Strategy & Business Development

11 psychological hacks that helps you reach your goals

We all know how important it is to be able to reach the goals we set for ourselves. But far too often we fall short. We give up halfway or before we even get started.

And it is not that strange that we often fail. Our brain doesn't always cooperate. To help you reach your goals, here's 11 hacks from PsyBlog you can use to get your brain, instincts and will to work together.

1. Stop fantasizing

The greatest enemy of every goal is exaggerated positive fantasies. Research about “goal-setting” shows that positive fantasies are associated with defeat when it comes to finding a job or a partner, passing an exam of surviving an operation. Those persons whose fantasies are less positive manages better.

2. Commit to your goal with “mental contrasting”

Mental contrasting is a technique divided in three steps:

  1. Imagine a positive version of what you want to achieve.
  2. Imagine the negative things about the current situation.
  3. First imagine the positive version, then think about the negative aspect of status quo. While being aware of both, do a reality check where you compare fantasy with reality.

This is a difficult exercise but also one that ensures a greater commitment to the goals that survive.

3. Start by starting

You can use the Zeigarnik effect to help pull you towards your goal. A Russian psychologist, Bluma Zeigarnik, discovered that waiters remembered unfinished orders better than finished orders.

What we can learn from the Zeigarnik effect is that you can fight procrastination by starting – anywhere. Taking the first step be the difference between defeat and success. Once you've started, the goal gets ‘stuck’ in your brain.

4. Visualize the process, NOT the result

We all make simulation-mistakes because we expect everything to run smoothly and without errors, even though we know that is rarely the case. When you visualize the process that is required to reach a goal, you have to focus on which steps of the process that is to be completed before you reach your goal.

5. Avoid the what-the-hell effect

When we don't reach our goals we are prone to suffer from the “what-the-hell” effect. It is commonly known by people on a diet who shows a "well-never-mind-then" attitude, when breaking their diet, and then eats another piece of cake. Your ability to reach a goal might also succumb to effect. But you can fight it by setting goals with a long timeline that is about gaining something (as opposed to avoiding something).

6. Avoid procrastination

When your goals become hard to reach and you begin considering if they are really worth it, there is a significant risk of procrastination and delaying your tasks. You can beat this by not thinking about the goal and instead focus on details.  Another tip is to set some specific deadlines for yourself.

7. Change of focus

You can't be 100 % focused all the time, so it's important that you change your focus from time to time. Between your goal and the task that you are trying to solve. Research shows that when you evaluate your process, especially on hard tasks, it is best to be task-focused. But when tasks are easy or the goal is close, it's better to focus on the final goal.

8. Reject automatic actions

Often our actions are automatic. We do things not because we thought about them, but because it's a habit or because we unconsciously copy what others do. This type of behavior can prevent you from reaching your goal. Ask yourself, if what you are doing really brings you closer to your goal.

9. Forget the goal, what's the purpose?

There's several traps it's easy to get caught in when you set yourself a goal. When your goals are to specific, it is easy to ‘get stuck’. When there are too many goals, we have a tendency to prioritize the easy and less important first. When the timeline is too short, your short-term thinking enhances.

Be aware of what initially was the purpose of your goal.

10. Know when to stop

Sometimes it is not getting started that is the problem. Often it is about knowing when to stop. Psychologists have found out that so called “sunk costs” can make us do strange things. “Sunk costs” refers to our attempts to protect the money or the effort we have already spent by continuing to fight even though our plan is failing.

Research shows that the more a person is invested in a goal, the more she thinks it will succeed. Regardless of the actual probability.

11. Make it-then plans

What all this research underlines is how important it is to have self-control when you want to reach a goal. But we all know how hard it can be to control ourselves.

A strategy that is supported by a lot of research is making “what-if” plans. To do this, you think about what you would do in a given situation before you're actually in it: “If this happens… then I'll do this…” Even though it sounds simple, we often prefer improvising rather than planning. With a little ingenuity the if-then plans can be used to conquer the obstacles mentioned above.