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Last Updated on January 19, 2021

One Simple Trick That Helps You Reach Your Goals Successfully

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One Simple Trick That Helps You Reach Your Goals Successfully

We all have goals. And what’s the first thing most of us think about when we consider how to achieve them? “I need to get motivated.” The surprising thing? Motivation is exactly what you don’t need. Today, I’m going to share a surprising research study that reveals why motivation isn’t the key to achieving your goals and offers a simple strategy that actually works. The best part? This highly practical strategy has been scientifically proven to double or even triple your chances for success.

Here’s what you need to know and how you can apply it to your life…

How to Make Exercise a Habit

Let’s say that – like many people – you want to make a habit of exercising consistently. Researchers have discovered that while many people are motivated to workout (i.e. they have the desire to workout and get fit), the people who actually stick to their goals do one thing very differently from everyone else. Here’s how researchers discovered the “one thing” that makes it more likely for you to stick to your goals.

In a study published in the British Journal of Health Psychology, researchers measured how frequently people exercised over a two week period. The researchers started by randomly assigning 248 adults to one of three groups.

Group 1 was the control group. They were asked to keep track of how frequently they exercised over the next two weeks. Before they left, each person was asked to read the opening three paragraphs of an unrelated novel.

Group 2 was the motivation group. They were also asked to keep track of how frequently they exercised over the next two weeks. Then, each person was asked to read a pamphlet on the benefits of exercise for reducing the risk of heart disease. Participants in Group 2 were also told, “Most young adults who have stuck to a regular exercise program have found it to be very effective in reducing their chances of developing coronary heart disease.”

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The goal of these actions was to motivate Group 2 to exercise regularly.

Group 3 was the intention group. After being told to track their exercise, they also read the motivational pamphlet and got the same speech as Group 2. This was done to ensure that Group 2 and Group 3 were equally motivated.

Unlike Group 2, however, they were also asked to formulate a plan for when and where they would exercise over the following week. Specifically, each person in Group 3 was asked to explicitly state their intention to exercise by completing the following statement…

“During the next week, I will partake in at least 20 minutes of vigorous exercise on [DAY] at [TIME OF DAY] at/in [PLACE].”

After receiving these instructions, all three groups left.

The Surprising Results: Motivation vs. Intention

Two weeks later, the researchers were surprised by what had happened in the three groups.

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  • In the control group, 38% of participants exercised at least once per week.
  • In the motivation group, 35% of participants exercised at least once per week.
  • In the intention group, an incredible 91% of participants exercised at least once per week.

Simply by writing down a plan that said exactly when and where they intended to exercise, the participants in Group 3 were much more likely to actually follow through.

exercise-intention

    The study in the British Journal of Health Psychology found that 91% people who planned their intention to exercise by writing down when and where they would exercise each week ended up following through. Meanwhile, people who read motivational material about exercise, but did not plan when and where they would exercise, showed no increase compared to the control group. (Graphic by James Clear.)

    Perhaps even more surprising was the fact that having a specific plan worked really well, but motivation didn’t work at all. Group 1 (the control group) and Group 2 (the motivation group) performed essentially the same levels of exercise.

    Or, as the researchers put it, “Motivation … had no significant effects on exercise behavior.”

    Compare these results to how most people talk about making change and achieving goals. Words like motivation, willpower, and desire get tossed around a lot. But the truth is, we all have these things to some degree. If you want to make a change at all, then you have some level of “desire.”

    The researchers discovered that what pulls that desire out of you and turns it into real–world action isn’t your level of motivation, but rather your plan for implementation.

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    How to Follow Through With Your Goals

    “Deciding in advance when and where you will take specific actions to reach your goal can double or triple your chances for success.” – Heidi Grant Halvorson, Columbia University professor

    This business about planning your actions and achieving your goals isn’t a random, one. For example, similar studies have found that…

    • Women who stated when and where they would perform a breast self–examination, did it 100% of the time. Meanwhile, those who didn’t state when and where only performed the exam 53% of the time. (1)
    • Dieters who formulated a plan for when and how they would eat healthier were significantly more likely to eat healthy than those who did not. (2)
    • People who wrote down when and where they would take their vitamins each day were less likely to miss a day over a five week span than those who did not. (3)

    In fact, over 100 separate studies in a wide range of experimental situations have come to the same conclusion: people who explicitly state when and where their new behaviors are going to happen are much more likely to stick to their goals.

