“I will start working out daily and eat only healthy food”, said James 2 weeks before the start of the new year. But wait, the idea of quitting bad eating habits sparked an idea in his head. “Since I will stop sugar and junk food soon, I must binge eat now when I have the chance,” said James with a wicked smile.
When James stepped on the weighing scale on Dec 31st, he had already gained 2 kgs from the time he made the resolution. Yet, he clenched his fists together and pumped his chest, to start the next day. On the first day, he ran on the treadmill like a possessed horse and ate only veggies and grilled chicken. The next day, the speed slowed down a bit and he could not resist a cookie.
In 2 weeks, all the resolutions had gone down the drain. He was very much the lethargic and junk eating James he always was.
James pulls his hair and slams his fist saying, “Why can’t I stick to my goals and change my habits?”
Do you also wonder how to stick to your goals no matter what?
- Why do you fail to stick to your goals?
- 10 ways you can stick to your goals
- 1. Don’t be obsessed with dates
- 2. Replace instead of eliminate
- 3. Approach goals like Goldilocks Tasks
- 4. Use positive language
- 5. Build complimenting habits
- 6. Target to do things right than do too many things
- 7. Visualize the positive and negative results
- 8. Make goals number based
- 9. Write down your goals
- 10. Stop making reasons
Why do you fail to stick to your goals?
When you attempt to change, you are trying to alter behaviors that are deeply rooted in your brain and body. One half of your brain wants to become the most ideal person in the world, while the other half tries to pull you back into your previous behavior. Since you are habituated to the old habits, they pull you back with a strong force. Unless you fight back, you will succumb and lose.
10 ways you can stick to your goals
So how to stick to a plan, you ask? Here are 10 tips:
1. Don’t be obsessed with dates
The most common date where people make a vow to improve themselves is during the new year. Do you know how many people meet the goals they set for the upcoming year? A mere 8%, which means about 1 in 10 people meet their new year’s resolutions. Over 80% of the people give up their self-improvement plan for the year by the end of January.
Attaching a change to a date leads to pressure. If you fail in one or more of your goals, you give up completely within a snap of your fingers and go back to your old self.
If you intend to improve, each day is the start of a new year. The calendar might show a random date but you still have a year ahead whichever day or moment you choose to begin.
2. Replace instead of eliminate
When you attempt to get rid of a bad habit, the easy resolution is, “I will stop …”
The bad habit can be drinking, smoking, binge-watching Netflix, excessive social media usage or any other behavior you want to cut. If you decide to drop the bad habit, your mind undergoes stress to fight against relapsing back to the old habit. If you instead replace the habit with a substitute, your brain will have an easier job of fighting it.
To replace a bad habit, you must identify the reason why you fall victim to the behavior in the first place. Identify the trigger and the cue which initiates the negative habit.
For example, you might feel like eating a cookie after lunch because sugar lightens up your taste buds. Instead of dropping the sugar rush altogether, try eating a small piece of fruit instead. If you smoke when you feel stressed, try talking to a loved one to see if it helps.
Your triggers and successful substitutes are different from mine. Nobody can give you a common set of triggers and the best substitutes to replace them. Only you can identify them for yourself.
3. Approach goals like Goldilocks Tasks
You must have read the story of the three bears where the little girl named Goldilocks, prefers the porridge which is neither too hot nor too cold, but the one that has the right temperature.
Most people make the mistake of going from the lifestyle of a lazy pig to that of a busy bee.
Do not set massive goals because you read somewhere that you must dream big. When you do not have the habit of working out, if you aim to work out an hour a day for 5 days a week, you only set yourself up for failure. When you set such a massive goal and can’t keep up, you give up faster than you started.
Instead, if you set a goal of working out 30 minutes a day for 3 days a week, you have a much higher chance of living up to your fitness goals. Over time, you can increase the timing and the frequency of your workout.
Similarly, if you have struggled to save a penny in the last few years, do not target saving 2000$ a month. Start saving 10% of your salary by cutting down extravagant expenses before you up the ante.
At the same time, do not set a goal so easy that you do not feel any challenge. Do not set a goal so difficult that you give up because you need to push yourself beyond your limit. The sweet spot of setting goals is right in between where you need to challenge yourself a little to achieve your goal.
4. Use positive language
Stop looking at the change as a negative. If you have decided to start exercising, do not think, “I have to work out today.” Instead, change the words a bit to imagine, “I have the opportunity to exercise today to lose 10 pounds and look hot.”
As simple as the change sounds, your brain has the power to influence how you look at a task. The subtle change in language can influence you to consider the change positive instead of a laborious task to do.
