Tell me if this has ever happened to you:
Something happens that motivates you to make some major changes. You get super jazzed about some goals, you write them down, and you’re on cloud-nine for a few days. You’re super excited about all the changes you’re gonna make.
You can practically taste the deliciousness of your new, healthier and happier life.
But then fast-forward a few months, your goals are abandoned, and you’re convinced that maybe you’re just incapable of creating the life you truly want.
But you know what? That’s garbage. I don’t care how many times you’ve failed at your goals. YOU are entirely capable of achieving your goals.
Even those long-abandoned goals. Even the big, scary ones you try not to think about because they terrify as much as they excite you.
If you’ve been unsuccessful in the past, it’s because you haven’t had the right tools.
YOU NEED THE RIGHT GOAL-SETTING TOOLS
Specifically, the goal-setting tools that are right for you. For most of us, to set and actually achieve our goals, we need more than a hope. More than motivation.
We need a plan. A well-thought-out plan that fits our goals, lifestyle, and personality.
And these 10 research-backed goal setting tips and strategies are going to help you to create a rock-solid plan to change your habits and accomplish the goals you have set.
The life you want awaits. So let’s get started!
(And be sure to download the printable goal worksheet at the bottom of this post to create your goal plan!)
10 GOAL SETTING TIPS TO CHANGE HABITS & CREATE THE LIFE YOU WANT
Follow the steps below to set and achieve the goals that will help you build the life you want.
1) DON’T FIGHT YOUR NATURE
The fact of the matter is we’re all very different. And we know we’re different! So it’s crazy to think that there is a one-size-fits-all way of doing pretty much anything. Especially when it comes to goals and habit change.
It doesn’t matter that your friend was crazy successful on the keto diet. Or looks like Xena Warrior princess since she started cross-fit.
We’re all driven and motivated by very different things. And we certainly don’t like the same stuff.
Which means that in order to be successful in setting and achieving goals, you’ve gotta be finely attuned to who YOU are.
- Are you a morning person or a night owl?
- If no one is holding you accountable for something, will you still do it?
- What really motivates you?
- What do you enjoy?
For example, if you set the goal to exercise and sign up for the gym, but you absolutely hate the gym–the music blasting, feeling self-conscious, dubious cleanliness of the equipment–you’re probably not going to work out much.
Maybe a morning walk/run through your quiet neighborhood will light you up.
And f you’re a night owl, setting the goal to wake up at 4:00am and bust out a couple hours of work is probably not setting yourself up for success.
And I should know. Because I did exactly that.
For about a year and a half, I tried to wake up at 4:00 am everyday. I was successful about 50% of the time and beat myself up mercilessly for the rest.
I loved how I could cross off half of my daily to-do list before my kids’ heads popped off their little pillows. Even though it felt impossibly hard to do, I was convinced that if I just tried harder, I could make it happen every. single. day.
In my mind, a 4:00am wake up meant accomplishing my goals and the life I wanted to live.
But I was just setting myself up to fail.
Because I am a serious night owl. To get up every day at 4:00am, I’ve had to train myself and be insanely diligent. And basically fight all my natural inclinations.
And so when I’d hit those “survival mode” periods of life and I was just trying to keep my 4 kids (aged 2-6) alive and meet my work responsibilities (I teach college history classes in addition to maintaining this site), waking up super early always came to an abrupt halt.
Once I recognized that my plan to wake at 4:00am to achieve my goals was garbage, things started to get way better.
I’ve since changed my schedule to wake up at 6:00am. And now it’s a million times easier to wake up early every day and keep a consistent schedule. Which means accomplishing a whole lot more more (see tip 5).
When setting goals and creating your plan, be honest with yourself. Just being aware of your nature will make it easier to make and keep your goals.
Take This Personality Quiz.
To get a better idea of what motivates you, check out this super helpful Personality Quiz by Gretchen Rubin. A habits expert, she’s created a personality framework called The 4 Tendencies. It’s completely brilliant and I’m obsessed.
The quiz determines how you respond to both outer and inner expectations. Everyone falls into 1 of 4 categories: Upholder, Obliger, Questioner, and Rebel (I’m an Upholder).
Knowing your personality type is insanely helpful to setting yourself up for success in your goal-setting ventures. It’s been incredibly valuable for me to not only know myself, but also understand the people around me and how to help motivate them (i.e. my kids and husband).
I highly recommend taking the quiz and even checking out her fantastic book on the topic.
2) TAP INTO KEYSTONE HABITS
When people start to exercise, they often find that they naturally make better nutritional choices and develop other healthy habits. That’s because exercise is a keystone habit.
Keystone habits are bedrock habits that once we change, act as a domino effect in automatically creating other good habits.
