The ultimate guide on How to Achieve your Goals in 2023
As the new year begins, many of us set optimistic new year goals and resolutions with the intent of making positive and often dramatic changes in our lives. We’re encouraged to visualise our dreams, we engage in goal setting exercises and repeat daily affirmations.
But the sad reality is, the stats are not on your side and you’ve probably already failed. Only 8% of people achieve their New Year’s Resolutions and 2/3 have already given up on their goals by the the end of January.
So the question is, why is there still such a big gap between our intentions and actions? How can we start off so ambitious and motivated and go straight back to square one?
This is a short guide on the science and psychology of how to achieve your goals in 2023. If you’ve started and already failed, it’s not too late. This time you’ll have psychology on your side.
1. Do you want the Lifestyle?
You want to change but do you really want to change? Too many people set goals without thinking through the costs that are actually required to achieve them.
You want to lose weight, but do you actually want to change your diet and up your exercise regime?
You want to be a professional athlete but do you really want the early mornings and regimented lifestyle?
You want to start up a business but do you really want the insecurity and isolation?
The real challenge is determining the costs you’re willing to pay rather than the rewards you want to gain. Everyone wants the outcome but not many want the reality.
2. Process vs Outcome
The main purpose of having a goal is it tells you what process you need to put in place to achieve it. Goals set the direction and the process is the route that gets you there. Goals tell you what you say yes and no to. Sticking to the process determines your rate of progress and chance of attainment.
I’ve worked with hundreds of ambitious athletes who make the mistake of focussing too much on the outcome and not enough on the processes required to achieve it. You don’t climb a mountain by just looking at the top of it. You need a big goal but you need to back it up with big action.
3. The Gap’s too big
When it comes to goal setting and behaviour change, most people state the exact opposite of what they’re currently doing or where they’re currently at.
I want to have a 6 pack (but they don’t exercise at all & eat junk food daily)
I want to have complete emotional control (but they’re impulsive & reactive)
I want to be a millionaire (but they haven’t got a side hustle & have bad spending habits)
This doesn’t work. It’s so unbelievable as the gap between where they are and where they want to be is so big. This becomes overwhelming and demotivating as it’s so far out of reach. Overwhelm creates underwhelming action.
I’m not about to throw the SMART goal setting acronym at you and this isn’t an excuse to put a limit on yourself, but it has to be realistic so it at least feels attainable.
I want to have a 6 pack —> I want to be fit & healthy
I want to have complete emotional control —> I want to respond in a calmer and more rational manner
I want to be a millionaire - I want to start improving my finances
If you’ll excuse the mountain metaphor again, looking right to the top can be overwhelming. But identifying checkpoints along the way seems a lot more achievable. It’s good to have a big picture but break your goal down so it feels within reach.
4. You’re being too Vague
Once you’ve narrowed your gap, this still isn’t enough. It’s easy to be clear on what you want but you need to be clear on what you’re actually going to do.
“Vagueness is the enemy of action” - unknown
Let’s take our previous example one step further:
I want to be fit & healthy —> I’m going to exercise at the gym at 8am on a Monday, Wednesday & Friday
I want to respond in a calmer and more rational manner—> I’m going to step back, take a breath and reframe the situation before responding the next time someone upsets me
I want to start improving my finances —> I’m going to start up a side hustle in drop shipping that I’ll work on for 4 hours every Saturday
5. You’re using the Wrong Metric
What gets measured gets improved. Our brains love feedback and progress. Measure your goals, but measure the process. The trap most people fall into when they hear the word ‘measure’ is they go straight to the outcome - to numbers and points and rankings. But the key is to measure the process. Track whether you’re actually taking action and showing up.
I squatted 80kg last week —> I showed up to the gym 3 times
I made £200 last week —> I worked for 4 hours Saturday morning
6. You’re too reliant on Motivation
If your behaviour is solely controlled by your motivation then you’ll never be consistent. There are 5 different types of motivation that drive our behaviour. They fall on a continuum from external to internal.
External forms of motivation (rewards/punishment/guilt) can be good for getting started but not for keeping going - they fade away or you get used to it (hedonic adaptation).
The more internal the motivation, the higher chance of long-term, consistent action. There’s a big difference between ‘I need to’ and ‘I want to’.
Check out our insta post on motivation and how to change your behaviour.
“Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going” - Jim Ryun
Motivation fluctuates and is temporary. If you want to create long-term behaviour change then you need to create habits. Habits automate action and account for 45% of our behaviours.
8. You’re still attached to Old Labels
Identity is the key to behaviour change - we act in line with who we are. A mismatch between your identity (who you are) and your behaviour (what you do) creates internal conflict and mental noise.
“I am lazy” - conflicts exercise
“I am a procrastinator” - conflicts being productive
If you want to change your behaviour, shift your identity and shed your negative labels first. Your behaviour will then follow suit.
