The power of “if-then”

Habits can be a double edged sword of sorts, sometimes good, sometimes not so much.  If there were a way to maximize our intention to change, to fulfill a long sought goal or throw away a bad habit, could there be a simple solution?

I believe there is and I hope we can all think in terms of “if-then.”

A successful theory has emerged from the University of Konstanz in Germany, where Professor Peter Gollwitzer’s work focused on four phases of goal pursuit:

  • Pre-decisional
  • Pre-actional
  • Actional
  • Post actional

Within the hardest step, between pre-actional and actional, exists the trigger that makes us more likely to meet the accomplishment.  Gollwitzer uses a term “environmental primes.” For example, to get a drink, one would walk by the refrigerator and think “drink some water.” In some journals they call it cue-response-reward. I like to call this an “if-then” scenario.

Think about the focus point. Think about the actionable step and then think catalyst. By attaching an “if-then” scenario to everyday activities, the impact on achieving positive change can be massive. It is a mental hook and an instant habit potential.  When we set the launch pad to success, we are fueling our rocket to positive change.

Professor Gollwitzer’s work has proven that people who stated they would take a specific action at a certain time or in response to another cue were rewarded with triple the success.  How exciting is that?

We’re not just going through the motions of behavior change. When we attach the “if-then” thought, we set up our personal primes or triggers. Who knows, maybe the impossible goal is possible after all!

Thinking this way can lead to:

  • Removing doubt.
  • Building better habits.
  • Turning bad habits into good ones.
  • Making difficult goals more achievable.
  • Nearly effortless change


Tom Matt is the host of the ‘Boomers Rock’ radio talk show syndicated throughout Michigan on the Michigan Talk Network and can be heard locally Saturday mornings on the ‘Big Talker’ WJIM 1240 AM. He holds Bachelors and Masters degrees from MSU,  is certified from the National Academy of Sports Medicine as a CPT/FNS/SFS. For more information please visit


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