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Goal Setting Maintenance

Last week I set a goal to get up right when my alarm went off. I achieved great success in the first five days. Now a week has passed and I do not recall where I am at with that goal because the previous few days go unrecorded. Thus, failure. But why?

Is it because I believed I was done with my goal? Is it due to my planning of this goal? What exactly happened and how can I maintain this goal for the foreseeable future?


First we must look at motivation which undermines most of the behavior change that I want to take place to get up when my alarm rings. My personal motivation is because I want more hours in the day as well as enjoy my mornings before work begins. Motivation is usually highest when I first start my change. The problem is that the motivation level dies down and I go back to waking up twenty minutes following my alarm chirping. The cost to wake up on the sixth day with lower motivation must be greater than any of the previous days. In a health psychology review on maintaining behavior change, explains “as motivation and opportunity costs regress to the mean, the need for self-regulatory effort is increased in order to ensure that the new behaviour continues despite less than optimal conditions.” Self-regulatory efforts are needed to manage our behaviors such as thoughts and feelings toward our goals. In regard to my sleep wake patterns, after a few successful days, I must have felt completely different about my goal.

Well now what can I do?

Further into the systematic review previously mentioned it turns out that there are five overwhelming factors that play a vital role in maintaining any change.

1.Maintenance motives

This is the driver that makes that initial push to change to any goal at hand. Motivation comes directly from our pleasure in the result of this change. Positive maintenance motivation is strongly needed due to our belief of ‘this is right for me’ prior to engagement. Extrinsic and intrinsic motivation both play a role here. Whether I am waking up early to meet external demands (extrinsic) or doing it because I know that it will make me happy (intrinsic), these can regulate differently depending on the specific goal. Lastly, our new behavior must align with our self-identity and core values. If I know myself as being ‘healthy’ then I might eat greens more.


The management of harnessing our own thoughts to reach the goal or goals. In simple terms there are four main focuses here: standards, motivation, monitoring and willpower. Standards include the desirable behavior for me which is to wake up earlier than I do currently. The motivation is how we meet that standard which is to set my alarm in order to get more hours in the day which I desire. Monitoring is one of the two tricky parts which has to do with situations and thoughts that can include breaking of the standards. This can come in a variety of ways such as me staying up later the night before and blaming that on sleeping in past my alarm or making some excuse why I did not even set the alarm in the first place. Willpower is next, which as most of us know is the will to act. This is the hard work essentially which is the second tricky part.


We all have our own habits, but what exactly are they? Habits are automated actions that have been triggered by certain positional cues. For example, I have the habit of waking up and going into the kitchen for some reason, but I keep doing this. That habit was developed early on in my life and continuously have done it since. Now I want to make a new habit which means I need to start creating habitual cue responses in order to help this new habit of waking up early. One key here is not to focus too much on the new cues, but to remove the old unnecessary ones. This looks like me staying up slightly later than normal, preparing myself the night before for the next day or even making a better waking up moment such as a calmer alarm.


In the systematic review it writes “individuals are more likely to initiate behaviour change at times when their psychological and physical resources are plentiful and when opportunity costs (effort needed to enact behaviour) are low (i.e., resources are not immediately needed for competing demands).” This means that the resources play a key role in self regulation which in turn leads to either creating, maintaining or failing at a new habit. There is a limit to our resources both mental and physical that can often become depleted which may also lead to lower chances of success. So what can we do? We can make sure our bodies are optimally ready for any change of habit that we can make (which is a whole other topic too).

5.Environment and social influence.

Now my wife does get up at different times than I do which directly affects my times waking up. On other occasions I have family members that get up at least an hour or two before me which does influence how I perceive this newly desired habit of mine. These both can be seen as environmental and social influence. In this article on behavior change, it explains how individuals change context, they are more likely to perform the newly desired behaviors. Once the door is open upon a new habit, especially in a new environment there are more chances for success. Social influence is very much the same. It affects the support in which the individual can maintain the new behavior. If a friend and I try to take on this new goal of mine together it is highly likely to result in victory.

Completely new habits that we try to take on to achieve our goals are not so easy when we first look at them, but when broken down into segments they are a little easier to digest. Little by little we can develop new healthy habits with the right planning ahead of time. I hope to start waking up at the same time every day in order to make it easier for my body to adapt. With the right mindset, resources and influences we are able to achieve any goal that we have in mind. That first step toward them does not have to be gigantic, but maybe just an inch.

“Inch by inch, life’s a cinch. Yard by yard, life’s hard.”

  • John Bytheway

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