts, etc.– one of the best ways to set goals that makes it 2 to 3 times more likely you’ll met them is to use If-Then statements. In fact, in one study, Gollwitzert conducted, 91 percent of people who used If-Then planning stuck to an exercise program, versus 39 percent of non-planners.

By using this powerful formula, we set our minds up for success. So how can you make If-Then planning work for you? Just follow this easy formula:

“If X happens/occurs, I will do Y.”

  • X = a situation, event, time, or place
  • Y = your specific plan of what you will do when X happens/occurs

The reason that If-Then planning works is because it makes your goals clear and concrete. Rather than saying, ” I want to lose weight,” which is a very vague goal with no action plan attached, If-Then planning allows you to think about the actual behaviors you are going to adopt in order to reach your goal.

If-Then statements are particularly helpful if your goal is to stop doing something and start doing something else like eating less junk food, controlling your temper, not working on weekends, or quitting smoking. If-Then statements allow you to address the places where you feel most vulnerable and formulate a plan of action for when you are most likely to relax into a bad habit. They allow you to prepare in advance what you will do when situations occur, so that you can have an action plan in place for just about every obstacle you encounter.

For instance, if you know you want to stop eating junk food, you can greatly increase your odds of achieving your goals by:

  1. Thinking about the potential situations that you will encounter. This is the IF statement.
  2. Indicate what behavior you want to practice on a regular basis. This is the THE statement. This is where you determine what action you will take if and when any obstacle occurs. It spells out what you will do when the critical situation arises.

For instance:

  • “If I go to a fast food restaurant, then I will order only low calorie items.”
  • “If I go to the grocery store, then I will buy whole foods and nothing that comes prepared in a box.”
  • “If I’m invited to a party where there is alcohol, then I will drink water instead.”
  • “If I am up late, then I will not eat after 8pm.”
  • “If I have a colleague bring sweets to work, then I will take only two bites; or, if it’s not my absolute favorite desert, then I will not have any at all.”
  • “If I fall off the diet wagon one day, then the next day I will get right back on track.”


Dr. Susanne Gaddis
The Communications Doctor

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