So to get the bang for your goal-setting buck, tapping into your keystone habits are going to have the biggest impact on your life. Even just targeting one keystone habit is often enough to see massive changes in your life.
The Basic Keystone Habits are:
- Morning routine
Improving these areas of our lives usually translates into a slew of other positive changes that occur quite naturally.
For example, creating an intentional morning routine and waking up before my kids naturally translated into a cleaner home, having more patience with my kids, and losing weight.
Since sleep is basically the entire foundation of health, better sleep often means more energy and weight loss (sleep deprivation makes you crave garbage foods). Which mean better health and accomplishing more every single day.
For most people, decluttering and keeping a tidier home means a calmer and more focused mind. Which often translated into great productivity and greater happiness.
Let’s be honest: there’s a reason Marie Kondo’s popular book on decluttering is The LIFE-CHANGING Magic of Tidying Up. Because it really is life changing.
And I’d certainly call it magical.
After reading that book, talking to my socks, and getting rid of a third of everything we owned, I felt like a brand new woman. Since we had less stuff (and it was all useful and joy-inducing), I spent a lot less time cleaning. And less time getting frustrated at my kids and husband.
My house was much tidier. So I was happier and had more time and energy to put into other endeavors.
For more help with keystone habits, check out:
- 10 Easy Strategies to Get Dramatically Better Sleep
- 9 Simple Tips For a Healthy Morning Routine
- 3 Ways For Busy Moms to Fit in a Quick Workout
And if you have kids, check out this short video with 3 tips to keep a cleaner house with kids.
3) CREATE AN ACCOUNTABILITY SYSTEM
Most of us benefit greatly from some sort of accountability–someone or something keeping tabs on our progress. A lot of people actually NEED accountability or they won’t get anywhere (see tip 1).
Accountability can come in just about a zillion forms–the trick is finding the thing that makes the most sense for you.
Get a Buddy or Join a Group
If you struggle to exercise, then maybe you need to hire a trainer, join a running group, or get a workout buddy.
If a workout buddy alone isn’t enough, maybe you and your workout buddy need to swap one of your shoes so that in order to get in your workouts, you both need to show up with the other’s shoe!
Maybe you want to read more, but you know you won’t read on your own. Join a book club or create one by getting together a few like-minded friends.
Regardless of your goal, perhaps you just find someone who you need to check in with everyday/week in order to follow up on progress.
For example, my sister texted me every time she went to the gym in order to stay accountable. So no text meant I knew she didn’t exercise, which helped motivate her to fit in her pre-scheduled workouts.
Write a Check
Investing money in your goals is often a powerful accountability tool. For example:
- Buying a personal training package
- Investing in a college class
- Signing up for a paid challenge
- Paying an accountability coach
Or even putting money on the line if you fail.
I had a friend who was desperate to quit sugar. She knew it was zapping her energy, causing weight issues, and ruling her life. But she just could not quit.
So she publicly committed to going sugar-free for one month…or else she’s be donating $100 to the campaign of a local political she found completely repugnant.
She went sugar-free for a month.
I’ve also heard of a man who managed to finally quit smoking by writing out a check to donate to a group he found abhorrent if he slipped up and smoked a cigarette. He quit cold-turkey and that check was never sent.
Join a Mastermind Group
For me, one of the most helpful accountability tools in my career is a Mastermind group that meets weekly.
While I am a pretty motivated person and don’t typically need accountability to make progress, I found that having a group of other career bloggers to report to every week pushed me to accomplish more than I would have. I make more progress with accountability.
If your goals are career related, mastermind groups are fantastic accountability tools.
4) ANTICIPATING & VISUALIZING OBSTACLES
When setting a goal, part of of your plan should include knowing how to overcome obstacles. Which means:
- Anticipate what obstacles will come up.
- Visualize how you will overcome those obstacles.
If you’re trying to eat healthier food, you’re going to need to anticipate where you’re going to run into trouble. How will you handle the spread at a holiday party, eating out with friends, or donuts in the workroom?
If you want to stop yelling at your kids, what are the situations that tend to set you off the most?
Then you want to spend time visualizing how you’ll handle those situations.
So you might imagine yourself going to the party, skipping the sweets, and noshing on the carrot sticks as you happily chat the night away.
You could imagine yourself walking past the donuts and thinking “not today, Satan”.
And before you go out with friends or colleagues, you check out the menu online and pick out a healthy option before you even set one foot in the restaurant.
If you get set off when your kid starts complaining about having to clean up after dinner, visualize your kid angrily whimpering about “having to do everything” while sitting at the kitchen table. And then you visualize yourself taking a deep breath, responding calmly as your reinforce house rules, and staying cool as a cucumber.
