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Posted by Sarah Brown on 31 Dec '20

Ten top psychology tips to help you achieve your goals in 2021

Tips on how to achieve what you want in 2021.

How the latest scientific research can help you achieve your new year's resolutions

Why do we need science to help us achieve our resolutions? Well, research suggests 25% of people abandon their resolutions in just a week. Less than 50% make it to the summer, and less than 10% achieve success.

Our goals… need to be consistently pruned and trimmed down. It's natural for new goals to come into our lives and to get excited about new opportunities. If we can muster the courage to prune away a few of our goals, then we create the space we need for the remaining goals to fully blossom. Full growth and optimal living require pruning.

James Clear

Partly its because we can set too many and overwhelm ourselves. You can achieve your goals if you follow these ten principles

1) Change your mindset and self talk

The first exciting bit of research is that almost 40% of twenty-somethings achieve their New Year's resolutions each year, but not even 15 % of those over 50 do. The thinking is that we begin to believe that we can't do it, so we don't. What happened in the past determines what will happen in the future.

"I'm just the sort of person that can never….lose weight, make money, get fit, find someone to love…."

Have you ever wondered why so many lottery winners end up poor, well they didn't change their mindset, so they still saw themselves as hard up and thus made it real as the brain doesn't like the internal and external reality to be different.

So catch yourself using negative self-talk and change it. Just think what would you say to a friend.

2) Daydreaming undermines our success

The task of setting goals is every bit as important as implementing goals, says Gabriele Oettingen, Ph.D., a psychologist at New York University "If we want to achieve goals, we need to set them in a way that maximizes their attainment," Oettingen says.

And Oettingen, over the past two decades, has performed study after study to investigate why so many big wishes evaporate, with this conclusion: "Daydreams and fantasies may be pleasant in the moment, and they can spur us to perform easy tasks," Oettingen says. "But they hinder us in handling the hard tasks."

For instance, the more frequently college students fantasized about a successful career transition, the fewer applications they sent out, and the fewer job offers they received. Overweight women who pictured their svelte post-diet selves breezing past the dessert table lost 24 pounds less than those who anticipated wrestling with temptation.

The problem with positive fantasies is that they allow us to anticipate success in the here and now. However, they don't alert us to the problems we are likely to face along the way and can leave us with less motivation—after all, it feels like we've already reached our goal. It's one way in which our minds own brilliance lets us down. Because it's so amazing at simulating our achievement of future events, it can actually undermine our attempts to achieve those goals in reality.

Jeremy Dean, Psychological researcher at UCL London and the owner of PsyBlog

Landers argues. "To do big stuff, you have to set really big goals that are exciting to you. You don't achieve your maximum potential as a person or as a business by setting small incremental goals."

3) Draw your goals

Visual goal setter Patti Dobrowolski has found people achieve 80% more success when they draw their goals.

It doesn't have to be a work of art but it makes you think more clearly and you identify details that otherwise might be missing.

See it, then believe it and then act on it. Drawing frees the imagination to act and be creative and helps the brain to find routes to achieve your goals

You also remember things 65% better when they attached to a picture. Watch this great video to see how.

4) Write your goals down

A study by Psychology professor Dr Gail Matthews of Dominican University found you're 42 per cent more likely to achieve your goals just by writing them down. Other studies back her up.

5) Get specific and detailed with time and place where possible

Goals work better when you know what to do, particularly if there is a trigger to encourage action. I will always walk to the shop to get the paper, when I want a paper I walk, rather than the vague goal to walk more.

Participants in one UK study were told about the dangers of heart disease, and that exercise could prevent it. Some worked out, some didn't. But the statistics are astounding.

Without specific goals, participants had less than 40 per cent success rate. But participants who narrowly defined their goals, adding where and when, never forgot to exercise and almost always did. Their success rate was better than 90 per cent over double.

6) Think about the problems and how to overcome them

Oettingen has developed a four-step method that can fully commit you to feasible goals and help you let go of those that aren't. She calls the technique "WOOP," outlined below.

Wish: Find a time and place where you can focus for 15 or 20 minutes uninterrupted. Identify a wish in your personal or professional life that you think is challenging but possible.

Outcome: Keep holding the wish in your mind and imagine the very best things about making it a reality. What does the outcome look and feel like? Let yourself experience this in your mind as vividly as you can.

Obstacle: What is it that might hold you back from achieving the goal? Don't think only of external barriers such as the economy. Dig deeply to uncover the internal obstacles, whether it's a behaviour (standing on the sidelines at networking events), an emotion (anxiety) or a self-defeating thought (I'm always the least exciting person in the room).

