Psychology Says This One Thing Is Critical for Achieving Your Goals

It can help to think about how far you've already come.

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Jayk7/ Getty Images
Jayk7/ Getty Images

Breaking news–persevering in the face of adversity is hard. I mean like trying to get the drawstring back out of the hole in your sweatpants hard.

There’s a reason why only eight percent of us achieve our New Year’s resolutions. (I mean besides the polar vortex, which of course, screws us all up).

In fact, the nature of persevering is so hard that we must look to human nature itself for clues on how to help in this endeavor.

The first clue lies in the word persevere itself where you find two words: “sever” and “severe.”

Hold that thought.

Now, let’s turn to psychology, where a research team from the University of Toronto has underscored a debilitating human tendency: When we sense we’re falling short of a goal, we tend to abandon ship too soon.

When trying to persevere we’ll “sever” our commitment to achieving the desired goal, rather “severely.”

The researchers’ work in a dieting study supports this assertion.

Two groups of respondents, all on a diet, were asked to show up to a research facility without having eaten beforehand. They were then given a slice of pizza of the same size. One group was told their piece of pizza was larger than the other groups (even though it wasn’t) in an attempt to make that group believe they had blown their dieting goals for the day. Both groups were then given cookies and asked to rate the cookies.

But the researchers weren’t interested in their opinions on the cookies, they just wanted to see how many cookies each group of dieters would eat (like your judgy sister-in-law).

Here comes the punch line.

The group that believed they had eaten the larger slice of pizza and thus had ruined their dieting goals for the day ate over 50 percent more cookies.

The study indicates that when we miss an interim goal, we are much more likely to throw in the towel instead of instituting an acceptance and recovery mindset.

So how to solve this dilemma of human will?

When faced with the realization that you’ve taken some missteps towards your goal, go on high alert. Let your awareness kick in of what many of us tend to do at this stage and don’t give into it–that is, don’t give up.

Research indicates the best way to handle this is to think of the progress you’ve made to date and know that all the positive steps that you’ve taken have moved you much further forward then your misstep has moved you backward.

You simply must believe that in the pursuit of your goal, you’re right where you need to be. The trials and tribulations you’ve faced are for a reason. As I said in this previous article on overcoming a fear of failure, you must believe that failure doesn’t happen to you, it happens for you.

That little misstep you made will be forgotten after your next few big steps forward.

So when falling short, don’t abandon ship–think of the progress made. The wind will pick back up again and when it does, fill your sails with optimism and keep moving towards your goal.

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