How to Achieve Your Goals with Healthy Habits

Note: This is a guest post by Leo Babauta who blogs at Zen Habits about setting goals, creating habits, productivity, GTD, motivation, exercise and more.

We’ve all faced the disappointment and guilt that comes from setting a goal and giving up on it after a couple of weeks. Sustaining motivation for a long-term goal is hard to achieve, and yet the best goals can usually only be accomplished in a few months or even years.

Here’s the solution: Focus instead on creating a new habit that will lead to achieving your goal.

Want to run a marathon? First create the habit of running every day. Want to get out of debt and start saving? Create the habit of brown bagging it to work, or watching DVDs instead of going to the movies, or whatever change will lead to saving money for you.

By focusing not on what you have to achieve over the course of the next year, but instead on what you are doing each day, you are focusing on something achievable. That little daily change will add up to a huge change, over time … and you’ll be surprised at how far you’ve come in no time. Little grains of sand can add up to a mountain over time.

I used this philosophy of habit changes to run a marathon, to change my diet and lose weight, to write a novel, to quit smoking, to become organized and productive, to double my income, reduce my debt and start saving, and to begin training for an Olympic triathlon this year. It works, if you focus on changing habits.

Now, changing your habits isn’t easy — I won’t lie to you — but it’s achievable, especially if you start small. Don’t try to change the world with your first habit change … take baby steps at first. I started by just trying to run a mile — and by the end of the year, I could run more than 20 miles.

How do you change your habits? Focus on one habit at a time, and follow these steps:

  1. Positive changes. If you’re trying to change a negative habit (quit smoking), replace it with a positive habit (running for stress relief, for example).
  2. Take on a 30-day challenge. Tell yourself that you’re going to do this habit every day, at the same time every day, for 30 straight days without fail. Once you’re past that 30-day mark, the habit will become much easier. If you fail, do not beat yourself up. Start again on a new 30-day challenge. Practice until you succeed.
  3. Commit yourself completely. Don’t just tell yourself that you might or should do this. Tell the world that DEFINITELY will do this. Put yourself into this 100 percent. Tell everyone you know. Email them. Put it on your blog. Post it up at your home and work place. This positive public pressure will help motivate you.
  4. Set up rewards. It’s best to reward yourself often the first week, and then reward yourself every week for that first month. Make sure these are good rewards, that will help motivate you to stay on track.
  5. Plan to beat your urges. It’s best to start out by monitoring your urges, so you become more aware of them. Track them for a couple days, putting a tally mark in a small notebook every time you get an urge. Write out a plan, before you get the urges, with strategies to beat them. We all have urges to quit — how will you overcome it? What helps me most are deep breathing and drinking water. You can get through an urge — it will pass.
  6. Track and report your progress. Keep a log or journal or chart so that you can see your progress over time. I used a running log for my marathon training, and a quit meter when I quit smoking. It’s very motivating to see how far you’ve come. Also, if you can join an online group and report your progress each day, or email family and friends on your progress, that will help motivate you.

Most important of all: Always stay positive. I learned the habit of monitoring my thoughts, and if I saw any negative thoughts (“I want to stop!”) I would squash it like a little bug, and replace it with a positive thought (“I can do this!”). It works amazingly. This is the best tip ever. If you think negative thoughts, you will definitely fail. But if you always think positive, you will definitely succeed.

Read more posts by Leo Babauta at Zen Habits.

68 Responses to How to Achieve Your Goals with Healthy Habits

  1. Pingback: Read the Zen Habits philosophy over at Pick the Brain | zen habits

  2. Shira says:

    Terrific ideas and I really appreciate the simple action techniques that you have illustrated.



  3. Pingback: Personal Development Radar - 25/03/2007 - Personal Development Ideas Blog

  4. Daniel says:

    Remembering reading somewhere that it takes 21 repetitions at average to create a habit (not necessarily a skill).

    Now I know why those books are called “Learn X in 21 days!”.

  5. Leo says:

    Hi Daniel … yes, 21 days is an often-cited number, but the truth is, there’s no scientific basis for that fact. It’s just repeated a lot in the self-improvement world (for decades actually).

