Set an ambitious goal. It shouldn’t be outlandishly difficult, but it should be enough of a stretch that you’ll be excited to work toward it. Nobody who sets a goal of losing 5 pounds miraculously loses 20.
Be specific. It’s not enough to simply envision yourself succeeding at a goal. Multiple studies have shown that intention fails about 75 percent of the time. Instead envision all the hard work that will make you succeed. To do this, break down your goals into the exact steps you’ll need to get there.
Who, What, Where, When. Multiple studies have shown that deciding ahead of time where and when you’re going to do a chore more than doubles the likelihood that you will. So give your steps to success a day, time, and place. Rather than “I’m going to weight-train three hours per week,” tell yourself “I’m going to the gym on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 8 until 9.”
Why. Every goal should have a good reason behind it that matches your values and inspires you: to live long enough to play with your grandkids, or make your father proud, or help the world. Then when you feel your willpower fading, you can remember your “why” and it’ll give you a boost.
Trust but verify. Your brain will help you reach your goals by trying to close the gap between “where you want to be and where you actually are.” To do that, however, it needs feedback. It can’t tell you to keep doing crunches if you haven’t set a goal for crunches then counted how many you’ve done.
Create If-Thens. When you tell yourself you’ll run on Wednesdays, your brain starts to unconsciously match the If (Wednesday) with the Then (run). You can also create If-Thens to ward off potential problems: “If I crave a frosted doughnut, I’ll eat an apple instead.” “If it’s cold and rainy and I don’t want to run, I’ll just put on rain gear. If-Thens start to work on an unconscious level and become habits, which spares your willpower.
Self-control is like a muscle: It improves with use. The more you carry out the steps toward your goal, the easier it becomes.
Reward your successes. Science reveals that one little gift can double your self-control, and it doesn’t have to be a box of chocolates. You can pay yourself for reaching a crucial stage, or watch an extra hour of junky TV, or simply think about what you’re learning from the process. Anything that makes you feel good will help you to be good.
Feed your self-control muscle. Studies show that willpower weakens significantly when our glucose level drops, and can inprove significantly even from rinsing your mouth with something sweet. So plan your eating to keep your glucose stable throughout the day.
Recognize the will-power weakeners. If you feel tempted to lapse, do some “why thinking;” focus on your long-term goals and ideals.
Don’t exhaust your self-control . Trying to achieve too many goals at once can overload it and reduce odds for success. If you’re training for a triathlon, maybe leave your goal of studying for the GRE or improving your Urdu until the race is done.
Focus on mastery, not performance. Studies show that when we stop trying to be good and start trying to get better we not only do better, but work harder and persist longer. And persistence and hard work, Halvorson says, have a lot more to do with success than innate ability.
Shut it. Overconfidence is a proven impediment to success. Studies show that talking about our goals actually reduces motivation. Stop discussing what you’re going to achieve and you’ll be more likely to actually achieve it.