Most people are familiar with the process of setting goals, yet they struggle with making sustainable changes or following through with the goals they have set.
If you tend to start new goals, resolutions, or habits feeling motivated and then lose momentum or stop being consistent you may be missing a key ingredient in setting yourself up for success.
Below, you’ll find a 3-step goal attainment strategy developed by habit formation researchers to help you achieve your goals and form healthy habits.
Step 1: Write Down Your Goals
Make a list of specific goals you would like to attain, or new healthy habits you would like to cultivate. Make sure the goals are meaningful and authentic to you, challenging, but also realistic, and attainable. Putting your goals in writing helps you to remember them and makes them more concrete and thus, more attainable.
Exercising 5 days a week for at least 30 minutes
Meditating every day for 15 minutes
Cooking healthy meals at home 5 days a week
Clearing clutter from your home or office
Organizing closets and drawers
Taking your vitamins and supplements every morning
Completing assignments and paperwork on time
Journaling for 10 minutes every day
Reading or studying for 1 hour on Monday-Friday
Practicing one act of kindness or gratitude every day
Step 2: Overcoming Obstacles
In order to set yourself up for success, it’s important to plan ahead and identify any potential obstacles or challenges that might get in the way of you achieving your goal.
Some of the most common obstacles include:
Fear of change
Feeling overwhelmed or intimidated
Not believing in your potential
Fear of failure
Fear of success
Not wanting to be out of your comfort zone
Poor time management (binging on shows, too much time online, procrastinating)
Lack of prioritization
Once you have identified potential obstacles, write down how you plan to overcome these obstacles.
Goal: Read for 1 hour in the evening.
Potential obstacle: Binge-watching shows.
Plan for overcoming obstacle: Set a timer and read for one hour. Reward yourself with watching a show, only after you have finished reading.
Goal: Meditate for 15 minutes in the morning.
Potential obstacle: Checking social media or reading emails first thing in the morning.
Plan for overcoming obstacle: Put the phone on airplane mode as soon as you wake up and set a timer for meditation. Put your phone across the room and out of reach if needed. Do not do anything else on your phone until after your meditation is complete.
Goal: Work out for 30-45 minutes per day
Potential Obstacle: Low motivation or feeling lazy.
Plan for overcoming obstacle: Write a post-it note or whiteboard message that you will see every day to remember to follow your values and not your feelings. Set a recurring calendar reminder to work out in the morning no matter what.
Step 3: Implementation Intention
Writing an implementation intention will help you to keep the promises you make to yourself.
Habit formation researchers, such as Peter Gollwitzer, have found that people who write an implementation intention before they embark on a new habit or goal are far more likely to stick with it and see it all the way through than people who don’t write an implementation intention.
Implementation intentions are effective because they help you to identify your goal and get as specific as possible about exactly how and when you will follow through with attaining your goal. The more specific you can be, the more you will get out of this practice.
Implementation Intention Template:
I________________(name), will ___________(goal or habit) for ______ (length of time), every_________(frequency) in the ____________(time of day). I will do this at/in______(location), before/after (your cue: something you do or see every single day that will serve as the trigger). If I encounter ______(potential obstacle), I will overcome it by______________(strategy to overcome obstacle).
I, Sally Brown, will meditate for 15 minutes every Monday-Friday in the morning. I will do this in my bedroom before I get out of bed to brush my teeth. If I encounter the urge to check my emails before meditation, I will overcome it by putting my phone on airplane mode and not turning it back on until after my meditation.
I, Charlie Brown, will exercise for 45 minutes every day in the afternoon. I will do this in the gym or at home in the living room before I eat lunch. If I encounter laziness or low motivation, I will overcome it by remembering how important it is for me to be strong and healthy, and to reward myself by relaxing later in the day.
Now, fill in the blanks with your specific goals and details in mind. Once you’ve written your implementation intention, sign and date it. Keep this somewhere in your home or office where you’ll encounter it every day.
In summary, being specific about your goals and writing an implementation intention will set you up for successful goal attainment. Keep in mind that it’s important to be consistent because it takes at least 90 days of consistent practice to form a new habit. Don’t give up or beat yourself up if you miss a day or face setbacks or challenges—learn from your mistakes and do your best the next day.