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The Secret To Staying Focused and Following Through On Your Goals

Mel Robbins
March 25, 2018
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Let’s talk about goals.

Let’s talk about goals.

In particular, did you set any goals at the beginning of this year?

I’ve always used January 1st as the day that I start on my new goals.

After I set my goals, I always feel excited, empowered, and like I can change a million things at once.

I’m not the only one with this New Year’s excitement. I’ve found that there’s something about the clean slate of a new year that inspires us all to want to make changes in our lives.

But even with detailed goals, it can still be difficult to actually follow through on them after the first few months.

Instead of hitting the trails, though, it feels a whole lot easier to hit the sofa.

Most of us make ambitious plans on January 1st, like starting a new exercise plan or getting more done at work, but these resolutions often tend to fizzle out after a few months.

And I’m not alone on this one–research shows us that 88% of people fail to achieve their New Year’s Resolutions!

For that reason, I want to provide you with some strategies that will help you actually achieve your goals.

January 1st has passed us by and you no longer have the clean slate of a new year as your motivation to make a change in your life.

So what can you do?

The Solution: Discovery-Driven Planning

First, I want you to think of one of your resolutions or goals.

Really picture that goal. How good of a job have you done so far with sticking to this goal? Are you any closer to achieving it?

Now, there’s this tool created by researchers at Wharton and Columbia business schools. This tool is known to work–it’s taught at Harvard Business School and used by some of the world’s biggest brands.

It’s called “discovery-driven planning.”

Here’s how to use it: Ask yourself what assumptions must hold true in order for your strategy to succeed.

You see, it sounds so simple – but it makes a huge difference.

So back to that resolution of yours.

What assumptions MUST hold true for you to be able to follow through on your goal?

What are you assuming that you will be able to do?

Say that your goal is to eat less sugar.

You’re assuming that you will be able to resist sugar, that you will overcome your sugar cravings, that you won’t buy more sugary foods, and that you will feel satisfied without sugar.

Here’s the problem–the reason you probably won’t follow through on your goals is because those assumptions will not hold true.

You’re assuming too much. And this is the downfall of resolutions.

We assume that in the new year we will be these different people who can do all of these things that our current selves fail to do.

If you assume that your Future Self will suddenly have all of this willpower and say “I’ll take some carrots instead of a cookie!” when the Current You always eats the cookie, you’re only setting yourself up to fail.

And here’s why: our feelings defeat us. You see, a big myth related to resolutions is that with enough willpower, we can do anything–including give up sugar.

However…it doesn’t work that way.

Assuming that you can achieve your goals based on willpower alone will set you up for failure.

Why Can’t We Rely on Willpower? Blame Decision Fatigue

Here’s why.

Our willpower is not at some constant level all day, waiting around for us to use it. Nope, it gets weaker with each decision we make.

This is why, after resisting chocolate all day, you can’t help but have that dessert at night.

And there’s research backing this. Roy Baumeister, a prominent psychologist, has researched the phenomenon of decision fatigue, which is the idea that our willpower decreases with each decision.

Decision fatigue it what leads to analysis paralysis. When your brain is low on mental energy, it’s really hard to make good decisions on the things that matter–like your goals.

This research has inspired some of the most visionary people.

It’s why Steve Jobs wore the same outfit every day: a black turtleneck, blue jeans, and white sneakers.

By conserving his mental energy by taking away smaller decisions, it enabled him to focus his energy on big decisions–the ones that mattered.

So: back to your resolution.

You had assumed that using only your willpower, you would be able to stick to your resolution. I’m sorry to tell you that’s not going to happen, because your willpower depletes.

However…knowing and understanding that your assumptions are not going to help can really help you out.

Why? Because this forces you to think of alternate solutions–solutions that will actually work, because they won’t rely on willpower alone.

The Solutions: Achieve Your Goals With Less Willpower

Now, I’ve got three simple solutions for you–solutions that will help you stick to your resolutions without having to rely solely on willpower.

First: plan each day the night before.

Research from Harvard Business School shows that when we make decisions for our future selves, we make better decisions.

So, the night before, plan out as many decisions as you can.

This will reduce your decision fatigue the next day–and take advantage of our thoughtful planning for our future selves.

For example, plan your outfit, a healthy breakfast, what time you will hit the grocery store and what you will buy, and what you will do if a sugar craving hits.


Second, work on your resolution in the morning.

If you have a health goal, workout in the morning. If you have a business goal, tackle it for 30 minutes before work.

In the mornings, your willpower is higher because you don’t have decision fatigue yet.

And if you couple this with planning the night before, you set yourself up for success.


Third, pre-commit.

Committing in advance takes the question out of whether you will do something or not.

Deciding to hit the gym, even in the mornings, is hard.

But getting yourself to an 8-week Bootcamp class with your best friend–that you already paid for? Much easier.

Because there’s no question if you are going or not.

You parted with your hard earned money and you committed to a friend–you’re going.

If you sign up for a half-marathon next month, you can believe that you’ll have a reason to train.

Even better if you commit to running with a friend–because you won’t bail on the race.

And if you want to pursue any topic, from learning knitting to business principles, sign up for a class of some sort, in person or online. Pick a class that has a set date and time. This will keep you accountable.

You see, it’s much easier to have discipline when you set things up in your favor.

Fourth, use The 5 Second Rule.

The 5 Second Rule is simple. If you have an instinct to act on a goal, you must physically move within 5 seconds or your brain will kill it.

It’s a tool that takes you out of your head and into action. I talk about extensively, mostly because it’s the tool that transformed my life. You learn all about it here.

The 5 Second Rule helps you achieve your goals because it pushes you into action. When using the Rule, you don’t have to use your willpower to think about making a decision. Instead, it’s a metacognition tool that pushes you into action before you even hesitate.

I like to say that The 5 Second Rule doesn’t make things easy–it just makes them happen.

When you couple the Rule with the other strategies listed above, you will find that it’s actually possible to follow through on every single goal that you have set for yourself.

To Sum It All Up…

Here’s a quick recap.

  1. Think of your goal and have it at the forefront of your mind.
  2. Write down your assumptions. What must hold true in order for you to actually achieve this goal? Where are you assuming that you will use willpower?
  3. Then, in order to decrease the amount of willpower needed, figure out how you can use these strategies:
    1. Pre-commitment: What can you sign up for or commit to RIGHT NOW that will keep you accountable?
    2. Planning the night before: How can you leverage the power of Future You to set yourself up for success tomorrow?
    3. Work on your goal first thing in the morning: What can you do, first thing in the morning, to work on your goal?
    4. Use The 5 Second Rule: Don’t think. Don’t hesitate. The instant that you have an instinct to act on your goal…5-4-3-2-1-GO.



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