    You can apply this strategy to almost any goal you can think of, and certainly to most health goals. For example, if you want to start a daily meditation habit this month, then you’ll be more likely to stick to your goal if you plan out when and where you’ll meditate each day.

    What to Do When Plans Fall Apart

    “The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray.” – Robert Burns

    Sometimes you won’t be able to implement a new behavior – no matter how perfect your plan is. In situations like these, it’s great to use the “if–then” version of this strategy. You’re still stating your intention to perform a particular behavior, so the basic idea is the same. This time, however, you simply plan for unexpected situations by using the phrase, “If ____, then ____.”

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    For example…

    • If I eat fast food for lunch, then I’ll stop by the store and buy some vegetables for dinner.
    • If I haven’t called my mom back by 7pm, then I won’t turn on the TV until I do.
    • If my meeting runs over and I don’t have time to workout this afternoon, then I’ll wake up early tomorrow and run.

    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. You can’t control when little emergencies happen to you, but you don’t have to be a victim of them either.

    Use This Strategy to Achieve Your Goals

    If you don’t plan out your behaviors, then you rely on your willpower and motivation to inspire you to act. But if you do plan out when and where you are going to perform a new behavior, your goal has a time and a space to live in the real world. This shift in perspective allows your environment to act as a cue for your new behavior.

    To put it simply: planning out when and where you will perform a specific behavior turns your environment into a trigger for action. The time and place triggers your behavior, not your level of motivation.

    This strategy ties in nicely with the research I’ve shared about how habits work, why you need to schedule your goals, and the difference between professionals and amateurs. (For a complete discussion on habit formation, check out this free guide I put together on transforming your habits.)

    So what’s the moral of this story? Motivation is short lived and doesn’t lead to consistent action. If you want to achieve your goals, then you need a plan for exactly when and how you’re going to execute on them.

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    This article was originally published on JamesClear.com.
    References:
    (1) Breast self–examination study.
    (2) Healthy diet study.
    (3) Vitamin study.
    (4) If you’re interested, you can find an analysis of 94 “implementation intention” studies here.

    Featured photo credit: Efrén via flickr.com

    More by this author

    James Clear

    James Clear is the author of Atomic Habits. He shares self-improvement tips based on proven scientific research.

    How to Stick With Good Habits Even When Your Willpower is Gone How to Change Your Beliefs and Stick to Your Goals for Good Plan for Chaos: How to Stick to Your Health Goals When Life Gets Crazy How to Stay Focused on Your Goals When You Are Worn Out One Simple Trick That Helps You Reach Your Goals Successfully

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    Last Updated on September 27, 2021

    8 Reasons Why Goal Setting Is Important to a Fulfilling Life

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    8 Reasons Why Goal Setting Is Important to a Fulfilling Life

    The importance of effective goal setting cannot be overstated on our personal journeys towards success. This is why there are countless articles out there on how to set your own SMART goals and even why it’s a skill commonly taught to a small degree in classrooms.

    Learning the importance of goal setting and the benefits of sticking to those goals can be the defining factor determining whether we truly embrace the importance of goal setting. The more willing we are to embrace this method, the more likely we become to reach our personal definitions of personal and professional success.

    Thus, this article is going to walk you through some of the benefits you’ll see from learning to set goals for yourself and answer the question — why is goal setting important?

    1. Goals Guide and Align Our Focus

    It’s hard to get to where you want to be in life if you don’t know what you’re aiming for. Some people believe avoiding goals means living a more care-free life. How many times have you heard the phrase “If I have no expectations, then I can’t be disappointed”?

    But is that really what our lives have come to? Living just to avoid disappointment? It doesn’t seem like an overly optimistic view in my opinion. And since you’re reading this article, I’m willing to bet that you agree with me.

    Without goals, we lack a degree of direction and focus. Sure you may be able to avoid disappointment, but just avoiding disappointment doesn’t mean you are necessarily happy.

