You Can Do It: How to Achieve Your Goals by Creating Personal Incentives

Girl on Mountain

In a perfect world, you would eat well because you knew it would make you healthier in the long run. You would exercise because you wanted to take care of your body, and you would write that book because you knew it might take your career to the next level. You would save money effortlessly because you were prioritizing your future travel and retirement. You wouldn’t wonder how to achieve your goals, because it would be and easy, natural process.

But we don’t live in a perfect world. We live in the real world. And let’s face it – sometimes (usually), those nebulous, long-term rewards don’t motivate you like they should. We crave instant gratification in the modern world, and we usually get it. Shopping, eating chocolate cake, a second margarita – all those things provide instant gratification, and a nice little shot of dopamine to our brains.

Long-term goals just don’t have the pizzazz that short-term rewards do. That’s why you need to create your own incentives. Break down your long-term goals into doable segments, and create a series of small rewards for every step forward. You’ll give yourself that immediate gratification that is otherwise lacking in lofty goals. With a little creative thinking, your incentive program will feel like a game – and it’s how to achieve your goals in a fun way.

1. Start by identifying your main goal. You probably have many things that you’d like to accomplish in life, but start with the one that gnaws at you the most. When we want to do something but don’t, it feels like breaking a promise to ourselves. It’s an inconsistency that hurts. Keep your promise this time. Write down your goal, including the time period you’d like to complete it in. Make it as specific as possible:

  • Adopt an ongoing fitness regimen
  • Finish my book by December of next year
  • Save up and take a trip to Paris

2. Break down your goal into small steps – the smaller the better. Depending on your goal, the steps might be mostly the same, or very different. Decide how many steps you think you can do in one week, and start small. Once you gain a little momentum, your motivation will increase and you can push yourself a little more.

Adopt an ongoing fitness regimen:

  • Go to the gym three times per week
  • Take a walk in the park once per week
  • Walk around the block twice per week
  • Do 25 push-ups every night while I watch TV
  • Stretch three times per day

3. Next, determine how many points each step you accomplish is worth. Activities you are most resistant to should have a higher value. Easy tasks can be low. Don’t underestimate the power of one point – it’s still a reward that your brain will recognize, and come to crave.

  • Go to the gym three times per week – 30 points each time
  • Take a walk in the park once per week – 10 points each time
  • Walk around the block twice per week – 5 points each time
  • Do 25 push-ups every night while I watch TV – 10 points each time
  • Take 10,000 steps per day – 10 points each time
  • Stretch three times per day – 1 point each time

On a perfect week, the goal-setter above would earn 271 points. Since nothing is perfect, let’s set the top goal at 250 per week.

4. Now assign your incentives. This is the fun part! Brainstorm and make a list of the things you really love – things that are wants, not needs. Some incentives should be inexpensive, and some should be bigger rewards that will really motivate you. Sort out your points so that if you have a good week, you could cash in your points and indulge in a little reward for a little motivation. Feeling strong? Bank the points for the week and put them towards a bigger reward. Use the cost of each reward to determine the points it requires. Only you can determine the treats that will truly motivate you.

  • New makeup item – 200 points
  • Artisan treat from the farmers market – 200 points
  • New kitchen utensil – 250 points
  • Trip to the movies – 300 points
  • Book – 300 points
  • $10 worth of scrap booking crafts – 300 points
  • New workout clothes – 1000 points

5. Finally, it’s time to get going! You’ll need to create some sort of scoreboard for keeping track of every small action. It can be as simple as a piece of paper and a pen. Use bright colors and pretty pictures to help your motivation. Poker chips also work well for tallying points, and you can also use stickers just like your first grade teacher did. Tally your points as the day goes along, or at the end of the day. Give yourself one full day off per week, when you’re not thinking about goals. You’ll probably have to adjust the points here and there, so things aren’t too easy or too hard. And once you’ve earned your points – go get your reward. Guilt-free. Pat yourself on the back and relish your success. You’ve learned how to achieve your goals.

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Photo by Jake Belluci