5. Build complimenting habits
If you are trying to cultivate many habits at the same time, make sure they do not interfere with one another in terms of time, energy or mindset. If they have an overlap, targeting one habit at a time is most effective.
Let’s say you decide to work out and learn to play the guitar. Working out takes 1 hour for 4 days a week and learning to play the guitar needs 30 minutes of practice every day for the best results. If you try to cultivate both these habits at the same time, you suddenly need 1.5 hours of free time. Due to lack of time, chances are you will stop working out and playing the guitar.
Let us say you plan to begin working out and eating only healthy food. Working out seems hard at first. And if you are used to eating anything you like, eating healthy seems like a massive change.
If you try to build both these habits together, your mind cannot adapt easily. Not only will the habit of working out irritate you, but you will also feel worse when you cannot even eat the food that you like.
I understand that working out needs healthy eating also. But there is no point if you try to do them both and stop completely a month later. A better combination is working out and trying to reduce sugar. This way you can at least eat some of the dishes you like.
Let us say you try to work out and wake up early. When you work out, you tire your muscles and need more rest. If you try to wake up early without changing the time you go to bed, you will go through your day with the energy of a person who just climbed 500 stairs.
A better combination is cultivating the habit of working out and reducing phone usage at night. This way you can sleep early and get more rest. As a result, your body shows better results from the workout too.
6. Target to do things right than do too many things
If you set 10 goals for yourself, you will feel overwhelmed with your new lifestyle. With time, the growing frustration will lead you to give up on all 10 goals.
The most common mistake is choosing a date(for example new year) and setting multiple goals like working out, eating healthy, reading books, waking up early, improving public speaking skills and more.
The more goals you aim to achieve at the same time, the more the chances are that you will give up on all of them.
Instead set the most minimum number of goals which you believe you can achieve even if it means you chase only one goal. When you find yourself habituated to meeting the goal you have set, add another goal to chase. Do not try to bite more than you can chew. If you do, you will cough and spit everything out.
7. Visualize the positive and negative results
Make the results of your goals as graphic as possible. Attribute good habits to positive outcomes and bad habits to tragic results.
If your goal is to exercise, imagine yourself looking 30 pounds lighter with ripped muscles and defined abs. Visualize people complimenting you and asking advice on how you did it.
For a bad habit like smoking, imagine yourself suffering from tuberculosis. Visualize the grief in your loved one’s eyes when they see you in that state.
The more detailed your imagination is, the easier you will find to stick to a new good habit or eliminate an old bad habit.
8. Make goals number based
You can measure almost every goal as a number if you think hard enough. When you put a number, you have a clear measure of whether you are achieving it or fooling yourself.
Here are some examples to make your goals number based:
- “I will workout 30 minutes for 3 days a week” instead of “I will work out regularly”
- “I will write 1000 words a day” instead of “I will write a book”
- “I will save 500 dollars a month” instead of “I will start saving for retirement from next month”
Number based goals increase the chances of you achieving them because they tell you how you’re doing. Without a number, you can be under the false impression that you are making progress.
9. Write down your goals
A study conducted in 1979 showed how 3% of people who wrote their goals down achieved ten times more success than the others. Writing down your goals serves many benefits:
- Helps to make the destination clear
- Helps you prioritize the right tasks
- Serves as a reminder
- Works as promise you made to yourself
- Gives you dopamine rush when you accomplish it
Take a few minutes every day to write your goals down. You will slay them all over time.
10. Stop making reasons
When you set a goal, you will face many obstacles in the way. If you do not, you must have set an easy goal which was a walk in the park.
When you face an obstacle, you can choose to give a reason or find a solution to move forward towards your goal. If you planned to save 500$ this month but failed to do so, you can blame it on the emergency expense. But when you learned about the emergency, you could have stopped eating out, but you didn’t. So was it the situation that caused your failure or your behavior?
When you make an excuse, you hide your own flaws. Reasons are our way of sweeping our mistakes under the rug far from the sight of others and our own.
Setting goals is easy. Everyone sets them. Only a few fulfill them.
The key to learning how to stick to your goals is in the choices you make. Now you have a choice. You can be the person who sets a goal and forfeits soon after like most others or you can pledge to fulfill your goals using the above tips. Stick to your vision and enjoy the journey.
What is the biggest challenge to fulfill your goals? Leave a comment.
Maxim Dsouza has spent over a decade experimenting and finding various time management techniques to improve his productivity. He strongly understands the fact that time is a limited commodity and tries to make every second count. He has extensive experience in leadership in startups, small businesses, and large corporations.
He has helped people of different professions and age groups gain clarity on their goals, improve focus, revise their time management skills and develop an awareness of their psychological cognitive biases.