Conclusion and Outlook

In this chapter we have examined the role that knowledge has in planning and action control. We have stressed that knowing which goal one intends to pursue and committing oneself to that goal are often only the first step toward successful goal attainment. Planning when, where, and how to act with implementation intentions has proven to be an effective self-regulation strategy for reducing this intention-behavior gap. Regarding the acquisition and use of plan-relevant knowledge, we have argued that individuals have a variety of ways to form implementation intentions. They range from spontaneous planning of how to approach a goal on the basis of accessible goal-related knowledge to strategic planning that includes a systematic search of knowledge for critical situations and instrumental action responses.

With respect to spontaneous planning, we have argued that the activation of a goal coactivates goal-relevant knowledge and thus greatly facilitates the decision on when, where, and how to pursue the goal. Although this automatic coactivation is likely to be an adaptive mechanism that promotes successful control of action most of the time, it can also hinder behavioral change. For instance, having the goal of getting to work might automatically induce one to take the car rather than use public transport, even if one intends to adopt a sustainable lifestyle (e.g., Bamberg, 2000). In that sense, strategic planning is a powerful self-regulatory tool informing behavioral change. In fact, authors of meta-analyses of effects that implementation intention has on physical activity (Belanger-Gravel, Godin, & Amireault, 2013) and eating behavior (Adriaanse, Vinkers, de Ridder, Hox, & de Wit, 2011) found that implementation intentions successfully aid the translation of individuals’ intentions into action. The strategic automation of action control by implementation intentions has even been found to remind the individual of a useful reflective strategy (Thurmer et al., 2015a), to reinforce one’s goal in a critical situation (van Koningsbruggen et al., 2011), or to foster the restructuring of automatic goal-means connections that are required to change habitual behavior (e.g., Adriaanse, Gollwitzer, de Ridder, de Wit, & Kroese, 2011). Combining mental contrasting and implementation intentions in order to extend planning has proven more effective than either mental contrasting or implementation intentions alone (Study 2 in Adriaanse et al., 2010). Hence, strategic planning with MCII appears to be an especially effective tool for encouraging individuals to make effective use of their goal-relevant knowledge and thus improve the attainment of their goals. In summary, the planning research we have presented in this chapter highlights the adaptive role of spontaneous and strategic planning in turning an individual’s knowledge into action.

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