“I am lazy” —> “I am an exerciser”
“I am a procrastinator” —> “I am productive”
Try James Clear’s 2 step process for changing your identity:
Decide who you want to become
Prove it to yourself with small wins
9. Your Environment is working against you
As well as clinging onto old labels, we try to operate in an environment that works against us. Behaviours have triggers. We may think we’re in full control, but our behaviour is often a default response to our environment.
B = f(P,E) - Behaviour is a function of a person and their environment - Kurt Lewin
We’re dramatically influenced by people and places. If your friend becomes obese, your chance of joining them increases by 57%.
Your environment and surroundings both promote and reduce the chance of certain behaviours. It’s a simple fix.
To increase goal related behaviours, reduce friction and make them easy.
Want to exercise more —> Leave your exercise clothes out
Want to read more —> Have a book next to your bed or chair
To decrease undesirable behaviours, increase the friction and make them difficult.
Want to eat less junk food —> Hide them in the back of the cupboard (even better don’t buy them!)
Want to watch less TV —> Take the batteries out of the remote
10. You’re expecting a Smooth Journey & Ignoring Reality
When we’re asked to set goals and visualise what we want to achieve, not only do we often ignore the process, but we often bypass the difficulty and the amount of hurdles we face.
Psychology sometimes gets a bad rep that it’s all about positive thinking - your thoughts will become your reality etc. But positive thinking can set unrealistic expectations and leave us shocked when something inevitably goes wrong. We’re unprepared on how to respond and thrown off our processes.
Anticipate road blocks and mental obstacles along the way and have a plan in place with how you’ll respond. This both reduces worry beforehand and prepares a better response in the moment.
An if-then plan is a simple psychological technique that does what it says on the tin.
If X happens, then I will Y
If I have negative thoughts, then I will accept and detach from them
If I get tired mid workout, then I will recognise this is normal and repeat my motivational mantra to keep going
11. You’re Negotiating with yourself
Don’t negotiate with yourself when it comes to executing your processes. We like making excuses for ourselves and our brain likes the easy option.
Too often we act on negative and limiting thoughts. It’s fine to have them, but not fine when we listen to them, negotiate with them and act on them.
Thoughts and feelings are just signals that alert your attention to something, and they’re often unreliable. Most of our thoughts are negative and most of what we worry about never comes true, so listening to and acting on them doesn’t make sense.
The goal isn’t to get rid of them (it’s not possible), the goal is to change your response to them. You’re going to have limiting beliefs and negative thoughts about your goal and during your process, but changing your relationship with them changes your response.
5 Psychological Techniques to Achieve Your Goals in 2023
1. Build Momentum
The space shuttle burns through more fuel in the first minute of take off than its entire orbit around earth. It needs to overcome gravity and initial forces to build momentum and get up to speed.
Behaviour change is very similar. You need to overcome initial beliefs, behaviours and habits to launch your new behaviour.
The start of behaviour change is the hardest bit, but once you pick up some momentum and turn your process into a habit, it gets a lot easier.
2. Get on a Winning Streak
Our brains are hardwired to make progress. We get rewarded by a little squirt of the feel good brain chemical called dopamine when we achieve something. Dopamine does double duty. It rewards us for completion and motivates us for action.
Doing something difficult such as a goal related behaviour, spikes dopamine. Not only does it make us feel good but it motivates subsequent behaviour. There’s no motivation without dopamine.
Try to get on a winning streak. You brain will reward you with dopamine which creates the neurobiology for success throughout the day.
Our brains also love feedback. This same winning streak analogy applies to your processes. Provide evidence to your brain that you’re showing up on a regular basis. The habit tracker is a great tool for this.
3. Set Implementation-Intentions
An implementation-intention is a plan you make beforehand about when and where you will act. It’s a fancy term to set a time and location for your behaviour. Specific planning may be boring but hundreds of studies have shown that it more than doubles the chance of your desired behaviour. A minor cost for a major reward.
Fill out the following:
I’m going to behaviour at location on time
4. Opt-in vs Opt-out
A famous study looked at organ donor rates in European countries and found a huge difference between certain countries (Denmark 4% vs France 99%). The contrasting rates weren’t due to culture or beliefs, they were down to the wording of the form. Denmark had a form that required you to opt-in to be a donor and France had a form that required you to opt out of being a donor.
How does this apply to your goal? Opt-in!
Arrange to go for a run with a friend at the weekend
Book in a gym class the week before
Schedule a call in for the time you’re meant to start working
Similar to an implementation-intention, opting in locks in your future behaviour when the costs of action are further away and don’t seem so high. Committing yourself to future behaviours makes it more difficult to say no when the time comes.
5. The Goal Documentary
Imagine we followed you around with a camera crew for a week, filmed everything you did, and edited it into a documentary for how you achieved your goal.