We've all been there: You set a specific goal (i.e: exercising more, spending less, staying organized), it goes well for a few days — maybe even a few weeks — but eventually you're right back where you started. It's why we could all use a few tricks that will help us reach our goals — starting with actually sticking to them in the first place.
And don't beat yourself up if you find yourself continually setting personal goals and not keeping with them — it turns out that's actually way more normal than not. According to psychotherapist and clinical social worker Amy Morin in a piece for Psychology Today, one in three people give up their New Year's resolutions by the end of January, and less than half of us stick with them by the six month mark. So even if it may seem like you're the only person who can't stick to things or you have the worst will-power of everyone you know, statistics show that you're actually part of the majority, and most of us all struggle with the exact same frustrations.
If you're tired of feeling like you never achieve the things you set your mind to — no matter how big or how small — here are seven tricks that can definitely help.
1. Be Specific
Morin's number one tip for sticking to your goals is being as specific as possible with them. "Most goal-setting experts recommend establishing definitive goals," she wrote. Instead of saying you want to exercise "more" or spend money on takeout "less," give yourself a specific number of times you intend to do something each week.
2. Set A Goal Range
However, Morin also noted that being too specific can backfire, as if you don't reach that exact goal you can become discouraged and give up. Instead, she recommended setting a goal range. For example, say you'll exercise three to five times a week, or will spend between $25 and $40 a week on drinks. She noted that even when people achieve the low end of their goal, they feel a sense of accomplishment and are motivated to keep going, as opposed to feeling a sense of failure and giving up altogether.
3. Plan For It
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Life coach and behavioral psychology expert James Clear noted on a piece on his website that study participants are significantly more likely to stick to their goals if they plan how they will achieve them. For example, instead of saying that you will take a walk every day at 8am, he says to plan your exact route and write it down. This, he says, doesn't just give you motivation, but intention, which can make or break you sticking to a plan.
4. Have A Strategy
Clear also said that we should always have an "if-then" strategy in place. "The 'if–then' strategy gives you a clear plan for overcoming the unexpected stuff, which means it’s less likely that you’ll be swept away by the urgencies of life," he wrote. So for example, if you eat fast food for lunch, then you'll pick up vegetables on the way home. Or if your plans run late and you don't get a chance to go to the gym, then you'll wake up early to go the next morning.
5. Create Keystone Habits
In a piece for Muse, life coach Joy C. Lin said that instead of trying to make a change all at once or change too many things at one time, start by changing a keystone habit. For example, if your goal is to meditate more, start by just waking up earlier. Once that becomes integrated into your routine, then try to make a conscious effort to meditate. She said you'll be much more likely to stick to your longterm goals when you go about them gradually.
6. Remember Your True Motivation
Lin also stressed the importance of always remembering your underlying motivation for creating a goal, noting that in times of stress, or when we don't see immediate change, we may want to give up. "Say you’re looking to change fields, and you’ve diligently set aside time every Sunday for job-hunting. But, after a month, you still haven’t secured an interview. Unless you can hold onto the deeper reason why you’re searching for a new job—perhaps you want to do work that you’re passionate about—you may consider giving up," she wrote. She recommended create a board with your goals, or something you can look at everyday to help remind you why you are setting the goal in the first place.
7. Reward Yourself
In an article for The Week, science author Eric Barker noted that studies show that we're more likely to complete an action if we are rewarded for it. So set up some rewards for yourself! If you've eaten healthily all week, buy yourself a cool piece of jewelry. Or if you haven't bought coffee outside the house once on workdays, allow yourself to buy a cup on Sunday. A simple rewards system can go a super long way in keeping us motivated.
Sticking to our set goals isn't easy, but there are definitely a few tricks and tips that can make it a little more manageable. And if you fall off the wagon that's okay too — you're only human, and it happens to all of us.