5 Ways to Achieve Goals, According to Science

5 Ways to Achieve Goals, According to Science


It is difficult to pursue your goals and stay motivated during the best of days but you need to create a well thought out plan to keep going during tough times. 

No one is motivated throughout the month but tough times can suck the energy out of you to even think about goals.

Multiple reasons can bring you down, maybe you lost a job, you are having trouble in relationships or just plain old procrastination has engulfed you.

According to science, these are the 5 ways to achieve goals: Pursue goals that you value,  focus on self and the process, break the goal into smaller steps,  track your progress and give yourself a treat at each successful step. 

Let’s take a more detailed look:

1. Pursue Goals That You Value

Research shows pursuing a meaningful goal enables you to focus on useful tasks that will move you towards the target. It will also help you avoid the habits that move you away from the goal. 


When I decided to create my own website. I was more conscious of how I was spending my time especially when I was working on my blog posts. This made me catch patterns like losing focus when the mobile beeps, so I turned off my mobile wifi. 

I also logged out of my Facebook account!  Setting up a blog goal not only made me focus on the tasks but also made me change the micro habits that were affecting me in negative ways. 

The goal cannot be something that you can achieve without making an effort. It is extremely important to have stretch goals. Choosing goals that will utilize your talent the most will produce the best effort from you. 

A friend of mine set up a walking routine as his new goal. He said he was just creating a habit of going out and not thinking of goals. As you might have guessed, this did not last long and he stopped his walks.  

Having said that, you need to find a “sweet spot”Impossible or unrealistic goals will demotivate you in the end. The goals should be achievable.

2. Focus On Self and the Process Too 

When you feel demotivated, it is a good practice to observe your current goal selection.  You might be missing out on an important piece of the puzzle.

Research shows that a guitarist would be more motivated to pursue learning the guitar if she knows the outcome, enjoys the process, and satisfies her need for self-acceptance. In this case, it could be a class where the outcome is her being able to play pop songs, the process would be her enjoying the lessons, and if she feels like a talented guitarist it would mean that her self concept is positive. 

You can implement this research in your own life too. Are you missing an important step here? Maybe you do not see the outcome clearly or maybe the goal does not sit well with your self-concept. If you are not interested in numbers and trends then an analytics course online will not interest you but enrolling in a writing course might boost your spirits. 

3. Break the Goal Into Smaller Steps

Chris Morin worked on procrastination, his findings were that if your goal focuses on a positive outcome, it will be more effective. 

Creating goals that get you thinking about negative consequences only can increase your stress and make you more anxious than you already are. 

Morin also suggests that setting a specific goal is very important. You need to make it very clear and break it down into steps. “Starting a website” is not a specific enough goal, you need to mention when do you plan to start it, what niche will you choose, and the frequency of your publication. This will help you stay on track. 


A research study showed that depressed people set vague goals as opposed to non-depressed people. Even if you think you are not depressed, it is better to be careful when setting up goals. According to the research, unclear goals can exacerbate depression or at least keep you in a depressed state. 

4. Track Your Progress 

An effective way of achieving your goal is to self-regulate by monitoring your progress. Scientists found out that if the goal progress is shared in public or written down, it increased the chances of goal attainment!  Moreover,  a positive behavior change is more likely if progress monitoring is performed more often than before! 

This has been useful with exercise groups where members recording their weight loss in front of other members have a better chance of losing weight than others. 

You might have a goal of losing 20 pounds in 12 weeks but you will have a tough time if you do not break down the goal like previously mentioned.

Once you have defined the smaller steps towards the attainment of the goal, you should also set up a timeline of monitoring your progress. If you check your weight every 5 days, you will know what’s working and what you should avoid eating. 

5. Treat Yourself At Each Successful Step 

While pursuing any long term goals, it is advisable to take a break at important junctures and celebrate small successes.

Though these rewards can be small,  they can be detrimental if you reward yourself at a lousy attempt. So, be honest with yourself. 

Taking care of yourself by giving you small treats can increase your self-control.  You might be skeptical and think that this would be a waste of time but you will risk burning out if you do not do anything else.  A feeling of deprivation can make you leave a new habit and go back to your old ways. 

It is good to be intense in pursuit of your goal but you can burn yourself out if you have a singular focus on it. Not being able to relax or treat yourself can have adverse effects.

A treat can be watching a song on YouTube or having a Sunday brunch at your nearby cafe.

I have a peculiar interest in perfumes so I cannot buy myself expensive bottles but I buy samples that are worth ten dollars every now and then. The box arriving with two small samples can cheer me up and I feel recharged to pursue my goals anew!


In the end, remember that facing tough times head-on will always help you stand up again. You can be an inspiration to others as well as to yourself. Being able to sustain through difficulty turns one into a warrior who can face anything in life. 

Image Credits: 

Life goals comic via xkcd. Time management comic via xkcd




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