To increase the odds that our students will follow through on their goals, evidence suggests that mental contrasting and implementation intentions help a lot.
Here's how to use it in just four steps:
- Have students set a goal.
- I'm going to read three books this semester.
- I'm going to use every document in my next DBQ argumentative essay.
- I'm going to turn in a completed article of the week each Friday.
- Have students visualize what it will be like to achieve the goal. This can be done with their eyes closed and just in their heads, or through a brief, descriptive quickwrite.
- I will feel a sense of accomplishment. I'll be able to tell my mom, and she'll be proud of me.
- I will earn the point and score better. My teacher will pat me on the back.
- I won't have any more zeroes. I won't need to be stressed about my classwork grade.
- Have students visualize what is likely to get in the way. What in their present reality makes the goal unlikely?
- I will get home and get distracted by my Xbox.
- I will get flustered during the essay and will forget a document.
- I will procrastinate until Thursday night, and then I won't do it Thursday night because I'll say I'll do it Friday morning, and then I will get to class and it won't be done.
- Finally, have students write an If/Then plan based on their envisioned obstacle(s).
- If I get home and want to play my Xbox, I will read for twenty minutes first.
- If I start feeling flustered during a DBQ essay, I'll create seven checkboxes so that I can keep track of what documents I've used.
- If I start feeling the urge to procrastinate with my AoW, I will complete the reading part on Monday, the writing part on Tuesday, and turn it in early on Wednesday so that I don't have a chance to put it off.
Parts 2 and 3 are what the research calls mental contrasting. Part 4 is an implementation intention. There's some powerful academic work behind these four steps, and they've been greatly simplified into something called WOOP: Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, Plan. Steps 1-4 above. You and your students can learn more at Character Lab's free WOOP page. They've even got great (and free) posters.