5 Ways to Achieve Real Change

September 19, 2017

4 min read


How to nudge yourself into accomplishing your goals.

Changing the way we make our decisions in our lives can have dramatic consequences, helping us alter our behavior and reach our goals. Here are five strategies that will help you grow.

1. Write down your goals.

Writing down your goals makes you significantly more likely to achieve them. That’s the surprising finding of Dr. Gail Matthews, a professor of psychology at Dominican University in California.

Prof. Matthews studied hundreds of subjects from all over the world, asking some to write down their life goals on a regular basis, and not asking this task of others. She found that those who recorded their dreams and goals in writing were a whopping 42% more likely to achieve them than those who did not write anything down.

2. Reset your “default” position.

We are hard-wired to want to take the easiest path. So turn the outcome you desire to be your default position.

For example, if your goal is to save money each month, arrange to have a portion of your paycheck go directly into a savings account. You can still opt out of this arrangement if you change your mind, but research shows you’re unlikely to. If your goal is to give more to charity, arrange to have donations appear automatically on your credit or debit card.

3. Prioritize what’s important to you.

It’s easy to let our time get taken over by work, errands and other details that insistently demand our time, often at the expense of family and personal moments.

Spend some time thinking what you’d like to accomplish this year, then make sure you prioritize your own personal goals as highly as your other commitments. Sign up for a class, then block out the time you need for it each week. Plan a weekly date night with your spouse, and book a regular babysitter for those evenings now.

A high level executive I once worked with had her secretary schedule weekly calls with her college-age children to ensure she had time to chat with them. Prioritize what’s truly important in your life.

4. Surround yourself with positive people.

Surrounding ourselves with positive, cheerful people has a huge effect on our well-being. Dr. Nicholas Christakis of Harvard Medical School and Dr. James Fowler of the University of California in San Diego found that people who spend time with positive people have higher levels of well-being. In fact, happiness and well-being seem to be contagious, passing from person to person.

Being happy is a powerful component to achieving our goals. When we’re miserable, growth is difficult. Dr. Joanne Dickson of the University of Liverpool found that happy people are much more likely to set specific, realistic and achievable goals. (Depressed people, in contrast, are more likely to describe their goals in vague terms that are hard to define.) Surrounding ourselves with positive people is one of the most effective ways we can achieve real growth and change.

5. Set up a system of encouragement.

Britain’s Behavioural Insights Team, a government department, found that sending out words of encouragement can have dramatic results in boosting our chances of achieving our goals.

When students at adult literacy classes in Britain were failing to show up for class, the Team experimented with sending them simple text messages each Sunday evening, reminding them of their next class and encouraging them to start thinking about how they would make plans to attend. Dropout rates declined by over a third.

The Team had another startling success when they sent letters to British taxpayers reminding them to pay their taxes. This simple scheme resulted in an additional 30 million pounds in tax payments each year. (Guatemala’s Government was so impressed it asked the British Department to run a similar program there. Tax receipts more than tripled.)

Consider setting up weekly notices on your calendar reminding you of the goals you hope to accomplish. Or arrange to check in with a friend regularly, measuring progress on how you are progressing towards your goals; even a simple text or phone call can have big results.

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