Every journey starts with a goal. Whether you are trying to finish your school year, get through a busy season at work, get that body beach ready after over a year of pandemic sheltering, save up an emergency fund, or improve your mental health, you have a goal. Goals are great but you might find it difficult to reach them. You are not alone.
To help, here are some of my best methods to keep a goal. If you are looking for the ultimate guide to keeping your goals, look no further.
The most important concept to understand when increasing or decreasing habits is that we are bad at it. The human brain loves to conserve energy whenever it can, and it does so by stabilizing our behavior. For example, you can drive to home but forget to make that stop to the store you wanted to because you just got used to driving home after work. To combat this, the best way is to increase or decrease friction. You can do this by making it harder to do the behavior that you want to stop or making it easier to do the behavior that you do not want to do.
To combat this, the best way is to increase or decrease friction.
Society saw this play out on the big scale with cigarette use. When the public at large changed its viewpoint on cigarettes from cool-hip-thing to health menace, the actual usage rates did not decline. Despite knowing how much better it was for their health, generally people did not change their behavior until the government put in legislation to make it harder access cigarettes (e.g., no more cigarette vending machines).
In your case, you have a mini government called our conscious mind that can foresee problems ahead of time and plan accordingly. The classic example of this is of early morning runs. If you want to go for a run each morning, then sleep in your running clothes. Once you wake up, you will already be dressed for your workout so you might as well start running. Another idea, let us say for healthier eating, might be duct taping the chips bag and precutting some celery to eat.
Start a Success Snowball
Start small when making goals and plan on building up the habit. Setting markers along the way to a much bigger habit is helpful. For instance, let us say you want to read more, commit to reading for 5 minutes today. Once you start, you may notice that you want to continue reading and you can do so if you want. You might end up realizing that you have read for an hour! On the other hand, if you try to read for an hour, you might be deterred by how long that sounds and not end up reading at all. Furthermore, if you start with small goals, it becomes much easier to further improve the habit whether it is longer workout times or longer reading times.
Focus on Success
While you are working on your success snowball, focus on the success that you have. Pay attention to each time you succeed, even if it is only partial. The goal becomes moving towards your desired behavior or habit. For example, let us say you want to get out of bed at 8am but do not get out of bed until 8:45am. Focus on the fact that you got out of bed before 9am and that it could have been worse. It was not a failure, it was progress!
Another method to help you create habits is to chain or connect a habit together. If you already have another habit in place, you can make doing that habit conditional on your new habit. For example, let us say that you already brush your teeth in the morning regularly. If you want to start a new habit of taking your vitamins or medication in the morning as well, you can put your vitamins in the way of accessing your toothbrush.
Because changing a habit is so challenging, it often makes sense to team up towards a mutual goal. Friend support can be helpful if you can make it a regular activity together. For example, getting outside each day for a walk might be really challenging but shirking out from an agreement with a friend to walk that day might be more challenging. Even introverts can get in on this teamwork process.
Now this is a fun one, just imagine doing the thing that you want to do. The human imagination is amazing and there is truly little difference between doing something and doing it. If you want to get better at something, imagine yourself doing it. Sports psychology uses this trick frequently to make players better without much risk or wear on the body. That said, it is important to still have some practiced skill rather than just imagined skill.
Now that you have all these tips, keep going. Create a plan and go for whatever habits or goals you want.
Andrew Huber is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist #103733.