CTO Compass

How to do what you say you’re going to do

How to do what you say you’re going to do

CTO Compass series

In the previous blog in the series, I mentioned Implementation Intentions, a simple technique you can use to make plans in the WOOP process. This week, I wanted to go deeper into them because they are helpful in other scenarios.

Peter Gollitzer coined the term Implementation Intentions when he realised, through his research, that forming a plan to attain a goal has a more powerful effect if it’s in the If…Then statement format. i.e. if situation x arises, then I will perform response y.

Put yourself on autopilot

As the CTO of a software development agency, I find this format particularly appealing. Even the simplest software program has many small decision points throughout, which can be strung together to form an algorithm – a recipe or list of instructions with decision-making built in.

When this happens, do this.

When that happens, do something else.

Implementation Intentions are like algorithms for ourselves, providing a simple recipe for success. They help us build habits by creating autopilot algorithms that ensure we default to doing things that are good for us. The success of the implementation intentions format lies in their ability to couple a trigger or a prompt with a pre-commitment to follow a self-set order.

Lock yourself into action

There are plenty of things we know we should do and want to do, but we often fail to carry them out for no greater reason than we forget. Or our default action is counter to it. Habits are a strong pull, so to counter-act one that’s more or less unconscious requires even more effort.

Setting implementation intentions aims to help lock your future self into a course of action.


Habit triggers can be either mental or physical. Physical prompts are far easier to implement and follow through on consistently. Visual triggers are great.

For example, one of my daily habits is to drink at least 2 litres of water. I do this by having a 2-litre bottle on my desk right in front of me.

My implementation intention is as simple as:

If I see my bottle of water, Then I take a big drink.

It might be simple, but it is very effective. I don’t have to rely on my brain deciding that I’m finally thirsty. But, if I don’t put the bottle right in my path, there’s a greater chance I won’t hit my goal.

Decide where and when

Identifying specific timeframes or situations for triggering the intended action will significantly enhance the effectiveness of your implementation intentions. You create a clear action plan by specifying when and where to carry out the desired behaviour, increasing the likelihood of follow-through.

As I write this email, I’m in the middle of training for a 10k Spartan race. I’m not a runner, so motivating myself to run enough is vital. It annoys my wife, but I keep my running gear on the radiator in the bedroom, so I can’t miss seeing it when I get out of bed. On my programmed running days, I make sure to grab my gear, and wherever I’m situated that day, I lay them out where I can see them so that I trigger my implementation intention:

If I see my running gear and it’s time for my scheduled run, Then I put my kit on.


Pre-committing in this way means I don’t have to make a decision every time. All I have to do is follow the algorithm.

One of the hidden advantages to framing your plans like this is that you’re saving your willpower. Often, people who appear to have fantastic willpower have just built good habits, making their decisions ahead of time, and now they’re just following through on the order made by their better selves.

“I didn’t say I would run; I’m just putting my kit on.”

The fact that I’m now wearing my gear and have time scheduled on my calendar to run means that I might as well do it.

If I’m really not feeling like it, then I’ll just run for 1 minute.

Oh, would you look at that, another If…Then algorithm I trigger, because once I’m in motion, I’m more likely to stay in motion, tricking the lazy lizard part of my brain by giving it an out.

Then…be positive.

When you set your implementation, make it positive. Many things you’re likely to be setting are about preventing a negative. For example, let’s say you’re trying to stop saying “umm” when you’re talking to sound more confident. Rather than setting something like, “If I am about to say ‘umm’ (this is a good example of a mental trigger), then I don’t say ‘umm'”.

Setting a positive intent means you’re more likely to want to do it. In this example, set your implementation like this:

“If I am about to say ‘umm’, then I will pause silently for a moment”.

Now it’s your turn to make some plans to conquer your obstacles. Check out the Thinking Time box below for a valuable exercise to identify algorithms you are already running in your life.

By taking control of your obstacles and training yourself to use If…Then thinking you’ll begin to build more positive habits that enable you to follow through on all the things you say you’ll do, and you’ll set your days up for success in the process.

If I’m feeling inspired, Then I won’t wait to take action. I’ll grab a piece of paper and take 5 minutes to think of 10 algorithms that I should start running in my life.

⚡️ Thinking Time ⚡️

In your next thinking time session, why not try the 100 Algorithms exercise if you feel so inspired?

Grab a piece of paper, and challenge yourself to come up with 100 If…Then algorithms that are already running in your life. These algorithms can be good, bad, or even aspirational.

Tip: Most of these will be tiny behaviours you’re barely aware of. This exercise is designed to bring more self-awareness to what you do.

When you’ve completed your list, go back through them and identify your Top 10 good algorithms if you want to go further. These things have a more positive impact on your life and where you will want to do more.

Then, identify the Top 10 bad algorithms that are running and consider how you might change your habits to uninstall that behaviour.

Finally, identify which is your number one algorithm. The one thing that you should make sure you do with awareness every day that one thing that when you don’t do it, you’re less likely to have a good day.

CTO Compass series