My Guide from Harvard on How to reach your goals and build new habits

blog health & fitness performance Sep 09, 2019

Reaching goals and building new habits


This simple tool is from a course I took at Harvard where we read several papers on goal attainment and habits. I have since used this for most of my own goals and habits with success 🙂 


To reach a goal or build a habit you need both commitment and motivation. This sounds like a no-brainer and you might be thinking no shit Sherlock is that all you got for me Mads. Don’t worry there is a bit more 🙂 

I will quickly and briefly dive into the concepts whereafter there is a cheat sheet you can get free access to.

So there are two concepts that are important to understand. 

The first is what researchers call “Mental contrasting” which is fantasies about a desired future state and what challenges you will encounter. What you do is simple first imagine the positive future state and then the challenges on the way. 

The second is “Implementation intentions” which is when, where and how to get to the goal or do the habit. Thereafter you do If-then plans. Meaning if this x bad thing happens then I will do x to overcome it and stay on course. People that do that have a much higher chance of going through with goals in stressful times.    

So how do we know it works? Well, there are several studies that show it. People who followed Mental Contrasting and Implementations Intentions have been found to be twice as active over four months as people who only received information about exercise or training programs.

In one intervention study, participants in the Mental Contrasting and Implementations Intentions group went through the following:

  • First, they named their current most important wish regarding physical activity (e.g. biking to work)
  • Second, they mentally elaborated the most positive aspect they associated with realizing this wish (e.g. getting into better shape). 
  • Third, they then named and elaborated the most critical obstacle (e.g. feeling too tired in the morning). 
  • Fourth, they formed three implementation intentions (e.g. If tomorrow morning I feel too tired to take the bike, then I’ll grab my bike keys instead of my car keys!) 

Another study that was trying to get women to eat healthier showed that the ones that did a similar exercise to the above continued to eat more fruit and vegetables after the study, where the control group who only received information went back to the baseline level. 

Reaching your goals or building new habits does not have to be as hard if only you follow a tested process. And if you are thinking that this is almost too easy to be true, then I challenge you to give it an honest tryout and let me know how it goes. But this will only work if you follow the full process.


You can get access to a FREE cheat sheet for the exercises below:


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