Meetup #45 - Implementation Intentions

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Personal Blog

(find us in front of room D1.160, call +3181162384 if you can't find it)

Last meetup, we reminded ourselves of the difference between system 1 (the quick, subconscious, automatic part of our decision making) and system 2 (the slow, conscious and deliberate part).

Imagine a factory with an assembly line. At each stage, there is a worker. The workers are skilled, they have been working at this factory for years, and they know exactly what to do at each part of the assembly line. If you put a worker in stage A, he will automatically recognize that he is in stage A and start assembling the parts, following the instructions of stage A.

This factory also has a manager. The manager walks around and looks at the workers, looking for ways to make the process more efficient. Sometimes, the manager interrupts to change the work instructions at a certain stage.

Your system 1 is the workers, your system 2 is the manager. The stages of the assembly line are situations that you might find yourself in.

Implementation Intentions are high quality work instructions.

(AKA trigger-action plans, but the lack of scientific s̶i̶g̶n̶a̶l̶l̶i̶n̶g̶ rigour has been putting some people off, so we're using the term that the people with the h̶e̶r̶o̶ ̶l̶i̶c̶e̶n̶s̶e̶ academic credentials are using :)

A meta-analysis of 94 studies involving 8461 participants found that interventions using implementation intentions were an average of .65 standard deviations more effective than control interventions. However, there are also good reasons to steer clear of them, because setting up these constraints on your behavior might reduce your cognitive flexibility, in some sense being the opposite effect of meditation.

It is a powerful tool, and it's not asymmetric. Use with caution!