    In reality, each person is different, and there are a number of factors that determine how long it will take for something to be a habit. One is frequency, another is consistency, and yet another is whether there is any resistance (like pain or public stigma) to the habit. So, if you only work out once a week, that will take much longer than 21 days to become a habit. If you do it every day, at the same time, same place, you could develop this habit in 21 days. A better bet is 30 days, in my experience. Thanks for the thought-provoking comment!

  6. Prabu says:

    Just have the bad habit in mind and think for five seconds before doing it again. Do i really want that smoke? Once you go past the feeling you’ll other nice ideas about cigarettes and your self-esteem will sky!

  7. Pingback: Nicky Caesar

  8. Pingback: Goal Motivation: Just Do It! | Ian Fernando

  9. Pingback: Free Geekery » Blog Archive » 25 Free Health Tips for Computer Nerds

  10. Paul says:

    I think point #1 is an excellent suggestion and usually overlooked. Nature abhors a vaccum, so it’s very difficult to try to not do something unless you replace it with something else.

    Similarly, it’s very difficult to implement a new habit without eliminating something else. Our days are always going to be 24 hours long. If you try to start a new habit like exercising or reading, you’re not going to be able to do it unless you make time for it by stopping something else you’re doing.

  11. I’d also add, be in the moment. When the sudden urge comes up, don’t resist it. Embrace the feeling. Look at it. Hear it. Touch it. Use all of your senses.

    You’ll find that the negative feeling won’t be able to your focus on it.

    Something I learned from Eckhart Tolle.

    Carl Zetterlund

  12. Rebecca says:

    Terrific advice!! You can also replace your negative habits with guided meditations which will make a positive impact. Get a free session: and enjoy!

  13. Kim Isaac says:

    I liked this post. I’m looking forward to trying these points. The habit I’m wanting to improve is exercising. I like the 30 days, same time, everyday point. Thanks this is perfect timing.

  14. JL says:

    Thanks for the post. I’m trying to break the habit of browsing internet forums too much. Last year I tried a 30 challenge, but failed. This time I’m getting totally committed and so I’ve blocked the site I was constantly going back to.

  15. Craig Harper says:

    Great suggestions Leo.

    If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.

    Many of us have been on a perpetual cycle of frustration for years. We’ve ‘almost’ done it fifty times. So get off the “whatever you want to change” merry-go-round, and make some decisions and changes for life.

    When you don’t ‘feel’ motivated… do it anyway. Creating real change is about commitment, passion and strength of character, not motivation.

    Great writing Leo/John.

  16. Habit Guy says:

    I am a professor who studies habits and how they change. I am finding lots of sites all over the blogosphere that talk about changing habits. A lot of the recommendations I see are based on sound science. Some, of course, are not. I have two thoughts:

    1. The lists of things “to do” are often rather long. I worry that people will find it difficult to keep all of the advice in mind as they work on their behavior. Your list of six steps is one of the smaller lists that I have seen. Kudos for that.

    2. Bad habits cause us pain (physical frailty, weight gain, less time out of doors or out of the house) but they also give us some amount of pleasure (sitting in a comfy chair, tasty food, watching a good tv show). Something to think about.

  17. exsmoker says:

    Hello All,

    I was reading around some of the posts here and I found interesting things that you guys talk about, I just made a blog about quitting smoking resources and ideas that you might want to check out.
    If someone is interested in this topic just go to; and let me know what you think. Your honest feedback would be greatly appreciated.
    Thanks in advance.

  18. Pingback: Once Upon a Time in Goal Setting | Live My Life

  19. Pingback: My Goals for 2008 are Daily Habits George Donnelly

  20. Pingback: 5 Links to Intriguing Posts on Goal Setting | Elephant and Monkey

  21. Ron Towns says:

    I think organization is absolutely key here. The question becomes… how do you organize your goals in an effort to prioritize what is most important to you?

    For this, I’d suggest using a vision board. A vision board is a powerful tool that anyone can use to shape an ideal future through the power of intention and visualization. Learning how to vividly imagine your desired results — attracting your perfect soul mate, radiant health, abundant career opportunities, or building personal and community relationships to give back — is the first step on the path to making them happen.

    A vision board – which is a collage of images that represent your goals, dreams, and intentions – allows you to break through unconscious, self-limiting beliefs that have been building in your subconscious mind for years, and really focus only on your important goals. In essence is helps separate your goals (your focus) from the background noise.

