5 Ways to Stay Motivated for Long-Term Change

stay motivated

Many changes take a lot of time. Perhaps you’re trying to lose 50lbs, or get out of debt. You might be working on a major project — like writing a book, or renovating a house.

Whatever your goal, you know it’s going to make a big difference to your life. You have plenty of reasons to achieve it … but that’s not always enough.

On a day to day level, it can be really tough to consistently take actions that lead towards your goal. For instance, if you’re aiming to lose 50lbs, your goal might seem so far off that it’s hardly worth skipping dessert today. If you need to pay off $30,000 of debt, then that $5 coffee seems totally inconsequential.

Every big goal, though, is achieved by a whole series of tiny steps. Sure, one dessert doesn’t mean much in the context of your whole diet … but if you end up eating dessert every day, you’re pretty soon going to give up on the diet entirely. Similarly, $5 won’t do much to get you out of debt … but a whole bunch of tiny savings will soon add up.

If you’re struggling to see the long-term picture, try one or more of these five tips:

#1: Write Down Your “Why”

You have a reason to change — probably several reasons. Grab a piece of paper, or open up a document on your computer, and write down exactly why this change is important to you. What benefits are there? What consequences will there be if you don’t change?

You could list your reasons as bullet-points, if you want, or you could write a few paragraphs describing how your life will be once you’ve achieved your goal. It’s a good idea to write this in the present tense, to help make it more immediate and real.

For instance:

Losing 50lbs means:

  • Being healthier & fitter
  • A new wardrobe!
  • Feeling attractive and confident


I’m out of debt, and I feel so much happier. I’m sleeping well at night, and little ups and downs don’t stress me out. So many more options are open to me now.

#2: Make it as Easy as Possible

All change requires work … but the easier you can make things, the higher your chances of staying on the right path.

As much as possible, set things up so that making the right choice is the default option. For instance, if you’re trying to save up an emergency fund, set up an automatic transfer out of your checking account every month — that way, you have to take action to not transfer the money.

It’s worth investing some time and energy at the start of a big change (when your motivation is naturally high) to get good systems in place. If you’re dieting, you could stock the cupboards with healthy food, and work out a few easy and healthy meals that you can cook on a regular basis.

#3: Aim for the Next Milestone

Sometimes, the finish line is so far away that you can’t really see it. Perhaps you’re working on a huge project like a book, and you don’t really have much grasp of when you can expect to finish. Maybe you’ve got a long way to go in order to get out of debt or reach a healthy weight, and it’s discouraging to think of how many months or years it’ll take.

Instead of worrying about the finish line, focus on the next milestone. For instance, if you’re writing a book, your first milestone could be to write the first 10,000 words; the next milestone might be to reach 25,000 words. If you’re getting out of debt, many experts will recommend the “debt snowball” method, where you pay off the smallest debt first, then gradually work your way up.

#4: Build up a String of Successes

Once you’ve started to succeed, do everything you can to motivate yourself to stay on track. One great trick is to put a check mark on your calendar for every day (or every week, depending on your goal) that you take action.

Let’s say your ultimate goal is to write a book, and you’ve decided that a good way to do that is by writing 300 words every day. That’s not very much (it’s about a third of this blog post) but those 300 words each day will add up to a 60,000 word book within seven months. To reduce the temptation to skip a day when you’re feeling unmotivated, check off each day that you hit your 300 word target: once you’ve got a string of check marks, you won’t want to break it.

#5: Celebrate What You Achieve

Once you’ve reached a major milestone, celebrate! Go out for dinner, open that good bottle of wine you’ve been saving, treat yourself to a new book or DVD, book a vacation … whatever works for you (and your budget).

Let other people know, too. Post an announcement on Facebook, or write a blog post about the success you’ve achieved. You’ll almost certainly get lots of “Congratulations!” messages — plus you might just inspire someone else to start working towards a goal of their own.

