Self Improvement

How Using “If-Then” Logic Can Help You Reach Your Goals

Mihir Patkar 29-12-2014

We set resolutions for the new year with good intentions. It’s all about self-improvement. But intentions aren’t enough. To follow through, you need a plan of action. Scientists suggest using If-Then logic to stick to your goals.


Previously, Ryan has talked about such logic and other life lessons you can learn from programming 6 Life Habits That Programming Could Teach You Today Everything important that you need to know about living a successful life, you can get from a computer program. Don't believe me? Read on. Read More . As it turns out, psychologist Peter M. Gollwitzer of New York University has come to a similar conclusion based on his studies.

Why You Should Use If-Then Logic For Goals


There are plenty of tactics to stick to your resolutions 3 Tactics To Really Make Your New Year's Resolutions Stick New Years Resolutions are generally well intentioned attempts to kickstart ourselves into learning something new, losing weight, or saving money. Realistically though, they’re exceptional if they aren’t forgotten by February. But seriously now, let’s make... Read More , but Forbes reports a much higher success rate in those who followed If-Then logic for their goals. The reason is that they take out a willful choice or decision at the time of action, and simply demand the user to take action based on pre-written rules.

Think of it this way. If your goal is to lose weight, you need to start eating better. Now, there are two ways to do this.

  1. Every day, you have to choose a healthy meal. So you mentally task yourself with exercising willpower in resisting temptation, and analyzing different meal options to select the healthy one. It can be draining, and on a weak day, you might just give in.
  2. At the start of the week, you automatically plan your meal and make your diet easier Automatically Plan Your Meals & Make Dieting Easier With Eat This Much One of the reasons for struggling with diets is the amount of work it takes organizing a diet that will help make you slim and healthy while providing some respite from the continual grind of... Read More . Based on your plan, you have specific actions. For example, “If it is Monday and it is lunch time, then have a Cobb salad.” You don’t need to exercise willpower; you don’t need to analyze different options. The decision is made, you just follow through.

Gollwitzer explains the psychology behind why If-Then goal plans work better than good intentions:


When you have a goal intention – ‘I want to achieve an outcome’ – the ‘I’ is in the middle of it. It’s a top-down regulation of action. It’s me who regulates where I want to go. The if-then plan delegates the control to an external stimulus. It links the situation to the response, so it’s the stimulus, not you, that controls the action. It’s a switch from top-down to bottom-up.

The main point is to be as specific as you can in each action and its potential outcomes. Think of the different ways in which your goal can go off-track, and come up with a solution of how you can counter that. Write them down in advance, so the next time you are in any situation, you only have to react, you don’t have to think.

How To Set If-Then Plans For Your Resolutions


Technology can help a lot with implementing the logic of If-Then plans. Depending on your desired goal, you can choose different tools.

Calendars: For plans that revolve around time, use a calendar app. Google Calendar is our go-to choice, especially since it syncs with every platform How to Sync Google Calendar with Every Other Platform Google Calendar is arguably the easiest, most intuitive and most versatile way to organize your day. The only problem users commonly encounter is syncing it with their devices. Read More . It’s important to schedule each aspect of your goal and the “then” scenario. For example:

  • 10:00 am: If at home, do the laundry. If at work, answer all emails.
  • 10:01 am: If at home and there is no laundry to be done, start prepping lunch. If at work and there are no emails to be answered, start planning today’s to-dos.


Your calendar might look a little messy, but that’s okay. You will be dealing with the notification anyway, not the calendar; when it comes up, dismiss it after you’ve read it.

Notepad: For plans that are about situations and not time, a simple notepad can get you through. Again, go with something that is a free app that syncs across platforms Simplify Note-Taking & Sync Notes Everywhere With Simplenote Apps Simplenote and its ecosystem of apps for every platform toss all the superfluous features found in competing note-taking programs and focus on the ones that matter. All Simplenote apps sync effortlessly, with minimal interfaces that... Read More , like SimpleNote Simplify Note-Taking & Sync Notes Everywhere With Simplenote Apps Simplenote and its ecosystem of apps for every platform toss all the superfluous features found in competing note-taking programs and focus on the ones that matter. All Simplenote apps sync effortlessly, with minimal interfaces that... Read More . Create a new note for each goal, and list the various if-then statements as plain sentences — preferably avoiding any pronoun so that it’s just about the action and disconnects you from the note.

How To Track Failures For Future If-Then Plans



As you pursue your goals, you will come across failures you did not anticipate. It’s all right, don’t lose hope. You aren’t clairvoyant, so missteps and hurdles are normal. It’s all about identifying those and inculcating them into your system, so you can kick their butt.

You need to track the failures in your plans and turn them into if-then statements, so that in the future, you can once again simply react to a situation rather than analyze it.

Journals: Journaling software is the perfect way to figure out when you failed and why. For a cross-platform, free app Keep A Beautiful, Orderly, and Private Journal Of Your Thoughts and Days With Diaro For Android Keeping a personal journal can often help us make sense of the difficult times in our lives, or better remember the good times. If you're carrying around a smartphone, you already have a powerful and... Read More , check out Diaro. But if you’re a Mac or iOS user, Day One is probably the finest journaling app around Keep a Digital Diary with Day One for Mac OS X and iOS Everyone has a story to tell. It's not always a story in need of an audience, sometimes a story just needs to be told. You may want to continue the journal you started when you... Read More . As long as you diligently update it to note when and why you failed, you will soon have a record that shows patterns; and it’s just a small logical step to finding a solution.

Spreadsheets: Spreadsheet apps like Google Sheets and Microsoft Excel have some amazing templates to organize your life 10 Amazingly Useful Spreadsheet Templates to Organize Your Life Is your life a mess of missed deadlines, forgotten shopping, and broken commitments? Sounds like you need to get organized. Read More . Even if that’s too much for you, you can simply create a few columns to track where, when, how, and why you failed at your target. Plus, you can turn all of that into fancy charts to visualize your data How to Create Self-Updating Microsoft Excel Charts in 3 Easy Steps Self-updating Excel charts are huge timesavers. Use these steps to add new data and watch them automatically show up in a chart. Read More .


What Problem Do You Foresee With If-Then Plans?

No productivity method is perfect. If-Then plans, like anything else, are bound to have some flaws. What do you think the biggest problem will be, if you try to implement this?

Image Credits: bohed, geralt

Related topics: GTD, Motivation, To-Do List.

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  1. polycarpo
    January 27, 2015 at 10:44 am

    If You give yourself different alternatives, you can find yourself taking the easiest ones. It's important te preview different tasks, considering different situations. But would it bring You to let the most comfortable situations to come true, by the same time avoiding the hardest but more productive ones?

  2. KT
    December 29, 2014 at 6:22 pm

    I have a similar philosophy in place for my life. It's balance based. When people see me with a beer and a smoke, they ask how I stay in shape, including my Dr. for physicals and I always reply: I drink, so I diet. I smoke, so I exercise. Most of the doctors and nurses are plump to obese at my family doctor, and I laugh when they say I have an unhealthy life style! IF you have an unhealthy habit that you like, THEN you have to offset it for balance. A famous baseball player said: Work hard, eat harder, rest hardest. I like that.

    • Mihir Patkar
      December 30, 2014 at 8:56 am

      Hahaha this might be the most entertaining yet informative comment I've read in a long time :D