    Without goals, we will pointlessly waste our time, energy, and efforts. Listen to anybody who is the top of their field and they’ll tell you something like this,

    “Yes talent is important, but often your success depends much more on what you decide to do with that talent.”

    And what you will do with your talent largely depends on your focus.

    Your goals give you direction. Your goals give you something to shoot for. This direction and target you create in your mind will help you to progress towards your main life goals rather than simply wander around aimlessly. These goals will help you align your actions and behaviors as you continue moving forward.

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    So, why is goal setting important? Because it gives you direction, alignment, and purpose!

    2. Goals Help You Avoid ‘Shiny Object Syndrome’

    Basically, shiny object syndrome is always being in pursuit of the next big thing, constantly switching your goals based on what you feel is most fun and interesting at the given moment, but never actually giving yourself time to accomplish any of those goals.

    You don’t get anywhere because you continually change the direction you are heading in. This is one of the consequences that may result if you decide to live a life without goals.

    Your goals can sometimes help you to create mental barriers, or blinders, that help you to remain focused on what you think is important and avoid the things that are second priority. When you outline goals for yourself, you are better able to avoid things that distract you from achieving and accomplishing those goals.

    Setting goals helps you to step around the other shiny objects because you’ve taken the time to make some mental notes that remind you what it is that you want from your life. Your goals act as subconscious deterrents to anything less than your main priorities. This is what helps you to reach your personal definition of success.

    So, why is goal setting important? Because not only do goals tell you what you want from life, but they also help you realize what you need to give up and avoid to achieve that.

    3. Goals Turn Our Largest Goals into Manageable Steps

    A lot of us have big hopes and dreams. It’s one of the things that make our lives exciting!

    But a lot of us never take the time to figure out how we can effectively get from point A to point B. So, sadly, we never fully achieve those goals. We look at our dreams and convince ourselves that only a select few people ever achieve them, so we write ourselves off as people not meant to reach that level of success. Looking at the end product of a goal can be intimidating, daunting, and discourage us from even pursuing them.

    Thankfully, goal setting helps us break large intimidating goals into smaller ones. These small steps and more achievable goals will help us to build momentum and will encourage us to keep working towards the next phase of our goal. The form the foundation from which we can begin building the life that we truly hope to have for ourselves, our families, and may even for our communities depending on how big your goals are!

    Whenever I get talking about this aspect of goal setting, I can’t help but think about the mountain climbing analogy, and that the easiest way to climb a mountain is simply step by step.

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    So, why is goal setting important? Goal setting gives you a list of manageable steps that you can take in order to take your life from where it is now to where you want it to go both effectively and efficiently.

    4. Goals Encourage You to Take Action

    This builds on the last benefit of goal setting. Not only does effective goal setting help you break down your larger goals into smaller, more manageable ones, but it also encourages you to actually begin taking action on those goals. After all, a plan is completely worthless if you aren’t willing to invest the effort required to execute it.

    Setting your goals and putting your plan in place motivates you to begin taking action towards achieving them. These goals give you something to plan and work towards. Essentially, they help propel you forward.

    What I like to do is write out and place my goals somewhere that I’ll regularly see them. This constantly serves as a reminder of my top priorities. It allows me to focus on taking small progressive actions towards achieving these goals daily.

    This ensures that I don’t fall into the trap of setting a goal, beginning to work towards it for a while, but then having my motivation fade resulting in me falling off track. This is exactly what many people see happen when it comes to their “New Year’s Resolutions.”

    If you want to learn about how to take action towards achieving your goal, here’s how: How To Take Action Towards Your Goals Right Now

    So, why is goal setting important? Because goal setting actually motivates you to stop thinking about your goals and actually get out there and achieve them!

    5. Goal Setting Helps You Continually Improve

    This is something that a lot of personal development and self-improvement writers talk about, continual improvement. For those of you who are not aware of the term, continual improvement is exactly what it sounds like — taking small steps towards improvement as frequently as you can to develop into the person you want to become.

    What’s the point in improving a little bit each day if you’re not improving in the areas that you want to improve in after all?