    Go to to download a free 8-point power tips guide to creating and using a vision board to achieve your goals.

  22. steven hector says:

    this is awesome i lost 50 lbs. in a month
    i worked hard
    i work out every day

  23. Eecia says:

    Eat veggies, stop smoking and drinking alcoholic stuffs.. Stay calm and relax..And just always smile and be happy..:) By the way, check out an inspirational video called “My Wish” by Donna Sirianni on YouTube. It’s all about starting at the very beginning of achieving your dreams in life…and enjoying the journey!! Send this video link to all your friends! They will be inspired by it!
    See the video here ->

  24. mary says:


    I’ve tried quite a few goal achievement programs myself over the years and eventually settled on The MAGIC Hundred by Dax Moy as it’s just so simple, straightforward and easy to follow. A good mix of success principles in a very focused ‘do this’ kind of format. It’s just what I needed : )

    I’ve already achieved about 30 or so goals on my list and I’ve got 63 days left on the program.

    You can check it out at


  25. joise says:

    Hey Mary

    I’m on The magic hundred too! I’ve been getting loads and loads done since I started the program 3 weeks ago and feel more positive than I have in agaes.

    I’ve got some pretty huge goals ahead of me but feel like they’re more likely to happen for me that at any other time I’ve started my goals before.

    Glad to know there’s another magic hundred user here : ) We can keep tabs on each other.

    Speak soon!


  26. Marie says:

    This article was a great reminder. I’m a fan of the 30 day challenge for a great habit! Once you are focusing on doing it daily for that long, it simply becomes a part of you.

    Also loved the tip about replacing the negative with the positive. This makes the transition easier.

    Love you blog – thanks for great articles.

  27. harry says:

    You may also check out, a very nicely built web app designed for tracking goals and todo lists, and has time tracking. It’s clear, focused, easy to navigate, worth a try.

  28. Julie says:

    Can your goals change in time? and why?

  29. Lyne says:

    I think you should use a free self goal emailing service like It’s a great motivator.

  30. Great work! I believe in a redirection of focus from negatives to bettering. I am firm on not only affirming to yourself certain things, but changing your physiology and putting emotional intensity in the mix. I believe that the 30 day habit thing is great! However, I feel like we can change some of the things we do in 30 minutes. There are many things out there, that even science cannot prove (which simply means it cannot be proven in some lab) but that some of us are already using and have proven their effectiveness. I quit smoking in 10 minutes with an effective, to the point neuro-physiological approach and I help other people to do it as well! There are “doing things at the LOGICAL pace,” or “doing things that defy logic.” Impossible is a word we often misuse. Overall, great work! I like your approach.

  31. prom gowns says:

    i totaly agree with your points!

  32. Pingback: 5 Strategies for a Happy Marriage: Secrets every bride and groom should know - PickTheBrain | Motivation and Self Improvement

  33. Pingback: 5 Strategies for a Happy Marriage: Secrets every bride and groom should know | Self Improvement | Improve Self Esteem | Happiness

  34. Pingback: Best Self Improvement Blog

  35. Pingback: 5 Strategies for a Happy Marriage: Secrets every bride and groom should know «

  36. DropShip says:

    I liked this post. I’m looking forward to trying these points. The habit I’m wanting to improve is exercising. I like the 30 days, same time, everyday point. Thanks this is perfect timing.

  37. Pingback: 5 Steps to a Happy Marriage - PickTheBrain | Motivation and Self Improvement

  38. Misty says:

    A great friend of mine recently published a new book which is geared to helping youth in today’s society, lead healthy and productive lives. You can order this book at the above website.

  39. You will have times in your life when you will feel like you’re the most unattractive person to walk the Earth. You will need somebody to pull you aside and say – you will not reach higher with your hands in your pockets. You can set many records, if you do guarantee yourself that you will do what you promise yourself, and listen to your dreams, to self improve faster

  40. Pingback: How To Break Bad Habits | PickTheBrain | Motivation and Self Improvement

  41. Pingback: One Man Can See You Succeed » Blog Archive » Is Commitment Out Of Fashion?

  42. Gabriel says:

    I remember Tony Robbins saying to break your bad habits, you need to catch yourself every time you find yourself doing it…then stop, take a step back, and force yourself to take the other route with your new substituted habit. By having success habit, achieving success is just part of your daily life like it’s normal.

