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How to achieve your goals?

People set goals with the purpose of achieving positive changes in their lives. However, it is no secret that most people quickly abandon their goals. There is a phenomenon known as the present bias (Phelps and Pollack, 1968), which explains the tendency of people to underestimate the value of future rewards, and to opt for immediate rewards that are smaller. Research has been conducted in the behavioral sciences that can provide insights into goal fulfillment:

  1. A fresh start - the reset you need: a study collected correlational research evidence that shows that moments in time known as "fresh starts" are popular for addressing positive change. (Dai, Milkman y Riis, 2014). Other studies have complemented these findings by discovering that when a person is reminded that a new week, a new month, a new season, etc. is approaching, their motivation to achieve their goals increases. (Dai, Milkman y Riis,2015; Davydenko y Peetz, 2019; Hennecke y Converse, 2017).

  2. Establish lasting habits: Habits are behaviors that, because they are repeatedly performed and reinforced, become automatic. We recommend four books that offer practical strategies and tips based on scientific findings, which will allow you to re-design your habits: Atomic Habits — James Clear Good Habits, Bad Habits — Wendy Wood How to change: The Science from Getting Where You Are to Where You Want to Be — Katy Milkman Tiny Habits: The Small Changes that change everything — BJ Fogg

Source: Own elaboration

3. One key component is flexibility: researcher Katy Milkman of the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School conducted a study in which she measured the motivation of two groups of Google employees to exercise regularly. The first group of participants was paid to go to the gym at the same time each day. The other group was instructed to exercise whenever people had a free space, but was paid a lower percentage than the other group. The results showed that the participants in the group that had to follow the same strict schedule stopped the habit of going to the gym if they missed a session. The people who belonged to the flexible schedule group managed to form the habit of exercising and maintain it for a long time.

4. Implementation intentions: whereas goal intentions specify what one wants to achieve (i.e., "I intend to achieve X!"), implementation intentions specify the specific behavioral actions one must take to achieve the goal attainment and the situational context in which one will carry out the action (Gollwitzer, 1999). An implementation intention serves to keep in mind an exact plan to execute, in contextual situations that arise in the process of obtaining the proposed goal (if X happens, I do Y). For example, if the goal is to eat healthy, the implementation intention would be: every Sunday at 10 am I will select 5 low-fat recipes from the Internet, to cook them during the week.

This information is part of one of the editions of Heurística Lab's newsletter "Atajos Mentales" (Mental Shortcuts). If you are interested in learning more strategies to achieve behavioral changes, we invite you to subscribe to the "Mental Shortcuts" newsletter, in this link.


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