Action plans can aid the process of making an intention achievable without the need for endless psychological resources. Unlike goals that solely focus on the desired outcome (“I want to get better” or “I want to learn Dutch”) an action plan which links a trigger or cue to a desired outcome through a clear implementation intention specifying the exact when, where and how, is much more likely to succeed. Making a specific plan which ties taking medication to an existing routine, therefore, helps people to remember. The more specific a plan is, the easier it is to follow. So instead of saying “I will take my pills in the evening” say “If I go to bed and am in the bathroom to take out my contact lenses, then I will take my pills which are in the bathroom cabinet next to the saline solution.” This is also called an if-then plan.
Healthcare professionals (HCPs) can help patients form these action plans. Not by making suggestions (after all, we do not know the weird and wonderful routines of others) but by asking questions about existing routines and behaviour. This way we can help a patient come up with, discuss and note down their own action plan. And although forming this plan is a deliberate, conscious act, following through can be automatic and non-conscious (like brushing our teeth).
In the case of my husband, he realised that soon he wouldn’t be able to follow the conversations between me and our daughters and changed tack. A regular Sunday lunchtime class was scheduled with an actual teacher (who was not his wife and had to be paid). As a family we agreed to ‘dedicated Dutch time’– if we were on a short car journey then we would speak Dutch. This made it part of our routine, manageable and meaningful. Action plan for the win!
Adriaanse, M.A. et all., Do implementation intentions help to eat a healthy diet? A systematic review and meta-analysis of the empirical evidence. Appetite, 2011-02, 56 (1), p.183-193
Hagger, M.S. and Luszczynska, A., Implementation Intention and Action Planning Interventions in Health Contexts: State of the Research and Proposals for the Way Forward. Applied Psychology: Health and Well-being, 2014, 6 (1), p. 1–47
Webb, T. and Sheeran, P., Does Changing Behavioral Intentions Engender Behavior Change? A Meta Analysis of the Experimental Evidence. Psychological Bulletin, 2006-03, 132 (2), p.249-268