Got a goal or new habit that you want to make stick? Here are 30 strategies to make achieving your goal or developing a new habit more manageable and fun. They’ll also set you up for success.
THINK IT THROUGH
My goal: _________________________________
If your goal has these attributes, you’ll be on the right track to achieving it. Make sure your goal is…
There has to be something in it for you in order for you to succeed. Why do you want to achieve this particular goal or create a specific habit? “If the reward isn’t big enough, you won’t stick with it,” says Wendy Ellin, a workplace productivity consultant based in Atlanta, GA. To figure it out, you usually have to go deeper than your initial motivation. For example, you may say that you want to eat healthier to lower your cholesterol.
Keep asking until you get to a compelling reason for going after this goal. Then write it down and put it somewhere where you can look at it anytime you need some inspiration.
PLAN IT OUT
Take your big goal and break it into small, manageable steps. The more specific, the better. For example, if you want to organize your entire house, start with one drawer, says Wendy Ellin, author of Enough is Enough: Get Control of Your Stuff. “It’s the big project that’s overwhelming. You’ve got to make it doable.”
They don’t have to be in order. Once you have all of the steps you need to achieve your goal, pick one that seems the most doable. Starting with a step that you feel confident in being able to achieve will spur you on to keep going.
“A goal without a plan is just a wish,” said Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, author of The Little Prince. Research supports the idea that creating a plan will increase your likelihood of being successful. From the steps you broke your goal down into, pick one and make a plan on how you are going to do it.
Not all of the questions will apply to all goals. When you’re done, get it onto your schedule and treat it like an important appointment.
It’s been said that “What gets measured gets done.” Keeping a physical record has been shown to improve your chances of meeting your goal, according to an analysis of 138 studies. New habits are created by consistently doing the desired behavior. When you are tracking your progress, it can motivate you to take action so you can check off that you did it. You can keep track on paper, online, or with an app (see Tip #18 [get tech help]).
GET SET FOR SUCCESS
How many days in a row can you do a particular behavior? Keep a visual record to help inspire you. Or post your progress on social media or in a blog if you want additional accountability. When you break the streak, simply start again. No beating yourself up; it happens to everyone—see tip #22 “Be Kind.”
When you don’t get enough sleep, you’re less focused, your performance suffers, and you may make poor decisions. Getting enough sleep is considered a keystone habit, according to Charles Duhigg in The Power of Habit. A keystone habit is one that has a ripple effect, meaning it creates other positive changes. You’ll be better able to focus on your goal and take the necessary steps toward achieving it when you’re well rested.
Just like your calendar notifications help you to remember meetings and appointments, reminders can help trigger new habits. While you can set notifications on your calendar as cues, another option is to tie the action you want to take to one that’s already established.
You can also use things that happen during the day as cue.
Visual cues like laying out your workout clothes before bed or setting your vitamins out on the counter can also work.
Possible cues to use:
Willpower is like a muscle, and it can become fatigued. The more decisions you have to make to undertake your desired action, the harder it becomes. Happiness researcher Shawn Achor discovered that the 20 seconds it took for him to get his guitar out of the closet was tripping up his efforts to practice more. When he made it easier to play by leaving his guitar out in the living room, he got into the habit of playing daily.
Think about how you can make your new behavior so easy to do that you can’t say no. Sleep in your workout clothes. Set fresh fruit out on your counter. Put a recycling bin by your door for junk mail. Pack a healthy lunch the night before. Keep a pair of sneakers in your car. If you’re trying to break a bad habit, make it harder to do. Trying to eat healthier? Don’t keep junk food in the house. Trying to reduce your time on electronics? Set a screen time limit on your phone. Some resistance to the behavior you’re trying to stop may be just enough to have an impact.
Repetition is a key to making your desired behavior a habit. If possible, aim to practice your new behavior daily. The more consistent you are the more successful you’ll be. For example, if exercise is your goal, start with just 10 to 15 minutes (or even less), but do it every day to get into a habit. Then you can increase the length of your sessions.
It will push you into action. The next time you think about taking a step toward achieving your goal—lifting weights, making a smoothie, meditating, organizing your desk—use the 5-second rule from Mel Robbins, best-selling author and motivational speaker. Count backwards from 5.
The countdown pushes into action. It can also help if you’re doing something that isn’t supporting your goal like mindlessly scrolling social media or staying up too late. When you realize what you’re doing, count down and then stop the unhelpful or unhealthy action and do something else.
It’s kind of a no-brainer: You’re more likely to do something if it’s fun or appealing. It’s called “temptation bundling,” according to Katy Milkman, PhD, in How to Change: The Science of Getting from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be. You do this by combining an instantly gratifying activity—something you “want” to do such as watch the next episode of your favorite Netflix series—with the behavior you are trying to adopt such as exercise. You could listen to your favorite music while cooking a healthy dinner.
Write down things that you enjoy and then see how you can pair them with your desired behavior.
BELIEVE IN YOURSELF
This simple task may set you up for a successful day. This is another keystone habit (see Tip #6 [go to bed early]) from The Power of Habit, and it takes only about a minute or so to do (the more you do it the quicker you’ll get). The belief is that when you make your bed, you’re accomplishing something, which can motivate you and set you up to be more productive throughout the day.
