Creating Sticky Goals to Embrace Success

As we enter 2024, we are reminded of this great opportunity for a fresh start. New Year’s resolutions have become a tradition for so many of us, and social science researchers suggest days like this represent critical times for considering and adopting new habits and interventions. Goals typically require behavioral change, which is one reason why so many of us are not good at sticking to them. Whether your goal is striving for personal growth, better health or finances, career advancement, or simply pursuing happiness, the start of a new year serves as a catalyst for change and self-improvement. But goals are only useful if you remain committed to them and see them to fruition.

How to Ensure Goal-Attainment

Most people spend their time trying to follow SMART goals, which makes sense. You do want your goals to be very specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timely. These are all important. However, the most overlooked characteristic is the concept of stickiness.

Make your goals “sticky”. Technology applications are sticky when consumers have high engagement levels, high loyalty, and are less likely to stop using them. Instagram and many of the top games like Royal Match or Crossy Road on your smartphone are sticky. They have great colors, fresh content, keep score, and make you want to keep coming back. Similarly, with goal-setting, you want sticky goals—goals that you are engaged in, committed to, and motivated to keep following. Our challenge is to figure out how to make our life, and goals, sticky.

Designing Sticky Goals

One of the keys to achieving goals is to design them to be permanently sticky goals. Here are six strategies you can use for doing just that.

1. Be Exceedingly Selective

No matter how much we want this to be different, we simply can’t do everything at once. We need to prioritize things and be exceedingly discerning or selective in the goals that we choose to pursue. Make it easier for your brain to support your activities by making a few important goals at the top of mind. Avoid constantly adding new goals, or even changing existing ones. Find a couple that you really want to make happen, and keep those at the forefront of your mind.

2. Work Backwards

Golfers and other sports professionals start with the end in mind, imagining what a “hole in one” might look like, or a perfect tennis serve. We can all learn from that. Start by visualizing what the achievement or attainment of that goal would look like in a year or two from now. Imagine yourself as a healthy person, or a wealthy executive, or a person living in the mountains. Whatever your dream, visualize the result vividly, to help maintain focus and motivation and walk back the steps necessary to get there. Create a vision board, jot down detailed descriptions, or use mental imagery to keep your objective alive in your mind.

3. Gamify Your Goals

Let’s face it. If your goal requires you to do something unpleasant, such as quit eating to lose weight, or start studying stock charts to gain wealth, you will probably lose interest quickly. Sticky goals require engagement, and some fun. So, make a game out of it. Try doing something simple, like rewarding yourself with a smoothie (for example) for 3 successive days of goal-related actions. Or assign a point system to the tasks that must get done by using 1 point for easier goals, and 5 points for more difficult goals. Add these up each week to keep score, and track your scores over time. You could also keep a poster board nearby with charts on it that you color in as you progress. Whatever your tool, try to make it fun.

4. Start Small and Break things Down

We gain traction, and therefore motivation, by taking small actions and completing them. Each time we complete another one, we get more momentum. So, break down your goals into small, manageable tasks or milestones. Never plan to achieve a goal with one giant step. It rarely works. Large goals are just too overwhelming, and can create anxiety and depression in many people. Smaller tasks not only make the goal less intimidating but also allow you to track progress more effectively. Consistent action is key to achieving long-term goals. Establishing habits that align with your objectives helps you to integrate progress into your daily routine. Whether it’s dedicating a specific time for your goal-related tasks or practicing a skill regularly, small daily habits ensure steady advancement.

5. Apply Bayesian Tools for Learning

Sure, on the surface this sounds difficult, since most of us don’t know anything about Bayesian mathematics. But Bayesian inference at its core is a continuous process for incorporating our previous errors into continuous learning, and then incorporating these changes into new data points and future estimates. In the same way, we as humans must use feedback, from what is or isn’t working, to adapt our plans, or our approach to meeting goals. Setbacks and challenges are part of the journey. Instead of viewing them as failures, consider them as opportunities to learn and grow. Analyze what went wrong, adjust your approach if needed, and use these experiences as stepping stones towards success.

6. Focus on The Positive with Self-Compassion

If you are learning something new like yoga or golf, you know that while it might be fun, it is also quite discouraging. But what keeps people coming back to the mat or the course? It is the rare moments where a perfect shot was hit, or they held a perfect pose. Those are the moments we cherish, remember, learn from, and keep striving for. Yet negative thoughts stick with us a lot longer than the positive ones. So, try to jot down the good moments. Remember those daily, let them stay in your thoughts and dreams, and forget the rest. Then, practice self-compassion and patience throughout your journey, knowing that mastery of goals takes time.

Making Your Goals Count

To achieve success, remember that we can only really manage a few new challenging goals each year, and they are all inter-related. Lose progress in one area, and it might affect another. It’s easy to lose momentum and get frustrated by struggling in one area. So, be discerning and highly selective about what you choose to pursue. Build in a support system with you family, friends, or community of like-minded folks that can help provide you with accountability, support, and encouragement. And importantly, just keep trying. Success is largely based on a combination of how much you care about the outcome, and how hard you try.

Attaining challenging goals takes time, patience, momentum, and a lot of luck. Understand that progress takes time, and don’t expect immediate results. It is okay to have moments of slow growth, no noticeable change at all, or even temporary setbacks. Be kind to yourself and stay devoted to your goals with patience and resilience. If you are committed to becoming the best version of yourself, follow these tips to make your goals sticky and I am positive you will enjoy a ton of success, and fun, this year!

This article was written by James Langabeer, Ph.D., Ed.D., is a leading behavioral scientist and behavioral economist and Professor of Behavioral Science and Medicine at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth). He founded Yellowstone Advisors to help people make smarter money decisions using financial psychology tools.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *