1. Get specific. When you set yourself a goal, try to be as specific as possible. “Lose 5 pounds” is a better goal than “lose some weight,” because it gives you a clear idea of what success looks like. Knowing exactly what you want to achieve keeps you motivated until you get there. Also, think about the specific actions that need to be taken to reach your goal. Just promising you’ll “eat less” or “sleep more” is too vague — be clear and precise. “I’ll be in bed by 10pm on weeknights” leaves no room for doubt about what you need to do, and whether or not you’ve actually done it.
2. Seize the moment to act on your goals. Given how busy most
of us are, and how many goals we are juggling at once, it’s not
surprising that we routinely miss opportunities to act on a goal because
we simply fail to notice them. Did you really have no time to work out
today? No chance at any point to return that phone call? Achieving your
goal means grabbing hold of these opportunities before they slip through
To seize the moment, decide when and where you will take each action
you want to take, in advance. Again, be as specific as possible (e.g.,
“If it’s Monday, Wednesday, or Friday, I’ll work out for 30 minutes
before work.”) Studies show that this kind of planning will help your
brain to detect and seize the opportunity when it arises, increasing
your chances of success by roughly 300%.
3. Know exactly how far you have left to go. Achieving
any goal also requires honest and regular monitoring of your progress —
if not by others, then by you yourself. If you don’t know how well you
are doing, you can’t adjust your behavior or your strategies
accordingly. Check your progress frequently — weekly, or even daily,
depending on the goal.
4. Be a realistic optimist. When you are setting a goal, by all
means engage in lots of positive thinking about how likely you are to
achieve it. Believing in your ability to succeed is enormously helpful
for creating and sustaining your motivation. But whatever you do, don’t
underestimate how difficult it will be to reach your goal. Most goals
worth achieving require time, planning, effort, and persistence. Studies
show that thinking things will come to you easily and effortlessly
leaves you ill-prepared for the journey ahead, and significantly
increases the odds of failure.
5. Focus on getting better, rather than being good. Believing you have the ability to reach your goals is important, but so is believing you can get the
ability. Many of us believe that our intelligence, our personality, and
our physical aptitudes are fixed — that no matter what we do, we won’t
improve. As a result, we focus on goals that are all about proving
ourselves, rather than developing and acquiring new skills.
Fortunately, decades of research suggest that the belief in fixed
ability is completely wrong — abilities of all kinds are profoundly
malleable. Embracing the fact that you can change will allow you to make
better choices, and reach your fullest potential. People whose goals
are about getting better, rather than being good, take difficulty in
stride, and appreciate the journey as much as the destination.
6. Have grit. Grit is a willingness to commit to long-term
goals, and to persist in the face of difficulty. Studies show that
gritty people obtain more education in their lifetime, and earn higher
college GPAs. Grit predicts which cadets will stick out their first
grueling year at West Point. In fact, grit even predicts which round
contestants will make it to at the Scripps National Spelling Bee.
The good news is, if you aren’t particularly gritty now, there is
something you can do about it. People who lack grit more often than not
believe that they just don’t have the innate abilities successful people
have. If that describes your own thinking …. well, there’s no way to
put this nicely: you are wrong. As I mentioned earlier, effort,
planning, persistence, and good strategies are what it really takes to
succeed. Embracing this knowledge will not only help you see yourself
and your goals more accurately, but also do wonders for your grit.
7. Build your willpower muscle. Your self-control
“muscle” is just like the other muscles in your body — when it doesn’t
get much exercise, it becomes weaker over time. But when you give it
regular workouts by putting it to good use, it will grow stronger and
stronger, and better able to help you successfully reach your goals.
To build willpower, take on a challenge that requires you to do
something you’d honestly rather not do. Give up high-fat snacks, do 100
sit-ups a day, stand up straight when you catch yourself slouching, try
to learn a new skill. When you find yourself wanting to give in, give
up, or just not bother — don’t. Start with just one activity, and make a
plan for how you will deal with troubles when they occur (“If I have a
craving for a snack, I will eat one piece of fresh or three pieces of
dried fruit.”) It will be hard in the beginning, but it will get easier,
and that’s the whole point. As your strength grows, you can take on
more challenges and step-up your self-control workout.
8. Don’t tempt fate. No matter how strong your
willpower muscle becomes, it’s important to always respect the fact that
it is limited, and if you overtax it you will temporarily run out of
steam. Don’t try to take on two challenging tasks at once, if you can
help it (like quitting smoking and dieting at the same time). And don’t
put yourself in harm’s way — many people are overly-confident in their
ability to resist temptation, and as a result they put themselves in
situations where temptations abound. Successful people know not to make
reaching a goal harder than it already is.
9. Focus on what you will do, not what you won’t do. Do
you want to successfully lose weight, quit smoking, or put a lid on
your bad temper? Then plan how you will replace bad habits with good
ones, rather than focusing only on the bad habits themselves. Research
on thought suppression (e.g., “Don’t think about white bears!”) has
shown that trying to avoid a thought makes it even more active in your
mind. The same holds true when it comes to behavior — by trying not to
engage in a bad habit, our habits get strengthened rather than broken.
If you want to change your ways, ask yourself, What will I do
instead? For example, if you are trying to gain control of your temper
and stop flying off the handle, you might make a plan like “If I am
starting to feel angry, then I will take three deep breaths to calm
down.” By using deep breathing as a replacement for giving in to your
anger, your bad habit will get worn away over time until it disappears