Want More Certainty About Achieving Your Goals? Use the Science

By Mark Vincent


Do you have big changes planned for this year? Maybe you are feeling determined to deliver on those goals you have promised yourself?

You may have started the year with dry January or Veganuary? For temporary changes like that there is an end in sight so with a bit of willpower you may be able to make it, but what about those changes that you want to make permanent?

Many people regularly start the new year full of resolve to achieve a new goal, maybe write a book, eat more healthily or exercise more. Perhaps it starts well but after a while it becomes harder and harder to sustain momentum. Roughly 85% of New Years resolutions don’t last according to research, so how do you turn your good intentions into sustained life changes?

A good place to start is understanding that our basic psychology, our hard wiring, can work for or against us especially where change is concerned. The good news though is once you understand what’s happening you can start to make more of your changes stick. In other words you can do change more smartly, without all the extraordinary willpower and stress. You can make more of those changes that really matter to you.

Start by focusing on these 5 themes to dramatically increase your chance of success and with far less effort and willpower:

1. Energise – The desire and motivation for change

Staying as you are is normally the easiest option so your emotional drive to change must be strong enough to move you into action. It may be that your dis-satisfaction with the way things are has reached a critical point or that you’re reaching for something that really matters to you. It’s not enough to want it rationally though, you need to feel it emotionally. Be clear on why you are changing and ensure you are emotionally connected to it; try visualising what it will feel like once you have made the change. Whichever techniques you use, the hard truth is that If you’re not really feeling it then you’re unlikely to stay the course.

2. Enable – Addressing the reasons to resist, pause or become distracted

With all good intentions there are obstacles to navigate and if you don’t pay attention to them they will end up derailing you. They will consume your willpower and energy and it’s very likely you’ll eventually fall off the wagon…the only question is when. Consider what is likely to slow you down, distract you or derail you and build strategies to deal with them before they happen. Apparently a bacon sandwich has derailed many a veganism journey, especially after a few drinks!

3. Execute – The tangible steps needed to make it real

Good intentions will come to nothing if you don’t know precisely what you need to do to make it happen. Give yourself a chance and be clear from the start the steps you need to take and then ensure you monitor your progress. Also make sure you specifically allow time for the things you need to do, or to quote Robin Sharma “what gets scheduled gets done”. Most of us lead busy lives with lots of things competing for our attention. Consider rewarding yourself when you achieve certain milestones to keep yourself motivated. You could even tell your friends your plan and get them to hold you to it!

4. Embed – Shaping the habits and behaviours needed to sustain the changes

Did you know that around 85% of what we do each day is habit based? Our brains use automatic patterns of thinking to drive most of our actions. Think about driving a car. Habits can either be good for us or bad for us and the key is to understand they exist and they take time to form. Research suggests that this can take anything from 30 days to 150 days depending on the nature of the habit we are forming or replacing. So be prepared to go for the long haul and focus on truly forming the habits you want. Find ways to make it easier to do the right thing and harder to do the things you are trying to leave behind.

5. Evaluate – Reflecting, understanding and adjusting the approach as needed

Maybe things aren’t progressing in the way you had hoped. Maybe life has taken an unexpected turn which is derailing your good intentions. Change rarely exists in a vacuum so it’s important to stay aware, to reflect and adjust as needed if you are to achieve your goals. If something is making it harder what could you do to reduce the impact of that?

Take the time to reflect regularly on how you’re doing and whether anything has changed either in your own priorities or in your broader lifestyle. The key is to be honest with yourself and to deal with any challenges early and head on so they don’t become a bigger problem later.

I hope this helps a little and wishing you all the very best with your goals for this year. For a bit of fun, why not see how where you could increase your chance of success using our quick and easy Change Journey Navigator Assessment by clicking below. It takes just a few minutes.

Start here

Related content

• Mark Vincent

Satya Nadella – Hit Refresh

Think that some organisations are too big or too well established to change? Think again. Satya Nadella and the team at Microsoft of proven otherwise.

Read more

• Mark Vincent

Dan Ariely – What Makes us Feel Good About our Work

An excellent TED by Dan Ariely on the importance of meaning to our motivation and therefore our level of engagement and creativity at work.

Read more

• Applied Change

Greta Thunberg: Speech to world leaders at UN Climate Action Summit

An emotional speech to world leaders by an amazing young lady who, whilst attracting criticism of her language and methods from some people, has single-handedly created a movement for change. Hopefully post-Covid-19 we can now get this existential threat back onto the global agenda.

Read more
Join the conversation