Implementation Intention

Implementation intention is a persuasion principle that defends that, when a person is forced to think about how they would implement something, they are more likely to do it, as the mental effort necessary to do it is reduced.

  • Therefore the name. The person must think as if they have the intention of implementing this;
  • In short, once someone visualizes how to do something, they are more likely to do it, just because they already know how;

This can be used to ensure compliance by forcing a person to visualize implementation, but also to provoke objections (which is what trial closes do).

  • This is due to the fact that, when a person is planning on doing something, they will give you a specific answer. When they’re lying, or not planning on doing something, they will give you a false, vague answer;

Underlying Psychology/Biases

Implementation intentions works by decreasing the mental effort associated with doing something. Once you’ve visualized how to do it, you’ve created a “mental shortcut” of sorts. It’s easier to visualize now.

It’s also great to detect lies or lack of commitment. When someone can’t visualize how they would do something, they are not committed to it. So you can request visualizing implementation of someone, and if they don’t provide a specific answer, you know they’re not committed.

Implementation intention also causes a variation of inattentional blindness. In short, when you’re not focusing on something, you forget it. This happens visually, but also mentally. When someone makes you focus on how to get something done, you forget about the assumptions.

  • For example, if something has a high price, but the person keeps ask, “How would you buy?”, or “Tell me what it would take to buy”, you will be so focused on that that, sooner or later, the price becomes an assumption;
  • In fact, this is a devastatingly powerful technique termed second layering. You start a discussion or implementation on top of an assumption and, soon enough, the assumption is taken for granted;
    • Donald Trump with “Lyin’ Ted”;
    • Trump would call Ted Cruz “Lying Ted”, but sometimes use “Lyin'”, and sometimes “Lying”;
    • Soon enough, people started a discussion on how to pronounce it, and the assumption Ted Cruz was a liar was just repeated, unquestioned;
    • It’s what people usually use with compound questions. “How long have you been a criminal?”;


  • Questions and statements
    • Using statements or questions focusing on how a person would implement something;
      • Includes Tony Robbins’s “quality questions”:
        • How can I improve the quality of my life?”;
        • How can I acquire this skill faster?”;
      • Includes the Dan Sullivan question:
        • “5 years from now, what would need to have happened today in order for you to feel this was a success?”;
      • Includes some questions used by negotiations such as Dan Lok or Grant Cardone
        • How can we do business today?”;
        • How can we be one of your top suppliers?”;
        • How can we be your top supplier?”;
      • Includes Chris Voss’s “Calibrated Questions”?
        • How can we make sure we get this done?”;
        • How can we make sure we progress on this?”;
        • What would it take to get this done?”;
    • To maximize the effect, instead of using one statement or question, use multiple in a row:
      • The more you ask about the details of something, the more the person is forced to visualize it, and the more likely they are to do it;
      • “Tell me how we can make this happen this week”;
      • “Tell me how can we make sure this isn’t forgotten”;
      • “Tell me what would be needed to guarantee this works”;
  • Trial closes
    • In sales, trial closes are simply testing the person to gauge whether they are ready to be closed;
    • Asking something such as, “If you were to buy today, how would you do it?”;
    • The usual results apply – if they give you a pragmatic, specific answer, they are planning on doing it, and if it’s a vague one, not so much;
  • User manuals/implementation manuals
    • User manuals detailing how to do something are good for people that have already bought, but also great to convert people who haven’t yet;
    • For example:
      • New car owner manuals;
      • “Moving-in” manual for a neighborhood for new homeowners;
      • Product installation/onboarding guides;
  • Implementation sandwich
    • When you want thing A and the other side wants thing B, simply ask them how you can obtain both;
    • They will be the ones who have to come up with an answer that satisfies both sides;
    • “Unfortunately, I demand a price that reflects my work”;
      • “Well, we’re looking for something accessible”;
      • “Of course. So let me ask you this: what kind of investment can you make that is accessible but at the same reflects the quality of this work?”;


  • For provoking objections
    • “How will you vote?”
      • The original persuasion experiment done. Two groups;
        • Group A: “Will you vote? Yes or no?”;
        • Group B: “How will you vote? At what time? Bus? Walking? Which booth?”;
      • Group B had much higher results in terms of persuasion;
    • “How would you use it?”
      • Asking someone how they would buy, or how they would use a product forces them to visualize it, which makes them do it more easily later;
    • “How will this happen?”
      • Asking something how something will be done – how they will complete a project, how they will promoted someone, etc – tests (and reveals) how committed they are to doing it;
  • For ensuring compliance
    • “How would you do it?”
      • This is the base version of implementation intention. You’re literally asking, “How would you make this happen? What would be the specifics?”;
    • Tony Robbins questions
      • The “quality questions” Tony Robbins promotes are just implementation intention used on yourself. How can I be better than ever? How can I make up for these failures?
    • Owner manuals
      • Any type of new owner manual (products, services, anything) is good to onboard people who have done your ask, but even better to convert people who haven’t yet;
    • Second layering
      • The effect we discussed. Start a discussion or implementation on top of an assumption, and that assumption is never questioned. “How would you buy the big product? How would you buy the small one? How would you compare them?”, assuming that you would buy;
    • Modeling
      • Modeling someone is just using implementation intention about them. It’s asking, “How would this person do it?”. “What would this person do?”;
    • “If you could not fail”
      • Although this personal development statement is pretty corny, it’s excellent in terms of implementation intention;
      • If you really can picture how it would be, you will find out how to act;

Commercial/Known Uses

Key Takeaways

  • This technique can both be used to provoke objections and ensure compliance. You ask someone to picture implementing something:
    • Just by doing this, they are more likely to be converted;
    • But also, you know that when the answer is vague, there’s an objection or problem here;
  • For provoking objections
    • You leverage this by asking the person how they would implement something. If the answer is practical and detailed, it’s an honest one. If it’s vague and elusive, it’s probably a lie;
    • Trial closes are the perfect example of this. You ask a person, “How would you buy right here and now?”. If the answer is practical, things are looking good. If it’s not, well… not that good;
  • For ensuring compliance
    • Implementation intention works because when someone visualizes how to do something, they are more likely to do it, because it’s less effortful;
    • It can be used in multiple formats. User manuals, questions, statements, one or many;
    • It works better when stacked. People can resist one statement or question in terms of implementation intention, but it’s exponentially harder to resist multiple;
    • It works due to a variation of inattentional blindness. When someone is so focused on getting something done, they will be completely blind to other facts, which become assumptions;