5) SCHEDULE IT
For a lot of us, if we schedule it, we do it. It makes it easier to choose the right things that will help up rock our goals.
Whether going to the gym, going on dates with our spouse, or decluttering our closet, putting it on the calendar makes it much more likely to get it done.
And we can make it easier if we schedule desirable actions at regular intervals.
For example, my husband found that we had a really hard time getting out on dates. We didn’t plan them til the weekend, and by that point our calendars were full. So we decided the first Saturday night of every month is automatically date night.
We don’t have to plan every date. We automatically know that the first Saturday night is already blocked out. And we know we need to get a sitter.
Also, I wanted to work out 5 days a week. But instead of just having the nebulous goal of working out 5 days a week and having to wake up each morning and decide if today was the day, I created a schedule.
I made the plan to go to the gym Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and do an interval run on Tuesdays and Saturdays. Making that set weekly schedule meant that I not only woke up knowing that I was exercising, I knew exactly what I was going to do for my workout that day.
I didn’t wake up and have to choose to workout and then choose what to do. I just had to choose to follow through with my plan.
If we schedule it we do it.
Schedule Every Day
“A small task, if it be truly daily, will beat the labours of a spasmodic Hercules.” –novelist, Anthony Trollope
Doing something everyday, even for a short time, is incredibly powerful. I’m a firm believer in the power of making something an everyday habit (I keep the above quote framed on my desk).
For example, I’ve found 15 minutes of laundry a day is all I need to stay up on all the laundry for a household if 6 people where before it took a whole day when done weekly. This daily practice makes my goal of keeping a clean orderly home MUCH easier.
(read more about my 15 minute laundry strategy HERE).
Just 5 minutes of daily meditation, 20 minutes of daily exercise, or 10 minutes of reading to your child are going to make massive differences in the long run.
A little bit everyday will beat the occasional spurt of massive effort.
6) HACK THE HABIT LOOP
Understanding the habit loop is incredibly powerful to change your habits and reach your goals.
You’re probably like “what the heck’s ‘the habit loop’?”
Let me explain:
All our habits are part of a loop. There’s a cue, routine, and reward.
All our habits are set off by some cue, which launches us into our habit (or routine), that lead us to our reward. Identifying our cues and rewards are the keys to changing our habits (routines).
For example, when I am stressed out and anxious, I crave sugar. Like a junkie looking for a fix, I rampage through my house looking for something sweet to binge on.
I’ve been known to melt marshmallows and butter in a bowl in the microwave, mix in Rice Krispies, and binge on the sticky junk with a wooden spoon.
(What can I say? I’m a classy lady.)
So getting anxious and stressed is my cue to binge on sugar, which calms me (my reward). I needed another routine that calmed me without expanding my thighs and making me feel like vomiting and curling in a ball.
So I started to do a deep breathing exercise when I found myself anxious and wanting to bust out the marshmallows. I find deep breathing exercising incredibly calming and centering. This has been super helpful in cutting down on stress-induced sugar binges.
Finding your cues and rewards takes some experimentation. But once you figure them out, you can manipulate the habit loop to create habits that will help you achieve your goals.
For more on the habit loop and some awesome habit-changing strategies check out Charles Duhigg’s incredible book The Power of Habit.
7) USE PAIRING
Pairing is one of the best ways to get yourself to do basically anything that you regularly put off, be it folding clothes or exercising.
Here’s what you do: you pair up a task you want to do or automatically do with a task you want to start doing. You ONLY can do the fun thing (or thing you automatically do) if you are doing the thing you want to start doing.
You can tap into your desire to do the pleasurable task to get yourself to do the not-so-pleasurable task.
Some examples of habit pairing:
- Can only watch your favorite show while at the gym
- Clean out your car while getting gas
- You listen to podcasts while you fold clothes for 10 minutes everyday
- Get 15 minutes on social media only after finishing your daily workout
- Only listen to the addictive audiobook on a run
- Doing squats while you brush teeth
Honestly, the possibilities are endless!
For me, I love listening to podcasts. But I can only do it if I’m working out, cleaning my house, or preparing food. As a result, I usually look forward to all these activities because I enjoy the podcasts so much.
8) BREAK IT DOWN INTO BABY STEPS
Breaking down your big goal into smaller bite-sized pieces makes it much easier to attack and conquer.
For example, the goal of losing 20 lbs can seem kind of daunting. So you might set the goals to lose one pound a week, keep a daily food journal, read a great book on nutrition, and exercise 4 days a week.
Breaking your big goal into baby steps and taking the first step is essential to accomplish your goals.
How can you break up your goals into tiny steps and smaller goals?
9) MAKE IT CONVENIENT/INCONVENIENT
Making it convenient to do the right things and inconvenient to do the wrong things makes it much more likely that we will follow through with our goals. Since we have limited willpower and energy, we tend to go for what’s convenient.
