If-Then PlansOpen Access

If-Then Plans

If in this scenario, we then plan to do that, we'll more likely reach our goals

By planning when, where and how we'll do it, an if-then plan forms a strong link between moment and action, allowing us to make better decisions about our health and wealth.

Neter, E., Stein, N., Barnett-Griness, O., Rennert, G., & Hagoel, L. (2014). From the bench to public health: population-level implementation intentions in colorectal cancer screening. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 46(3), 273-280.

The study

Setup

Over 27,000 Israelis were mailed a self-administering Colorectal Cancer test kit. The kit either included an “if–then” leaflet with instructions of when, where, and how to perform the test or a standard leaflet with no such planning instructions (control group). They were then asked 2 and 6 months later whether they took the test.

Results

71.4% of the If-then plan recipients took the test compared to 67.9% of the control group meaning If-Then plans resulted in 6.6% more of participants taking the test.

Study graph

Key Takeaways

Whether designing for yourself or for others, here's how to make an easy, effective If-Then Plan:

First, define the goal.

If for you, it might be to exercise more. If for others, it might be to reduce an organisation's water waste. What existing behaviour are you looking to reduce or reinforce? Alternatively, what new, aspirational behaviour might you be looking to foster?

Takeaway image

Identify your "If" context

This will become the future cue or environment that we'll recognise. It'll provide a clear, detectable moment to do something, even if you're busy or tired. Pick scenarios that are encountered often (E.g. on a daily basis, like an office lobby) to boost effectiveness.

E.g. "If/when I'm waiting for the elevator…"

Takeaway image

Choose a behavioural "then" response

This is the specific behaviour that will get you closer to the goal you defined. The easier it is to recall and do, the more it will be done. For instance, what small, relevant and easy-to-recall behaviour can I do IF I'm waiting for the elevator?

E.g. "I will take the stairs"

Planning these steps out in advance and defining exactly how one should respond in the situation creates a strong, repeatable link between seeing and doing.

E.g. "If I have to wait for the elevator, then I will take the stairs"

Note: If designing for others, to ensure it'll be easy and fits within the context you're designing for, consider roleplaying it out before you roll it out. Role before you roll, if you will.

Takeaway image

Inform, do not instruct.

A vivid, relatable and subtly persuasive image or message will be more effective to change consumer behaviour, whereas instructing them could be met with reactance. Remove this threat to personal freedom by giving consumers more autonomy when they make decisions.

Ideally, If-Thens should be defined at least in part by the person themselves. However, there are creative workarounds; companies could set and share strategic goals, with employees writing their own If-Then Plans to help achieve such goals.

Takeaway image
If-Then Plans

If-Then Plans

If in this scenario, we then plan to do that, we'll more likely reach our goals

By planning when, where and how we'll do it, an if-then plan forms a strong link between moment and action, allowing us to make better decisions about our health and wealth.

The study

Setup

Over 27,000 Israelis were mailed a self-administering Colorectal Cancer test kit. The kit either included an “if–then” leaflet with instructions of when, where, and how to perform the test or a standard leaflet with no such planning instructions (control group). They were then asked 2 and 6 months later whether they took the test.

Results

71.4% of the If-then plan recipients took the test compared to 67.9% of the control group meaning If-Then plans resulted in 6.6% more of participants taking the test.

study graph
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