  43. John Mak says:


    Very good post! I mostly like the 30-Day Challenge! Sometimes we are not so clear with our goals and we forget the most important things!

    Even taking a 30-day challenge could be difficult! The first days you are full of energy and passion for the goal but most people struggle in the middle and can’t finish! So, everyday has to be a new day with smaller goals! Everything’s about programming.

    Thank you for sharing

    John Mak

  44. Great article about simplicity in a daily routine but it is always very hard to implement ! Thanks

  45. very good article on health and goals. health plays very important role in your carrier. If you have a good health, i.e you have a better chances of achieving your goals

  46. deborah mudoni says:

    i liked this post ,i hope its going to help many as it has helped me

  47. Great post! A lot of people quit because they don’t see result, and then they revert back to old habits. New habits take time to develop.

  48. allem says:

    Nice article, I found something about making habits

  49. My Funny life quotes says:

    Developing a long term habit is a short term goal thing. You have to divide your yearly goal into short activities that you will be doing every day or week. Continuity is the key here, along with persistence and positive thinking. Reporting and tracking your progress is also important. The article is good, though not quite complete, it could be somewhat longer. Anyway thanx for some good piece of writing.

  50. Bodybuilding Diets says:

    I have to agree with Paul. I know there are several people who would want to commit to their daily habits but considering they barely have time to rest, this is something that’s too difficult for them. Unless they choose to give something up in exchange for exercising, they’ll never be able to accomplish this.

  51. Mr G says:

    Very useful post. I find that staying positive is the toughest part. Often when we don’t get the results we want right away we become deflated and stop our good habits, thus having to start again from scratch.

    I’ve found that the hard work I’ve done DOES pay off eventually. Work that I did a year ago and thought “this is getting me nowhere” is now benefiting me.

    It all adds up. Keep at it everyday.

  52. Pingback: Your Questions About How To Be Successful In Life | Find Success In Life With Your Online Business

  53. Muralikannan26 says:

    Thanks my friend. It was an excellent ideas.

  54. Pingback: Month of Kev « The Pulse: health care in RI

  55. Ps says:

    tht has really built positive thought within me . I m willing to give a try :-)

  56. Solai says:

    thanku my friend… its very real n truthfull… am going to do this.

  57. Csh4597 says:

    This was very helpful.. I need this on a poster staring back at me from my bedroom wall! 

  58. Motivate says:

    I like the
    way you explained about “How to Achieve Your Goals with Healthy Habits”. I think you’ve made some truly interesting
    points. Not too many people would actually think about this the way you just

  59. tony eason says:

    Fantastic Advise! Presently, I am training for my 1st Marathon – The San Francisco Marathon – 

  60. Neelamkerkettasj says:

    that is really wonderful ,practical and easy way of excellence, anyone can try this and sure he or she will not be dissappointed.

  61. Arunsh Sh86 says:

     hi you are right shira ur name is so sweet

  62. Terri says:

    Wow!  I love how this author has taken a seemingly huge task (getting rid of a bad habit and exchanging it for a good habit) and cut it up into bite-sized chunks for easier digestion! I have a handful of bad habits (many) that I would like to break, and this article has made me see that it’s doable! :)


    Fantastic Advise!

  64. Yoram Baltinester says:

    I love this. Many people get discouraged at long term projects and this article is pretty much the antidote.

  65. Rhonda Byrne says:

    Although to change habits is difficult to me, I think it is easier to try to modify them if we have a roadmap or guidelines like these.. Thank you for share!

  66. charlesjdion says:

    explained I cannot believe that a stay at home mom can make $7420 in four weeks
    on the internet . more info here C­a­s­h­f­i­g­.­C­O­M­

  67. Julia Kristina says:

    Great article. It’s a really good reminder that in order to accomplish a big, lofty goal, we need to smart with small, achievable goals. We are capable of a lot, as long as we do a little at a time.

    I love this stuff!
    Julia Kristina

  68. Pingback: How to Achieve Your Goals with Healthy Habits | Wounds to Wisdom

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *