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7 Tips to Stick to Goals: Psychological Strategies That Can Help

In this article, we cover top insights from behavioral psychology that help you stick to goals, and how to build a strategy to achieve them.

Whether it's the start of a new year, or the start of a new week, we've all been in the position of committing to change something about ourselves or our lives.

In fact, a series of studies on the science of behavior change have found that we are more likely to want to make changes at times that represent new beginnings.

Ready for a fresh start?

The link between temporal landmarks and motivation to make changes is so strong that researchers have even coined this phenomenon the "fresh start effect."

The trouble is, sticking to change is often harder than making the decision to do it.

One study showed that a third of people who set out with a New Year’s resolution give up after two weeks.

Top three reasons resolutions fail:

  • The goal is too big

  • Lack of planning

  • No tracking or accountability

Despite this, it's still more than worth leveraging fresh start moments of motivation: people who set New Year's resolutions, for instance, have been shown to be 10 times more likely to positively change their lifestyle and behavior than people who don't.

So, for the next new beginnings, how can we make it more likely that we will stick to our goals?

The following tips are drawn from behavioral psychology studies:

6 Tips to Stick to Goals

1. Don't pick the same old goal

'If you fail, try, try again' is a great sentiment.

But behavioral scientists might sometimes disagree.

"If people think they can do it, they probably can, but if they've already tried and failed, their self-belief will be low," explains Richard Wiseman, a professor of psychology at Hertfordshire University, in an interview with The Guardian.

Setting ourselves up for success might mean reconsidering the end goal. Why did you not see the previous goal through to completion? How do you feel about it now? What could be more realistic?

Is it time to re-evaluate and change things up?

2. Make one change at a time

Small actions add up.

And the American Psychological Association (APA) advises that focusing on one behavior change at a time is more likely to lead to long-term success.

Realistically, we're more likely to stick to changes if they're bitesize or single-focus chunks, rather than biting off more than we can chew upfront - it takes sustained time and effort to create new behavior patterns and taking on one thing at a time is more manageable, however motivated we might be feeling.

For instance, if you are trying to eat more healthily, start by addressing one key unhealthy nutritional habit first. Making and sticking to even one small change can boost self-belief.

3. Make the goal attainable

Setting a concrete, achievable goal is an important factor in how likely we are to stick to our goals.

Taking some time to think through what is really achievable is an essential step in preparation.

4. Have an action plan and timeline

Taking time to plan out the steps to achieve a goal take has been shown to help keep us on track.

The more detailed the plan, the better.

According to John Norcross, a psychology professor at Scranton University, it takes about three months for changes to become routine.

So focusing realistically on the process involved to achieve what we want to achieve, and breaking down the smaller steps to get there gives us a greater chance of hitting our goals.

5. Make it measurable and track progress

By monitoring progress, not only do you get a chance to celebrate your successes (motivating in its own right), but you also have clear goalposts to hold yourself accountable.

Using technology can be helpful, but even good old fashioned pen and paper does the job.

In a recent study by Michigan State University, Psychology Professor Dr. Gail Matthews provides empirical evidence that writing down goals and doing weekly progress check-ins meant people were more likely to achieve them.

6. Get some support

Dr. Matthews' research also showed that having a supportive friend or other nominated person to hold her study participants accountable meant they were more likely to achieve what they set out to achieve.

Setting ourselves up for success is key, fertility coaching sessions with a Board Certified Health and Wellness Coach at ELANZA might just be what you need. Check out our coaching here.


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