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how do you stick to making a change?

“If you think you can, you can. If you think you can’t you’re right". -Mary Kay Ash


Ninety-five per cent of new years resolutions are never achieved, why are we so terrible at sticking to goals?


In a way, achieving goals go against our natural biological drivers. Our natural programme is to avoid and move away from things that cause us stress and discomfort. Unfortunately, most types of change and the majority of goals require a certain level of stress and discomfort. Studies have shown that the most common emotions people feel during the goal achievement process are frustration, anxiety, fear, boredom and apathy.


Therefore, we have to realise that altering any habit or achieving any goal flies in the face of our normal biological desires and behaviour. Put another way it's not going to be easy!! This statement is supported by research, which indicates that 85% of all goals set are never achieved.


The following research is taken from the PhD work of Dr Stephanie Burns an absolute guru in the area of goal achievement. It’s broken up into theory and actions.


Theory is the background to goal achievement and will help you have a greater understanding of how change comes about.

Action items are things you can practically do to increase your chances of sticking to a goal.



The amount of time you have to dedicate to a goal has nothing to do with your chance of achieving it. You can wipe someone’s day completely, so they are free and this will not improve their chance of achieving that goal.


Having a high level of self-esteem does not improve your chance of sticking to a goal. A lot of people who have high self-esteem often talk about all the grand things they will do but don’t do them. The only thing self-esteem affected was the size of the goal, the greater your self-worth the grander the goal you set.


The main determinant of goal achievement was frequent and consistent action.


When people stopped taking action towards their goal they rationalised it by making up a story around why they couldn’t do it. Most of the time they said it was not their fault. They said things like, “I am just not an exercise type person”, “the family is more important, and I really need to be there for them”, When analysed their stories were inaccurate and delusional. Also, often people who stopped taking action towards their goal, said that they were merely putting it off and would get back to it later, which they never did.


When they compared themselves to other people who kept working towards their goal, those that quit perceived those that kept going as having a much easier time of it. They saw the other person’s goal as being easier, or their life as being better than theirs, or that the other person liked their goal more than them. None of these things were true. In fact, those that stuck to their goals were as challenged, bored, frustrated with their goals as those that quit. They just didn’t see those things as a reason to quit.




Just start! Research shows that once we start the activity, momentum tends to make us keep going. To get people to exercise researchers got them just to walk for 10 minutes a day, however, once they were out and exercising they continued to walk much longer than 10 minutes.


Don’t think too much! People that didn’t achieve their goals tended to think about it a lot. 


Say their goal was to go to the gym, those that didn’t get there would sit on the lounge and debate over and over again in their heads if they should go or not. 


Finally, they ran out of time and couldn’t go. Those people that did achieve their goal didn’t analyse it too much, when it came time to do their chosen activity, they just did it rather than thinking about doing it. In a way, their heads were quieter.


Most goals are abandoned after 3 weeks. One key to achieving goals is to sustain the action long enough to see a result.


Consider the little stuff. When people set a goal they only thought about the outcome they will get at the end of it. 


For example, if it was to lose weight they fantasised about how good they will look when they achieve their goal. Unfortunately, they have not thought about all the little steps they needed to take along the way and all the little challenges they will have in order to get their goal. 


Many people who had the goal to get fit stopped that goal because it was a pain to drive to the gym or they couldn’t get parking nearby. It was the little things that they did not even consider that derailed their goal.


Create tension in your environment. Often children stick to new hobbies or sports because they have a lot of tension in their environment to make them keep going. 


Tension from parents, coaches, fellow students and teachers. All these sources of tension keep them accountable. Announce your goals to people and set up tension in your environment to keep you accountable to your goals.




Chris, myHealthCoach




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