Planning and the Control of Action

Frank Wieber and Peter M. Gollwitzer

Planning has been found to have a powerful effect on human actions (e.g., Gollwitzer & Sheeran, 2006). But how do people plan? In this chapter we first introduce implementation intentions (e.g., Gollwitzer, 1999) as an efficient way of planning. Implementation intentions refer to specific plans in which individuals and groups can specify when, where, and how they intend to act using an if-then format (e.g., “If I come home from work on Fridays, then I will immediately put on my jogging shoes and go for a 30-minute run!”). After we examine how they support goal pursuit, we differentiate between spontaneous and strategic planning—two ways in which if-then plans can be made on the basis of goal-related knowledge.

With respect to spontaneous planning, we highlight the importance of the accessibility of goal-related knowledge. We introduce goal systems theory (Kruglanski, Shah, Fishbach, Friedman, Chun, & Sleeth-Keppler, 2002) as a conceptual framework because it addresses the question of how goals can increase the accessibility of knowledge about when, where, and how to pursue the goal. To illustrate how the accessibility of goal-related knowledge facilitates goal attainment, we discuss a set of recent studies. They show that individuals spontaneously grasp goal-relevant information in the form of implementation intentions (Marquardt, Troger, Wieber, & Gollwitzer, 2016; see also Marquardt, 2011) even if it is incidentally provided in their environment and that they use this knowledge to improve their goal attainment without being prompted to do so.

F. Wieber (*)

School of Health Professions, Institute for Health Sciences, ZHAW Zurich University of Applied Sciences, CH-8401 Winterthur, Switzerland

Department of Psychology, University of Konstanz, Konstanz, Germany e-mail: This email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it

P.M. Gollwitzer

Department of Psychology, New York University, New York, NY, USA Department of Psychology, University of Konstanz , Konstanz , Germany

© The Author(s) 2017

P. Meusburger et al. (eds.), Knowledge and Action, Knowledge and Space 9, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-44588-5_10

Regarding strategic planning, we argue that individuals’ knowledge about their goals, potential obstacles during goal pursuit, and effective goal-directed actions is central to devising effective plans and to the successful control of action. We introduce Mental Contrasting with Implementation Intentions (MCII; Oettingen, Wittchen, & Gollwitzer, 2013; Oettingen, 2014) as an effective self-regulation strategy with which to systematize the selection of goal-relevant knowledge and the translation of that knowledge into if-then plans. In this chapter we discuss a recent experimental study suggesting that such strategic planning is very useful in unstructured situational contexts that require identification and selection of appropriate goal-relevant knowledge. We further suggest that strategic planning is less useful in structured situational contexts that prompt the goal-directed actions without requiring any knowledge about advantageous opportunities to act and about potential obstacles (Sailer et al., 2015). We conclude by emphasizing how useful spontaneous and strategic planning is for transforming individuals’ goal-related knowledge into action.

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