Plan: Name one action you can take to overcome the obstacle. An if-then approach can be helpful. If I'm always too pressed by deadlines to attend networking events, then I'll pick two functions at the beginning of the month and schedule them as though they're client meetings and can't be cancelled. If I feel anxious when I go to the event, I'll find one person who's standing alone and introduce myself.

7) Have someone hold you to account regularly

Be accountable for your written down goals to a coach or your friend, for example, and you double your success

In the study mentioned above in tip 4, Matthews, the professor in Dominican's Department of Psychology in the School of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, recruited 267 participants from a wide variety of businesses, organizations, and networking groups throughout the United States and overseas for a study on how goal achievement in the workplace. She focused on the importance of writing goals, committing to goal-directed actions, and accountability for those actions. Participants ranged in ages from 23 to 72 and represented a broad spectrum of backgrounds.

Matthews found that more than 70 per cent of the participants who sent weekly updates to a friend reported successful goal achievement (completely accomplished their goal or were more than halfway there), compared to 35 per cent of those who kept their goals to themselves, without writing them down.

Participants in Matthews' study were randomly assigned to one of five groups.

Group 1 was asked to simply think about business-related goals they hoped to accomplish within a four-week block. They had to rate each goal according to difficulty, importance, the extent to which they had the skills and resources to accomplish the goal, their commitment and motivation, and whether they had pursued the goal before (and, if so, their prior success).

Groups 2-5 were asked to write their goals and then rate them on the same dimensions as given to Group 1.

Group 3 was also asked to write action commitments for each goal. Group 4 had to both write goals and action commitments and also share these commitments with a friend.

Group 5 went the furthest by doing all of the above plus sending a weekly progress report to a friend.

Broadly categorized, participants' goals included completing a project, increasing income, increasing productivity, improving organization, enhancing performance/achievement, enhancing life balance, reducing work anxiety, and learning a new skill. Specific goals ranged from writing a chapter of a book to listing and selling a house.

Of the original 267 participants, 149 completed the study. These participants were asked to rate their progress and the degree to which they had accomplished their goals.

At the end of the study, only 43 per cent of Group 1 either accomplished their goals or were at least half way there. Sixty-two per cent of Group 4 achieved their goals or were at least halfway there. However, 76 per cent of those in Group 5 either accomplished their goals or were at least halfway there.

"My study provides empirical evidence for the effectiveness of three coaching tools: accountability, commitment, and writing down one's goals," Matthews said.

8) Start and your brain will help you carry on

Interesting research from Russian psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik (of whom the Zeigarnik Effect is named after) reveals to us an interesting tidbit about the human mind: we are better at remembering things that are partially done.

Ms. Zeigarnik came to this conclusion by testing the memory of folks doing simple "brain" tasks like puzzles or crafts.

She then interrupted them and asked them to recall (with specific detail) the tasks that they were doing or had completed.

She found that people were twice as likely to recall more detail about the tasks they had been interrupted in than in their completed jobs. Start on the road to your goal doing anything, and your brain will remember and come back to it. However, if you don't start, you will be overwhelmed by the size of the elephant you have to eat and never get going.

9) Progress not perfection

Remember, progress not perfection as we tend to overreact when something goes wrong.

In research by Janet Polivy and her colleagues, people on diets were tested with pizza and cookies.

In the study, two groups of participants (those on diets and those not dieting) were told not to eat beforehand and then served exactly the same slice of pizza when they arrived to the lab.

Afterwards, they were then asked to taste and rate some cookies.

The thing was, the experimenters didn't really care about the cookie's rating, they just wanted to see how many people ate.

This is because they tricked some of the participants into thinking that they had received a larger slice than the others (using framing and false information). This was to make them believe that they had most certainly "ruined" their diet goals for the day.

The result?

When the cookies were weighed, it turned out that those who were on a diet and thought they'd blown their limit ate over 50% more of the cookies than those who weren't on a diet.

Our brain is geared towards giving up, whenever we fall short of our goals, you need to think how far you have come and be prepared for problems with what you will do.

10) Plan

In research by Gollwitzer and colleagues, the subject of "if-then" plans was discussed in relation to how we set and stay consistent with our goals, and the results are not surprising but reveal a lot of insight into how our brain reacts to planning (and even some great tips).

The thing is, researchers found that not only do well-laid plans seem to get accomplished more often, but planning for failures along the way ("In case of emergency…") helps people stay on task under duress.

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