Dr. Peter Gollwitzer, professor of psychology at NYU, has been doing research on how goals and plans affect cognitions and behavior. Through his research he coined the term "implementation intentions".
An implementation intention is a specific plan of action that tells you exactly when, where and how to perform an act in the future. For example, for my specific intention to start exercising, my implementation plan specifies:
- when I plan to exercise (Mon./Wed./Fri. after work)
- what exactly I will do (swimming), and
- where I will do that (recreation center).
Then, I can take my implementation intention (action plan) and convert it into a positive, action-oriented statement that motivates me:
"I look forward to exercising regularly by going swimming three days a week at the recreation center, after work.
Research indicates that people with planned implementation intentions are more successful in creating new habits and accomplishing goals than those without them.
From Habits and implementation intentions (PDF doc):
One of the reasons why implementation intentions are so powerful may be that control over behavior is at least partly transferred from the person (i.e. reliance on motivation and willpower) to the situation where behavior should take place (i.e. reliance on cues that automatically initiate responses). An implementation plan thus aims at establishing automatic cue–action links. These (planned) automatic responses thus mimic habitual responses and may in fact turn into genuine habits when practiced sufficiently frequently.
Regarding GTD, I can appreciate how the context-based Next Action methodology fits nicely with this model of implementation intentions. Clearly, you are more likely to succeed in accomplishing your goals when you've got a predefined action plan in place, that tells you exactly:
What to do ("What's my next action?")
- Define the next immediate physical step you can do towards accomplishing your goal.
Where to do it ("Where will I complete this next action?")
- Decide where you plan to do the NA, by putting it on an appropriate "At Context" list (@Office, @Calls, @Errands, etc...)
When to do it ("When will I complete this next action?")
- Learn to prioritize your NAs by indicating which ones are more urgent than others and need to be done sooner. Do the remaining NAs as soon as possible.
These methods for getting things done (Next Actions and Implementation Intentions) make a lot of sense to me. Most importantly, these are straightforward systems that work well for me. And it's always nice to know about scientific research that confirms the effectiveness of these principles.
Anyway, just found this topic interesting. Thought I'd share!