how to stick to goals

“There’s nothing more constant than change,” or so the Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, supposedly once wrote. Except there is, isn’t there? For many of us, the only real constant in our lives is that we absolutely refuse beyond all reason to make any changes. We’re creatures of habit, which is not entirely productive when trying to make and stick to new life goals. Still, the reason we resist straying from our deep-rooted customs is simple — change is hard.

If you’ve ever tried to diet or even save a little money, you will know that this is one of the fundamental truths of life. You might start out with the very best of intentions; but before you even have time to see them in action, you stumble and give up completely. If that sounds all too familiar, you’ve come to the right place. Here are some actionable tips that will help you stick to your goals, according to science.

How to Stick to Goals

Start Small (and Work Your Way Up)

woman thinking about how to stick to goals

First, let’s focus on the planning process. While the idea of a complete lifestyle overhaul might be utterly appealing right now, it’s probably not particularly realistic. Trying to make a hoard of major life changes is likely to leave you burned out faster than you know. So, instead, you absolutely have to start small. Setting yourself reasonable, achievable goals will put you on the path to success. While our innate logic tells us that this is true, there’s been research to back it up too.

In one study by the University of Alabama at Birmingham, the findings suggested that when losing weight, participants were much more likely to reach their goals if they started out small. This doesn’t just apply to weight loss either; it can also be relevant in a work setting. In fact, according to research by Harvard researcher Teresa Amabile, the best way to reach greater workplace goals was to set daily ones. So, rather than setting the grand old goal of gaining a promotion, you might want to set smaller, daily tasks that will help you get there.

Make a Step-by-Step Plan

Let’s face it: You’re getting nowhere fast unless you have a plan in place. Blindly stating that you’d like to achieve something without considering how you’re going to do it is, frankly, insane. If you’re genuinely serious about wanting to reach your goals, you will need to have a plan of action.

What’s more, the plan has to be specific, rather than flexible — at least, according to a study published in the Journal of Consumer Research. The research noted that people are reluctant to follow specific steps (because it makes the process seem harder), but that they should do so all the same. The reason is this: When you break goals down into specific steps, the opposite of what people assume is true, i.e. they are actually easier to reach.

woman learning how to stick to goals

Keep Tabs on Your Progress

If you don’t tend to keep tabs on your progress, you might just want to start. One particular review by researchers at The University of Sheffield stresses the importance of “self-regulation” when trying to pursue goals. The theory rests on the idea that being ignorant of the process will mean we fail in the long run. The researchers dub this the Ostrich Problem since we tend to bury our heads in the sand to avoid doing what we really know we should. It’s not particularly healthy, but it’s something that we all do; so how can we quit it?

Well, to avoid this problem scuppering our best-laid plans, it’s important to keep track of your goals. You might want to do this by setting a reminder on your phone or tablet or keeping a daily journal of your activity. In addition, simply writing down your targets makes them all the more real to you. In short, they come to life and you can no longer ignore them.

Forget the Backup Plan

Finally, it’s time to ditch your backup plan. While it’s human nature to consider all the possible outcomes and plan for them, it may not be particularly helpful. When you’ve got a plan B already laid out in your mind, it’s ever so tempting to fall back on it. Surprisingly, research from the University of Wisconsin-Madison found that preparing for failure actually makes it all the more likely.

So, while it may not feel particularly comfortable going full-steam without considering the alternatives, it might be just the thing that pushes you forward. When you’re making a backup plan, you’re subconsciously admitting that you don’t have faith in yourself. That’s not exactly the right footing to start on, is it? Trying avoiding this step altogether, and it might just make all the difference.