How to Stick to Your Goals

Updated: Feb 24, 2021

Align Your Environment with Your Goals

Just as your environment can encourage counterproductive behaviors, it can also promote positive ones. For example, if you have a goal to “drink eight glasses of water a day,” then keeping a jug of water at your desk will help you reach that target. Or, if you want to “read a chapter every evening before bed,” then keeping a book on your pillow will remind you to follow through with that objective. So, ask yourself: “What visual cues do I need to aid my goal?” Then, do some pre-planning to build that environment. Maybe you need to lay out your gym clothes the night before, change your desktop background, tape a to-do list reminder on the bathroom mirror, or rotate your couch so that it no longer faces the TV. Feel free to get creative. Any environmental planning you do will help to prevent poor decisions and encourage positive ones.

Create Commitment Devices

Rather than letting your mood, motivation, or willpower decide your actions, create a commitment device. Commitment devices require making plans ahead of time, locking in future behaviors, and tethering yourself to beneficial decisions. There are several commitment devices you can use. To start, you can remove the decision-making process altogether by limiting your options in advance. For example, if your goal involves changing your diet, then purchasing the right foods ahead of time will ensure there are no temptations in the house. Or, if you’ve resolved to spend less time on social media, then blocking those sites from your browsers will help you follow through. Another popular commitment device technique involves pre-scheduling plans, such as signing up for classes, joining clubs that meet regularly, or even telling your friends and family that you’ll be busy on a specific date and why. This strategy often works because it flips the script from “Why should I bother?” to “I don’t have a good enough excuse to skip this.” In these situations, “I don’t feel like it” is no longer a valid reason for missing an event. So, instead of convincing yourself to do something, a commitment device opts your future self into that behavior ahead of time

Create Identity-Based Habits

You’ve likely heard of the phrase, “Fake it until you make it.” And when it comes to sticking to your goals, the expression makes a lot of sense. Goals take time to achieve, and if you want to stick around until that happens, you’ll need to convince yourself that it’s possible. This is where identity-based habits can help. The strategy involves taking small steps to reinforce a new self-identity—thus curbing negative self-talk and driving the right behavior. Creating identity-based habits involves three steps:

  1. Define who you want to be. Consider your goal and ask yourself: “What type of person could get that outcome?”

  2. Tell yourself you are that person. If your goal is to boost your fitness, then tell yourself: “I am the type of person who likes to move my body and try new physical activities."

  3. Act in line with that identity. For example, “I try a new class at the gym once a week and attend my regular classes three days a week.”

When setting goals, we tend to think about results. But by taking that a step further and considering who you need to be to reach those outcomes, you can start to repeat behaviors, strengthen your beliefs, and prove to yourself that you can do this.

Practice Habit Stacking

Habit stacking involves linking a goal to something you already do. It’s an excellent trick for anyone who’s having trouble getting started on a task since it turns a desired action into a default decision. Here’s how it works: First, think about a typical day and make a list of all your default habits. These triggers can be things like brewing a pot of coffee in the morning, making your bed, checking your email, brushing your teeth, closing your blinds in the evening, answering text messages, and showering. Then, thinking about the actions you want to implement into your routine, stack your new behaviors on top of those habits. This strategy works by finishing the sentence: “After/before/when [current habit], I’ll [new habit].” It’s a way of linking something you want to do with something that’s already ingrained in your head. Here are some examples:

  • “After I take off my work shoes, I’ll change into my exercise clothes.”

  • “Before I put up the coffee, I’ll read 10 pages.”

  • “When I get a text message, I’ll take a sip of water.”

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