How to Crush Your Goals in 2017, According to Harvard Research

Elle Kaplan
Dec 9, 2016 · 4 min read
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Only 8% of people are able to actually achieve their New Year’s goals — let’s fix that.

Every new year is an opportunity to draw up a fresh blueprint of ourselves and our goals.

This sounds good in theory, especially after one-too many champagne flutes at a New Year’s party. In practice, though, our best intentions often never make it off the ground.

Studies actually show that only 8 percent of people stick to their goals they set each year. This might not be entirely our fault — it’s no secret that rewiring our brains to consistently perform better habits is a challenge, to say the least.

Luckily, Harvard research has uncovered several effective ways to trick your brain into following through on your aspirations. Here’s are a few proven ways to create realistic goals and finally stick to them in 2017:

Replace bad behaviors

When Heidi Grant Halvorson, behavioral psychologist and author of 9 Things Successful People Do Differently, spoke to Harvard she revealed that a critical part of achieving goals is having a specific plan for adopting healthier habits and countering bad behaviors.

“Your brain isn’t really very good at accepting instructions like ‘stop wanting to eat doughnuts’ or ‘stop losing your temper when you get emails,’” she says. “We’re not really good at dealing with instructions that are just about ‘stop doing x.’”

Her solution is to have a concrete, healthy behavior ready to replace the bad ones when they inevitably surface. For example, if your goal is to eat healthier, replace a food like ice cream with a homemade, nutritious peanut butter and banana “ice cream.” If you want to stop procrastinating, Halvorson suggests stopping those impulses in their tracks by looking at your to-do list and working on one or two small, manageable tasks.

Knowing exactly what to do when bad behaviors rear their ugly head can make a world of difference when setting and crushing your goals.

Create mini-goals

Creating milestones that gradually lead up to your ultimate goal is one of the best ways to be successful, according to Harvard Business Review. Think of a mountain climber; when they begin climbing mountains they don’t start with Everest. Our brains are much more likely to stick with a lifestyle change, when we use incremental progress to steadily reinforce new behaviors.

Expert Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, a professor of Business Psychology at University College London, tells Harvard, “You want to see change in a positive direction and small improvements … The point is not to get better than others, it’s to get better than the old version of yourself.”

Halvorson echost his advice, saying to “focus on maybe one or two things that you’re going to really put your energy toward. And then once you’ve got those mastered and you’ve got some new good habits that you’ve built in their place, then you can start working on some of your other goals.”

Piling on too much change all at once is likely to cause people to relapse on the behaviors they want to change. Appreciating the small, day-to-day changes you see in yourself will serve as a powerful motivator.

Keep an eye on the prize

Another excellent method for maintaining control over your goals is to actively think about your them on a daily basis.

As Halvorson discovered, sometimes our goals crash and burn because we’re running on autopilot. “Do you actually think consciously to yourself, I am doing this because I have the goal of being successful. I am doing this because I have the goal of being healthier,” she tells Harvard. “We don’t actually think consciously about our goals very much.”

Just take a minute or to reflect on your goal every day. Think about the rewards that will come with it and why it benefits you. Even an exercise as simple as this can fill you with determination and allow you to cross the proverbial finish line.

Be specific

All of these tips relate to one particular action: be specific. Goals like “I want to lose weight” or “I want to stop procrastinating” are abstract. Technically, you could drop 5 pounds or write one sentence and achieve your goals — that’s why the experts recommend getting as scientific as possible.

Moreover, getting specific about the when and where you’ll actually accomplish those goals has been proven to double your success rate.

To the successful, a dream isn’t something achieved by deliberating how to reach it, but rather a specific, well-conceived desire that always happens.

The bottom line:

Just because the majority of people fail to reach their goals in the new year, it doesn’t mean you can’t be exceptional. By creating a precise game plan that replaces bad behaviors with good ones and has realistic milestones, you can crush your goals in 2017.

Start taking baby-steps now, and you’ll be amazed at how you eventually achieve the “impossible” in the upcoming year.

Do you have any tips for crushing goals? I’d love to hear from you — leave a comment or give me a holler on Twitter!

If you liked these tips, be sure to follow me on Medium, and to check out my other articles in Inc. Magazine.

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Elle Kaplan

Written by

CEO/Founder of @LexionCapital & CIO of LexION Alpha. Self Made Entrepreneur, Financial Expert & Dreamer. Visit to learn more.

A network of business & tech podcasts designed to accelerate learning. Selected as “Best of 2018” by Apple.

Elle Kaplan

Written by

CEO/Founder of @LexionCapital & CIO of LexION Alpha. Self Made Entrepreneur, Financial Expert & Dreamer. Visit to learn more.

A network of business & tech podcasts designed to accelerate learning. Selected as “Best of 2018” by Apple.

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