Do you have a great tip for staying motivated over the long-term? Let us know your thoughts in the comments…

Photo by fluffisch

19 thoughts on “5 Ways to Stay Motivated for Long-Term Change”

  1. Great advice as usual. I would add that a useful strategy to enable you to apply these 5 things is to create positive habits around them. When things become habitual it’s harder to stop doing them than to continue. Remember, 14 days creates a habit, 4 months embeds it. :)

  2. Hi Ali!

    Thank You for these great tips on how to stay motivated. Yes, your goals can feel very distant and that’s why it is important to see little steps of progress to the right direction to maintain one’s motivation!


  3. Great advice. I’d add that you should surround yourself with a group of people who will support your endeavor. Find or create a community of support. This might be via a workout or nutrition program of some kind, or a writer’s group (to use some of your examples). We can all do so much more within the context of community than we can solo.

    1. Wonderful addition, Allison! There are community groups for many common goals (like losing weight, public speaking, etc) … and online ones for almost any goal imaginable.

  4. Thanks for your great tips! I have another one to add;

    “Get someone close (spouse, best friends, brother/sister, etc) to check on you and make sure you are on track. It works for me but I don’t know if this gonna work for everyone who read this.

    I like one of your tips – make a small step at a time which will lead to achieving big goals in long term! This is very true because I am practicing now. It works too!


  5. Really good stuff here. Many people starts their long term change well, but then slack off after the momentum is gone. The methods you just provided worked perfectly for me to get back on track to accomplish my long-term change.

  6. A very relevant post. One thing is motivating ourselves to get started. A different one is to stay motivated in the long term. I’m still working on this one.

    What I’ve found works is to prepare for the times when the motivation won’t be there. What will you do then? What do you know about what helps you get things back on track?

    For example, going to a nice coffee place and reviewing the notes you made on “why” you want to do this in the first place. This may bring your motivation back on in no time. Or maybe the “why” has changed, or it’s not there anymore… then you need to change tactic.

    Starting the day early and doing something that I know will bring me closer to my goal works me. What works for you?

  7. Great post Ali :)

    It really does take time, but the thing is that it’s fun sometimes as well as hard. My advice is that one should learn to enjoy the process of change, and then all these things are quite easier, and enjoyable as well.

    Doing what you mentioned, makes this possible.

  8. These are excellent tips for not only long term goals but also short term. For example , when I need to write a 10 page paper I like to use these steps by setting a milestone of a certain point to reach and then rewarding myself at the end. I also like to use this in philanthropic ways as write down the why’s of giving and helping so that I stick on a successfull path. This is a very helpful article that will hopefully keep me triumphant until the end.

  9. Great post Ali. I think the celebration part is a huge part of success. If it’s all work and no play then you get frustrated and overwhelmed by the process. It might ever stall your motivation all together. So I say celebrate your successes no matter how small it seems at the time. Because anyone who’s achieved great success knows that it’s the little things that make the big difference.

  10. Great points Ali. I would add to your list “Stop and review regularly”. I think when making longer term change that we need to be open to the possibility that it might be appropriate to change direction a bit or shoot for new opportunities/possibilities as things evolve. If we never stop and review what we are doing we could miss these potential pots of gold.

  11. Hi Ali, great article. I like how you have taken your own bit of advice “Make it easy as possible”, breaking this down to 5 steps. In a recent post of mine on jamessimpsonmedia.com.au, I spoke of visualisation and the fact it is an under used tool when trying to achieve goals. I think this is also important and no doubt your readers will being doing this in step 1 when they are writing down their “why”, feeling the feelings and focusing on what you are trying to achieve are great ways to motivate yourself to the next level. I’m glad to have found your blog and will continue to read your thoughts!. James

  12. HI Ali,

    Its an absolutely brilliant article, kind of an eye opener to me. I am so sick of the string of failures I’ve had that I have lost all confidence in myself, and the successes I’ve had in the past 5-6 years are not really worth mentioning. So I kinda thought I’ve lost it and I can’t be successful ever again. This article might just be the turning point of my life.

Leave a Comment

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