Five ways to kick life goals

Motivation: you are doing it wrong. Photo: Getty Images.

Good things come to those who go get them. Yet 20 per cent of adults identify as chronic procrastinators, research by DePaul University Chicago shows.

So what’s the harm of spending more time diarising workouts rather than actually doing them? Well, procrastination predicts long-term problems like failing to save for your rocking chair years and putting preventative health care on the backburner the researchers found. Oh.

“Procrastination is about how we manage our moods, more than how we manage our time,” says psychologist and Mind and Its Potentialspeaker Dr Martyn Newman.

“We can’t wait for inspiration each time we commit to a task. You have to establish ritual and habit,” he says.

Because mantras are as ubiquitous as Mrs West’s backside, we’ve gone through the five best research-backed strategies to get your butt into gear. Behold.

Old way: Positive thinking – New way: Negative thinking

The poster child of self-help, positive thinking is what David Brent-style corporate team building days are made of. But research shows fantasizing about happy (and easily come by) outcomes doesn’t help, it actually hinders people from realising their dreams (man, job, weight, you name it) the study by psychologist Gabriele Oettingen and her colleagues found. Why? Dreaming about the future calms you down, reducing systolic blood pressure, but it also can drain you of the energy you need to take action Oettingen says.

So if faked good cheer just doesn’t work for you, you’re off the hook. Give negative visualisation a go especially for shorter-term goals like weight loss. For example when you’re tossing up eating that second piece of flourless chocolate cake, instead of imagining yourself as the next Victoria’s Secret Angel if you say no enough times, visualise yourself being at your unhappiest weight if you say yes.

Old way: Rewards – New way: Penalties

Incentives work like a charm for some (a 30-minute run each day for a month = a new designer gym bag), but behavioural economist and author of Carrots and Sticks: Unlock the Power of Incentives to Get Things Done Dr Ian Ayres says that the flip side – penalties for missing a sweat session—are even more effective especially when they involve your hard-earned cash.

“People will work twice as hard when money is at stake compared with relying only on their willpower,” he says.

Try it: Register your goal and credit card info at Promise or Pay ( If you don’t do a predetermined number of workouts, the charity of your choice gets a payday, courtesy of you. “This is even more effective if you give money to something you don’t like,” adds Ayres. Diehard liberal? Set up your account to donate to a conservative group, and watch your sweat fly.

Old way: Exercise for weight loss – New way: Exercise for everything

Those of you who track instant results after a workout – like a better mood, more energy and less anxiety – exercised 34 per cent more over the course of a year than those who focused on weight-loss or appearance goals, a study by Dr Michelle Segar, a behavioural scientist who specialises in sustainable fitness motivation shows.

Switch your mindset to thinking about non-physical benefits, like a sharper mind and better sleep. “Working out zaps stress and anxiety, plus it helps your body to regulate its own temperature, so you can hit the sack more peacefully,” says exercise scientist Dr Paul Loprinzi.

Plus just 20 minutes of moderate exercise immediately increases attention and cognitive ability a study published in Clinical Neurophysiology shows. You’ll love to move it.

Old way: Repeat affirmations – New way: Keep it real

Those cheery Instagram slogans intended to lift your mood like ‘Don’t let anyone dull your sparkle’ can actually make people with low self esteem feel worse, psychologists at the University of Waterloo found. Telling yourself you’re loveable can bring on a grouchy internal counterargument.

That’s where some straight talking tough love can help says Ruth Field (aka The Grit Doctor). She expounds tuning into a voice that whispers “You fat bitch,” when you’re feeling weak and inneffectual and trying to ignore the deafening call of the Dairy Milk. Maybe she’s harsh, but sometimes you’ve got to quit sugar coating it.

Old way: Tell yourself – New way: Ask yourself

How you phrase that self pep talk matters. Those who ask themselves whether they will perform a task generally do better than those who tell themselves that they will, researchers at the University of Illinois and Southern Mississippi University found.

Got a tough task ahead? Encourage yourself using the second person (Will you run 6km?) rather than the first person (Will I run 6km?) and you’ll perform better, shows a series of experiments published in theEuropean Journal of Social Psychology. Turns out we like instructions. “Telling yourself everything will work out is also poor preparation for those times they don’t,” says Oliver Burkeman, author of The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking. Yep, you’re probably not going to make babies with Jamie Dornan. Hate to break it to you.