How to set a goal and be successful: seven simple tips

This quick guide gives you seven simple things to remember that will help you turn a new behaviour into a habit in the longer term.

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Start small

When trying to achieve something big, you improve your chances of success when you start small. Starting small helps you to achieve big goals by getting yourself into the ‘habit of starting’. By setting goals that are ‘too small to say no to’, you can easily complete them every day. It’s small, consistent actions, repeated daily, that lead to big change.

Say for example you want to be able to do 100 push-ups by the summer time. The initial behavioural goal needs to be one that you’re comfortable doing every day. So, rather than trying to do lots of push-ups, start by doing just one every day. Over time, you’ll be able to build this up to doing five push-ups a day, then ten, and so on. This is how you build up strength, motivation and ability over time. Daily small steps lead to success. You can slowly increase your daily mini-goal until you achieve your final goal.

Seven simple things to remember that will help you turn a new behaviour into a habit.

Repeat, repeat and repeat again

Repetition re-wires the brain. It’s the secret to developing healthy habits. We create habits by repeating an action until it becomes ingrained in the parts of our brain responsible for automatic behaviours. When a new behaviour becomes familiar through repetition, it stops being a hassle and it starts ‘just happening’. Because repetition is so vital, it’s really important that you do your mini-goal as regularly as it needs to happen. This might be taking medication daily, doing yoga once a week, and so on. It doesn’t matter if you do it badly, but it does matter if you skip doing it altogether. Consistency is key.

Research tells us that it can take anywhere between 18 days to a year or longer, for a habit to form. 66 days is often quoted as the average time for habit formation. But there is a lot of variation as it depends on you as person and what you’re trying to change. However, every time you repeat the behaviour you’re getting closer to it becoming a habit for life. After a couple of months it will start feeling easier and more a natural part of your routine.

Seven simple things to remember that will help you turn a new behaviour into a habit.

Write it down

Research shows that people who write down their mini-goals daily are more likely to achieve them. When writing out our mini-goals, the more precise we are, the better. Don’t write something general like, ‘I’m going to get really strong’. Do write, ‘I’m going to get a strong chest and shoulders by doing one more push-up every day for six months before I sit down to dinner.’ Write down precisely the ‘whats, whens and wheres’ of your daily mini-goals.

Seven simple things to remember that will help you turn a new behaviour into a habit.

Latch on to an existing habit

To help you complete your mini-goals every day, latch your new behaviours on to existing daily routines. For example, you could do your push-ups before taking your dinner ingredients out of the fridge, or after you take off your coat when coming in the door from work. Pick an existing routine, latch your new mini-goal on to it and you’ll be more likely to do it every day.

Seven simple things to remember that will help you turn a new behaviour into a habit.

Go public

When you publicly commit to your goals, you’re more likely to see them through. For example, tell the person you live with that you’re going to do a push-up every day before you sit down to dinner. The fact that you’ve committed out loud to doing this – and the fact that someone else can both support you and hold you to account – adds a gentle pressure that will help you to keep the promises you’ve made to yourself.

Seven simple things to remember that will help you turn a new behaviour into a habit.

Prime yourself for action

Whenever you’re feeling tired or unmotivated (as we all do at times), shift your mindset and get yourself feeling energised by reading or listening to some inspiring material. A little boost from some healthy magazines, programmes or podcasts can really get you motivated to take action when you’re feeling a little slow. On your way home, you could browse a magazine about health and fitness, or listen to a podcast about the benefits of having strong muscles.

Seven simple things to remember that will help you turn a new behaviour into a habit.

Be proud of your achievements

Whenever we complete an important task we’ve set for ourselves, our brain releases a little dopamine – one of our primary feel-good hormones. So it’s not just healthy living itself that makes us feel good. The act of simply completing the tasks we set ourselves makes us feel good too.

Tracking progress provides us with a sense of achievement and satisfaction, which provides momentum and motivational fuel for the long haul. So it’s really important that you acknowledge and take pride in completing your mini-goals. Put up a calendar or wall chart and tick off your mini-goal as you complete it.

Seven simple things to remember that will help you turn a new behaviour into a habit.




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Behaviour Change Adviser at Bupa UK

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