Use Motivational Science to Help You Reach Your Goals

By InsideTracker, January 5, 2023

People celebrating the new year

The start of the New Year is an exciting time for many. It’s a time for goal setting and for dreaming big—a clean slate waiting to be filled with the potential ushered in by a new year. But it can be easy to let those goals fall by the wayside as schedules get busier and priorities pile up. So what can you do to lessen that likelihood?

Coaches, public health experts, motivational speakers, counselors, and health care providers use principles from behavior change theories to improve health-related habits. And we’ve done the legwork for you, simplifying the academic theories into a roadmap to help you achieve your New Year’s resolutions.

Let’s explore the science of behavior change theory.


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1. Create the best environment for your success

Environmental, social, and personal factors have an impact on your actions. Social cognitive theory refers to this as “reciprocal determinism”. [1] Therefore, it’s important to immerse yourself in an environment that’s conducive to making your goals as easy to achieve as possible. Here are some strategies that may help:

  • Foster relationships with those who support your goals. Seek and prioritize relationships with people who lift you up, who you can lean on (on vice versa), and who don’t judge. 
  • Stock up on foods that nourish. If you want to improve the healthfulness of your diet, focus on filling your refrigerator with fruits and vegetables and your pantry with things like beans, nut and seed butters, and whole grains. Having these foods on-hand and already prepared makes them an easier choice when hunger sets in.
  • Integrate your goals and visions into every aspect of your lifestyle. Can’t find time for the extra miles in your training routine? You might be able to trade your car for a bike commute a few days a week. For an extra motivational boost, behavioral economist Katherine Milkman recommends "temptation bundling", a strategy that creates tangible rules around a behavior. An example of this would be setting the limitation of only watching TV while at the gym or walking on the treadmill. [2]


2. Believe you can do it like it's already been done

Building self-efficacy is a prominent concept in multiple academic theories and is one of the most important. Albert Bandura, the founder of the theory, outlines a few key ways to build the confidence you need to succeed. [1,3]

  • Seek “mastery” experiences. Confidence in your ability to do something can be bolstered by prior success. If you’ve successfully done something before, it becomes easier to justify doing it again. But for new goals, start with baby steps. [2] Maybe you can’t swim a mile today, but swimming 100 yards will build your confidence and bring you one step closer to achieving your ultimate goal.
  • Keep learning. Believing is half the battle, but developing the skills and knowledge you need to keep moving forward is critical. Social Cognitive Theory refers to this need as "behavioral capability". [1,3] InsideTracker can support your self-efficacy by providing customized recommendations for your nutrition and lifestyle, taking the guesswork out of key variables to your success. 
  • Identify role models. Find someone  you trust and respect to glean extra motivation from. Science shows that “vicarious experiences” increase your feelings of self-efficacy. [3] Social media can be a good resource for this as well, however, it can be challenging to find an authentic person or group to follow.

3. Stop waiting

Procrastination is common but can be a major challenge to achieving your resolutions. Why is it so tempting to hit snooze when you know that waking up early to train will enhance your race performance 6 months from now? Why is it so easy to put off grocery shopping and meal prep, even though you know your body and wallet will thank you for it later? 

People are naturally prone to maintaining the status quo and tend to focus on the present when immediate effects can be recognized, despite the potential for future reward. In academic theory, this is referred to as “delay discounting” and can be a powerful deterrent to achieving your goals. [4]

 Here are some ways to overcome delay discounting:

  • Earning this goal is part of your identity. For example, you get up and run because you are a runner. That is who you are. Whether you're setting out for 7 or 70 minutes, this type of intrinsic “self-determination” can be incredibly impactful. [5,6]
  • Target a tangible outcome and get after it. A tangible outcome is one that you can actually measure and feasibly achieve. Whether it's lowering your InnerAge below your chronological age, increasing your ferritin by 15 ng/mL to now be in the optimal zone, or reducing stress levels, InsideTracker is here to help you set a baseline, monitor your progress, and offer recommendations to add to your daily or weekly routine to help you reach your goal. 
  • Start inside. You may have heard that intrinsic motivations are more powerful than extrinsic rewards. [5,6] Work hard and focus on being a healthier, happier you, and the tangential outcomes (race results, weight change, etc.) will follow.


Key takeaways

  • You can’t control everything around you, but focusing your efforts on what you can control will be worth your while.
  • Believing is half the battle. The second half is developing the skills and putting in the work to get it done. 
  • This year is yours for the taking. Stop waiting and get to it!

Make this your year. If health is a top goal for you, InsideTracker can help by providing you with ongoing assessments and personalized recommendations to optimize your health, helping you live healthier longer.




[1] Bandura, A. (1997). Social Learning Theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall


[3] Glanz K, Rimer BK, Viswanath K, eds. 2008. Health Behavior and Health Education: Theory, Research, and Practice (4th ed). San Francisco: Jossey-Bas




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