Tip #732: Two Techniques to Change Ingrained Habits

“Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.” Jim Ryun

Joel Constable, the Director of Talent Management at Intuit, has written a fascinating article for the Harvard Business Review on “Two Techniques for Helping Employees Change Ingrained Habits.”


He cites research by psychologists Gabrielle Oettingen and Peter Gollwitzer that found that doing two things significantly increases the likelihood of goal achievement in virtually every context.

I’ve combined a number of his statements in the following two paragraphs.

“The first step is considering your ideal future state and the obstacles you expect to face on the way to achieving that state. Oettingen calls this exercise mental contrasting and has found that it increases the likelihood that we will stick with our goals. Although it sounds counter intuitive, anticipating obstacles and deciding to pursue the goal anyway increases our commitment. And considering obstacles allows us to plan for them.

The second step builds on mental contrasting and involves framing your goal as an “if-then”statement. The “if” is a goal-relevant situational cue, and the “then” is your goal behavior. Gollwitzer calls these implementation intentionsImplementation intentions are powerful because they create a strong associative link between the cue and action which becomes automatic over time.”

This makes perfect sense to me. My partner and I have started a new business, The Peer Learning Institute. We are in the process of planning how to make cold calls and cold emails (if emails can be cold) to potential prospects. We have been semi in this stage for months now, because neither of us has marketing experience. As a result, we happily fall back into conducting research and handling other projects (since we both are external consultants).

Last week, we finally buckled down and started to script out what we might say or write. In so doing, we also imagined what objections might be raised. So we’ve got the mental contrasting step down pat.

What we are in the process of doing now is framing our goal (to get a meeting to discuss our services with prospects) as an if-then situation. If a prospect says this, then what could we say? We’re planning how we can respond to the objections in an effective way. We’re also planning how to initiate the conversations in the first place! So the if-then step is in progress.

I’m relieved to read that following these two steps will increase the likelihood of our success. Some people have stage fright, we have marketing terror! We just have to start making those calls and sending those emails. Hopefully all of our preparations will see us through to the actual implementation stage.


May your learning be sweet.



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