Use If-Then Planning For Changing Your Lifestyle

changing your lifestyleChanging your lifestyle – losing weight, stopping smoking –  can be extremely demanding.

Many of us struggle with some issue for years or even decades, so all new strategies that can improve our chances of success are certainly welcome.


Recent research has revealed many strategies that may drastically increase you your chances of success. I discovered one of them when I was reading Succeed, a book recently published by a psychologist Heidi Grant Halvorson. I have been reading Succeed on and off for over a  month and have already put some of her suggestions into action – with good results.

It goes without saying that if you aren’t able to put your plan into action, your attempts at changing your lifestyle will come to nought. How many times have you sworn to become a regular exerciser starting on Monday, only to realize on Sunday evening you’ve exercised exactly one time?

I have a perfect example from my own life.

In October I decided to begin training for military push ups three times per week and I immediately ran into trouble: I simply kept forgetting to do my push ups! This phase lasted for weeks and I was getting really exasperated with myself.

When I started applying Halvorson’s suggestions, my problem all but vanished.

Changing Your Lifestyle With If Then Planning

The key to success is deciding in advance when and where you will take action on your goals. According to research, formulating your plans in the form of simple “if-then” statements helps you double or even triple the likelihood of reaching your goal. It has worked for dieters trying to lose weight, workers struggling to mange their time better and people who are trying to become regular exercisers.

Below is the “formula” for if-then planning.

“If/When x happens, then I will do y.”

Here are a couple of examples from my own life:

  • If it’s Wednesday/Friday/Sunday & I’ve just brushed my teeth, I will do 10 push ups.
  • If it’s Wednesday/Friday/Sunday  & I’ve just eaten breakfast, I will do 10 push ups.

There’s a great example of seizing the moment in Marion’s recent blog post.

Marion was cooking batches of healthy food one morning when it occurred to her that she could seize the opportunity to do some push ups when she wasn’t busy stirring her pots. After Marion finished cooking, she had done 70 push ups – which had taken perhaps all of four minutes of her precious time.

In future, it would probably serve Marion well if she formulated the following if-then plan in writing:  “If I’m doing “efficient cooking”, I will grab my purple dumbbells and do push ups”. 🙂


According to  Halvorson, the power of if-then planning lies in the fact that it helps your brains detect opportunities for action as they occur. And because you’ve already decided what you’re going to when the opportunity arises, there’s no need to use your scant resources for planning or deciding what you’re going to do.

In my own example, the day of the week and the act of brushing my teeth was enough to trigger my push up training.

It’s as simple as that.

If-then planning is also a great way to prepare for the obstacles and temptations that may derail you from your plans. For example if you’ve a goal of becoming a regular exerciser and you suspect that bad weather is going to prevent you from taking your regular walk, you could formulate the following plan.

  • “If it’s Wednesday and it’s raining outside, I will do Leslie Sansone’s walking workout / walk on a treadmill instead.”

Changing your lifestyle will be much easier if you have simple and effective tools in your toolbox.

P.S. If you’re interested in Halvorson’s book, you can grab it here.


  1. New to your blog Satu….and love it. I’ve bookmarked and will be back often. Have a wonderful week.

    • Satu says:

      Thanks for visiting, Roz. Ooh, you’re a cat person.. 🙂

  2. Aimee says:

    This is interesting Satu. I wonder if I could use this formula to help me to stop snacking so much. I’m really struggling with this long time bad habit.

    • Satu says:

      Hi Aimee! I think it would probably work very well, with one caveat: if try to “starve” yourself, no amount of forward planning is going to save you from snacking… 🙂

  3. Marion says:

    Hi Satu! Well, it seems ironic that this post is somewhat about me and, yet, I need this post. I’m barely getting into new plans, and I’m just mind-blown to the point of being a blur. I have a new desk up in my room, as of yesterday, with nothing on it. And boxes of stuff from my room that needs to go somewhere. I need to make a list with if-thens to get an inch forward. For me, the exercise is obvious and makes sense, but my other stuff does not–at all!

    My purple dumbbells are definitely getting used tomorrow morning before we drop teen daughter off to school. In the meantime, I seek comfort with a huge bowl full of acorn squashes, one (with some brown sugar on top) for each perceived crisis. 😀

    🙂 Marion

  4. Satu says:

    Hi Marion! I think if then plans are especially great when you’re trying to introduce some new habit or practice into your life.

    I wish I could get acorn squashes here so I could taste them myself… They sound great! 🙂

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