Imagine that you’ve already achieved your goal and start to think of yourself and see yourself as that person. A healthy eater. An avid exerciser. An organized person. Someone who saves money. A cool, calm, and collected type. Creating a new identity that aligns with the goals you’re trying to achieve is key to making the changes you desire, according to Atomic Habits by James Clear. When you start to believe new things about yourself—like “I’m a healthy eater,” “I eat lots of fruits and veggies,” or “I love to cook vegetarian meals,”—taking the actions of a healthy eater—like cooking healthy meals, not having junk food in the house, or having only a taste of dessert instead of the entire thing—will feel right and be easier to execute.
Telling others about your goals and plans creates a support network to help you succeed. You can share with family, friends, and coworkers or put it out to a larger audience on Facebook or other social media if you want. Letting them know how you’re doing will help to keep you accountable, and they can celebrate your successes with you and offer encouragement when you need it.
Make a list of the people you want to be on your cheering squad:
When you have to report back to someone on how you’re doing, you’re more likely to stick to your plan. You might want to ask someone who is also working on a goal so you can support each other. Once you choose someone, set up an easy way of checking in with each other. It could be daily, a few times a week, or weekly. You don’t want to go too long in between check-ins. Your check-in could be a simple text or screen shot to show that you achieved that day’s objective. Another option is to report your progress on social media and ask your friends or followers to help you stay on track. For example, if you don’t post one day, ask them to check in with you. Think about what will work best for you and set up your accountability buddy or buddies.
It’s an important step in the formation of a habit. Every time you do your desired action celebrate your success with something that makes you feel good. A fruit-filled glass of seltzer after a workout. A five-minute catch-up with a co-worker after staying focused on a specific task for the past hour. Or some simple self-praise: “Good job!” “I rocked it!” “Way to go! I’m making progress.” Rewards cause your brain to release feel good chemicals like dopamine, which will entice you to repeat the behavior to get the reward and feel-good boost again. Here are more ideas for how to reward yourself.
“Your dreams deserve 30 seconds a day,” says Joanna Kleinman, a psychotherapist in Cherry Hill, NJ. Visualization is a popular tool with athletes and for good reason. Research has found that visualizing your success and the steps it takes to reach your goals helps you build the skills needed to achieve them. Here’s how to get started.
Surrounding yourself with inspiring quotes will help you stay positive and motivated. Hang them or put them where you’ll see them every day, multiple times a day like on your bathroom mirror, refrigerator, in your car, or on your desk. Here are a few to get you started:
“If you can’t say with clarity and honesty what you want, how will you get it?” says Joanna Kleinman, author of Dethroning Your Inner Critic. Take 10 to 15 minutes and write about what your life will be like when you achieve your goal. Be as specific as possible to really create a detailed picture. Focus on what you want not what you don’t want, says Kleinman. Write in the present tense as if you are living that life right now and use “I am…” statements. You can refine it at any point and reread it often to help you keep your eye on the prize.
Skip the “shoulds,” “have tos,” and “can’ts.” The language you use affects both how you feel and how you view a behavior. Avoid “I can’t” thoughts or other put-downs. Instead, practice positive statements such as “I can do this!” “Look how well I did yesterday (or last week)!” “I am getting stronger.” And to make a behavior feel less like a chore that you don’t want to do, put yourself in control and make it something desirable. Think of your desired behavior as a privilege, something you “get to do” and use that type of language to feel better about yourself and what you’re doing. Any time you notice toxic thoughts or negative language creep in, think—or say aloud—“Stop!”
It’s easier than you think, and it can give you an edge on achieving your goals. Meditation can help you handle stress better, be more aware, stay focused, feel more confident in your abilities, and maintain self-control—all attributes that can make behavior change easier. Here’s a simple 10-minute guided meditation to get started.
ADJUST AS NEEDED
They’re inevitable, but you’ll be better able to navigate them if you plan ahead.
It’s OK to revise or even change a goal if you’re struggling. Sometimes you need to reconsider the goal you chose and come up with a new one if you’re not making progress. It may be that the timing isn’t right for a particular goal, or a goal may not align with your values or what you really want. Spend some time thinking about what’s not working and what you really want. It may help to go back to some of the early tips to help you formulate a new goal and plan that will set you up for success.
No one is perfect, but how you respond to a misstep will determine whether or not it trips you up. Make a plan now for how you will respond when you mess up. Don’t beat yourself up; it doesn’t help. Instead focus on getting back on track as quickly as possible. Research shows that as long as you get back on track quickly, slips won’t affect long-term success.
Do this instead of beating yourself up if you mess up. It’s going to happen. You’re going to miss a workout. Get disorganized. Overindulge in shopping or eating. Instead of the drill sergeant approach, try a little self-compassion. Treat yourself the way you’d treat a friend when he or she is struggling. Be supportive. Help problem solve. Recognize all the progress that’s been made so far. Behavior change researchers are finding that a lack of self-compassion may be a key obstacle when trying to make healthy lifestyle changes.
List three to five ways you’ll support you the next time things don’t go as planned.
They’re actually a step toward success. Why? It’s an opportunity to learn so you can do better the next time. Failure is inevitable even for the most talented and determined. “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games…I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed,” said Michael Jordan. When you hit a snag, take a moment to think about what did and didn’t work and make adjustments moving forward.
Developing new habits takes time, often longer than you think. You may have heard a popular belief that it takes 21 days to create a new habit, but science doesn’t back it up. In fact, it can take 18 to 254 days depending on what behavior you’re trying to adopt, according to research. The average length of time was 66 days, so hang in there and celebrate even small successes along the way.