How can you make the right things convenient and the wrong things inconvenient?
If you have a container of Oreos in your cupboard when you get the urge to eat garbage, chances are you’re gonna go to town on them without even thinking. And you’ll be halfway through the bag before the self-loathing sets in.
On the other hand, if there’s no junk food in your house, you’ll either have to drive somewhere or make something from scratch. Both of which take time and effort, making it less likely that you’ll follow through with your cravings.
And if you have a fridge full of snack bags full of pre-cut veggies, you’re much more likely to grab them when you get peckish.
Change your Routines
Changing up parts of your daily routines has the power to bring the power of convenience/inconvenience into your goal plan.
Maybe you need to choose a new way home from work to avoid that drive-thru line that always trips up your health goals. Or stop shopping at the store that had those cookies that always end up in your cart.
If you want to workout in the morning, set out your workout clothes the night before so it’s easy to put them on first thing. Because once you’re dressed to workout, you’re much more likely to feel the need to actually workout before you put something else on.
I’ve found that using apps has made keeping many of my goals much more convenient. For example, research shows that just keeping a food journal leads to weight loss. But all my efforts to keep a food journal failed…until I start using an app.
Before, I’d try to keep a little notebook. But it always got lost among the dozens of little notebooks I tried to keep and I didn’t always have it on me and always forgot to write in it.
But when I started using the free Dining Note app, it made it really easy to track what I eat. Since I always have my phone near me, keeping a food journal is now super convenient. So I actually do it.
Change Your Home Organization
Sometimes, you need to make changes in your home setup to make your goals easier to achieve.
Maybe you need to keep your blender on a certain place on the counter to make it easier to make your green smoothie in the morning. Maybe you need to get rid of your TV, or reorganize your room.
As a work-at-home mom of 4 little ones, it can be really tough to switch gears from mom/home maintenance stuff to work stuff in the tiny gaps that crop up during the my crazy days.
And since I like a clean and orderly workspace, finding that in the middle of a chaotic day with kids is dang near impossible.
When a time slot would open to work, I’d find myself cleaning and organizing to try and get into the proper work mindset. And by the time things were tidy, my work window would be over.
So instead of a playroom/office as my workspace (which was always in disarray due to my 4 children having free reign), I kicked my kids out.
I set up play spaces in other areas of the home and made the room a dedicated office space. I keep the door locked so my kids can’t go in and mess with my stuff. It stays perfectly clean and organized.
It’s been life-changing and has made it easier to achieve work goals.
When I have a second, I can unlock the door and get right down to business without finding my kids have used all my tape, stolen my pens, and covered the floor covered in legos.
How can you change up your living space to make your goals happen?
10) SURROUND YOURSELF
We are basically the average of the people we surround ourselves with. If we surround ourselves with spenders, we’ll spend–whether we have the money or not.
If we surround ourselves with people who workout and watch what they eat, we’re much more likely to do the same.
The environment and messages we surround ourselves with also has the power to make or break our goal-achieving efforts. Maybe we need to redecorate our house a bit to get more inspired in our goals. Or we need to go home from work a different way to avoid that tempting Frecnh bakery you love.
Ways to surround yourself with inspiration:
- Adjust your circle of friends
- Listen to inspiring podcasts
- Read books that inspire you and give you tools to achieve your goals
- Post your goals and affirmations where you will often see them
- Frequent places that inspire you (avoid places that don’t)
For me, surrounding myself with fit healthy people means going to the gym regularly. Just being around a lot of people motivated by fitness automatically motivates me to greater fitness.
Frequently listening to podcasts like Happier, Losing 100 lbs, and Don’t Keep Your Day Job all help me in achieving my lifestyle, health, and career goals.
USE THESE GOAL-SETTING TIPS TO ROCK YOUR GOALS
Take these tools and create your plan to achieve your goals and start creating the life of your dreams. Keeping in mind your nature, personality and motivations, pick the tools and strategies that will work best for you.
Don’t forget to download the free printable goal worksheet to get started with your plan today.
You’ve got this.
Did I miss anything? Any other important goal-setting strategies or tips to add? Leave them in the comments!
Hey Erin! I love the worksheet. This is a huge topic for me (much to the dismay of most people I know). The main thing I asked for for Christmas was this really awesome planner and goal tracker. Great tips! Habits are the key for sure!! Will power will always burn out eventually, but habits run on autopilot.
Sarah Rose says
This article is life changing for me and just what I needed to read today. Absolutely full of hints ripe and great inspiration for the journey I’m on to improve myself and look after my body. Thank you xx
Oh I’m so glad, Sarah. So happy it was helpful 🙂