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The Psychological Trick That Could Help You Reach Your Goals

03/20/2016 10:20 am ET | Updated Mar 21, 2016
  • Amy Morin Psychotherapist and author of '13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do'
AJ_Watt via Getty Images

Everyone from elite athletes to top business executives knows it's important to have goals. After all, goals are what turn dreams into actionable, achievable steps.

Whether you set out to lose weight, renovate your house, or complete a triathlon, defining a goal can boost your motivation, at least initially. But you're likely to lose motivation fast--and that lack of motivation prevents you from achieving most goals.

The Sad Reality About Goals

The statistics on goal attainment are pretty grim. Studies show that one in three people give up on their New Year's resolutions by the end of January. And only 46 percent of people stick with their resolution past the six-month mark.

Of course, it's not just New Year's resolutions that fail. Most weight-loss goals aren't successful, no matter what time of year you launch them. Depending on which study you read, somewhere between 65 and 95 percent of people who lose weight eventually gain it all back.

The statistics on financial goals aren't much brighter: Almost 29 percent of Americans don't have any retirement savings nor a traditional pension plan. This, despite the fact that 59 percent of people report being very or moderately worried that they won't have enough money for retirement.

Sadly, many goals of all types go unrealized every year. But the good news is, making one small change to the way you set your goals could improve your chances of success.

Establish a Goal Range

Most goal-setting experts recommend establishing definitive goals. Rather than saying, "I want to lose weight," they advise, you should set a measurable goal like, "I want to lose 30 pounds." And while quantitative goals can be helpful, a study in the Journal of Consumer Research reports, picking a specific number goal might backfire. If you set out to lose 30 pounds, you may run out of steam before you reach that goal. And once your motivation declines, your chance of success plummets.

If, however, you create a goal range, you'll actually increase your chances of success: Declaring you want to lose 20 to 40 pounds could be more effective than setting out to lose 30. Researchers found that when participants reached the low end of their range, they became more likely to believe their ultimate goal was attainable and experienced a sense of accomplishment that fueled their motivation to keep going.

Then, when participants looked at the high end of their goals, they felt challenged, which was an essential component to success. They knew their goal required hard work, but they felt confident in their ability to keep going. As a result, their chances of hitting their goals skyrocketed.

Creating a Range for Yourself

Establishing a goal range for yourself could be one of the simplest, yet most effective, ways to change your behavior. Whether your goal is to exercise three-to-five times per week, or to save $100 to $200 per month, establish a reasonable range. When you hit its low end, challenge yourself to keep going. You'll likely find that a little taste of success can motivate you to get to the next level.

Amy Morin is psychotherapist, mental strength trainer, and keynote speaker. She's the author of 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do, a USA Today bestseller that is being translated into more than 20 languages. To learn how to build mental strength, sign up for her online course Mental Strength: Mastering the 3 Core Factors.

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