It’s one thing to daydream about speaking fluent French or dutifully saving 20 percent of every paycheck and another to actually pursue and attain those ideals. Achieving long-term goals requires willpower and tenacity, which are oftentimes woefully lacking after a long day at the office or in the overwhelming presence of Anthropologie’s new autumn collection. Following a few simple but effective strategies can dramatically increase your odds of success. Whether that means resisting an afternoon cupcake break, running a marathon or breaking an irksome habit, you’ll be amazed at what you’re capable of.
1. Lose weight, and keep it off. A one-time goal of shedding 15 pounds to squeeze into a bridal gown or to look svelte for a high school reunion requires a finite amount of self-control. But consistently working to keep that weight from creeping back is a different beast entirely. For long-term weight maintenance, setting a specific goal of “lose 5 pounds,” research shows, is a less effective strategy for continued pursuit of weight loss than giving yourself some leeway, such as “lose 3 to 8 pounds.” Researchers refer to this latter strategy as a high-low range goal, or one characterized by a range of possibilities for success, from easily attainable to challenging.
Individuals pursuing high-low range goals “perceive those goals as being both attainable and challenging, which is needed for people to experience a sense of accomplishment,” says Maura Scott, Ph.D., an assistant professor of marketing at Florida State University. “It’s that feeling of accomplishment that emerges that makes people want to continue.”
This psychological strategy can be used for more than just keeping your waistline in check. “Regardless of whether your goal is related to health or weight loss or saving money, taking a straight-forward step like setting the goal in the form of a range can lead to more interest in re-engaging with that goal in the future,” Scott says.
2. Save money. When it comes to spending versus saving money, not all shoppers are created equal. Researchers have found that people who are naturally inclined to think about future outcomes are more likely to hold off on impulse spending. Those of us who don’t automatically pause to consider our 401(k) plan before swiping our credit card can fake that kind of conscientiousness. Simply forcing yourself to stop and think about which is more important, that $350 pair of shoes or having enough money in your savings account to take a trip next year, can fortify you with a natural saver’s resolve, says Gergana Nenkov, Ph.D., an associate professor of marketing at Boston College.
In another study still in progress, Nenkov and her colleagues found that there are nuances in how to best motivate yourself toward your money-saving goal. Specifically, people have more luck transcending spending temptations by thinking about the big-picture benefits, such as, “I’ll be happier if I have enough money to retire.” On the other hand, vast, abstract negatives—“I don’t want to be broke”—aren’t as effective as putting your worries in discrete, immediate terms—“I won’t be able to pay my bills this month if I buy this Gucci handbag.”
3. Do a pull-up. Even exercise-conscious women tend to slack off when it comes to upper body strength, often assuming that pull-ups are beyond their grasp. Targeted practice, however, can destroy the myth that women cannot do pull-ups. To prove the statistics wrong, first create a timeline for yourself. For a reasonably fit woman with no prior upper body experience, around three months of hard work should be sufficient for landing your first chest-to-bar pull-up, says Keith Wittenstein, owner and founder of Crossfit Virtuosity in Brooklyn. “One pull-up is certainly an achievement,” he says. “I wouldn’t discount having a single one as a goal.”