    The goals that you define for yourself will inevitably shape you into the person who you want to become. They’ll shape your character. Your goals can help you measure your progress as you strive for this type of development.

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    Essentially, having goals helps you determine where you started, where you are now, and how much further you need to go. In this manner, your goal setting can serve as milestones and benchmarks that help you determine how well you’re progressing towards your most important goals!

    So, why is goal setting important? Goal setting helps you make improvements each day that will slowly transition you into the person you want to become.

    6. Goal Setting Keeps You Accountable

    Not only does setting goals help you measure your progress, but it also is a means through which you can keep yourself accountable. Too many goals fail because they lack this crucial aspect of outlining accountability.

    For example, if I have the goal to do 50 push-ups, that’s great. Most people would support that goal. However, this goal lacks accountability. When do I want to accomplish this goal by and what steps do I take to get there? These are important questions that the original goal leaves unanswered.

    A much more descriptive and specific goal could be to do 50 push-ups within the next 3 months by starting at 5 push-ups, and then adding 5 each week. This goal outlines the deadline as well as the steps I’m going to take to achieve it. This plan will keep me accountable because if I fail to retain my progression schedule, I will know that I’m not going to achieve the goal on time.

    Additionally, it can serve as a marker helping to signify when something is impeding my progress that I may not have initially accounted for. This tells me that I need to re-evaluate what I’m doing and figure out what adjustments I can make to facilitate my success.

    So, why is goal setting important? Setting goals is key to keeping ourselves accountable and on-track towards accomplishing our goals according to the schedules and deadlines we set for ourselves.

    7. Goals Make You Feel Good

    Trust me, the progress you feel as you set and achieve goals can become super motivating and super addicting (in a good way)! The dopamine release you get from achieving your goals is like a little reward for our brains that continually motivates us to try and hit that next goal!

    Having some clearly defined goals will help you to feel better about yourself and your life in general, especially when you stick to those goals, actively work towards achieving them, and end up accomplishing and surpassing your initial expectations. I’m not the oldest book on the shelf myself, but I can attest that there are not many feelings quite like the one you experience when you truly get on a roll!

    Additionally, our goals give us an endpoint to shoot for. Rather than progress for progress’s sake, you can actually see where you’re heading! That’s so much more rewarding. Think about a long car trip as a kid. You ask “if you’re there yet?” ever 20 minutes. It seems like the drive drags on forever.

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    If you don’t know where you’re going, you risk the journey becoming tedious. It doesn’t tend to be much fun wandering around aimlessly. Goals make us feel good about where we’re directing ourselves.

    So, why is goal setting important? Because setting goals and accomplishing them plain and simply make us feel better about ourselves and our lives!

    8. Goals Help You Live Your Best Life

    I’ve talked a lot in this article about how goal setting helps us progress towards our top priorities and live the way we truly want to live. So I think it’s fit to end the article with this goal because, in the end, I feel it’s the most important one.

    Setting your goals and clearly defining what they mean to you will help you live a life that is tailored to your beliefs and values. Your life will become directed towards the things that you most want to achieve.

    Life is a tricky game and only in very rare circumstances are things handed to us on a silver platter. Often it takes a great degree of work, planning, and effortful execution of both.

    There is no point clinging on to things in your life if they don’t bring you happiness or help you accomplish something that, in some way, aligns with your goals.

    Simply put, setting goals helps us live a life that allows us to pursue the challenges and rewards that we truly want to achieve.

    So, why is goal setting important? Because our time is always limited, and setting clearly defined goals can help ensure that you make the most of your life and live to the fullest! Find out more here: How to Use SMART Goal to Become Highly Successful in Life

    Final Thoughts

    These are just a few of the benefits of goal setting that outline why it truly is so important. If you take a moment or two, I bet that you can even think of a few more benefits yourself that you could add to this list.

    If I could leave you with something, it would be this:

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    Goal setting has the potential to take us to some amazing places in life because we all have talent and ambitions. To achieve your biggest dreams, you need to be willing to sit down and create a life design uniquely tailored to you that will help you achieve them!

    More Tips About Goals Setting

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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