How to Stick to Long-Term Changes

When progress takes time, it helps to find ways to stay motivated

Seeing progress quickly can be very encouraging, although it’s hard to stick to long-term changes when you don’t get immediate results.
How to Stick to Long-Term Changes

If you’re trying to lose weight or gain muscle, you can work really hard at it for a week and see no change. The same goes for learning music or a language, or creating meaningful change in the world.

Seeing progress quickly can be very encouraging, although it’s hard to stick to long-term changes when you don’t get immediate results. So how do we find encouragement without obvious progress?

Over the years, I have been able to stick to some big long-term changes: losing weight, working out to gain strength, training for marathons, creating a blog audience, and much more. I still don’t find this stuff easy!

Let’s look at some of the things I’ve found helpful in sticking to long-term changes when I'm not getting immediate results.

The Mindset

It’s important to recognize when we’re in a fragile mindset, which is something along the lines of, “If I don’t see progress right away, I give up!” This leads to fragility—which is a human thing, but it’s good to be aware that this is going on.
A more resilient mindset might be something like:
  • I’m inspired by what I want to create.
  • I’m committed to this for the long term because I care about what I’m creating.
  • I love the activity that I’m doing to lead to my long-term goal.
  • Getting stopped is a part of this growth process, and I simply need to start again.
I should be clear that mindset takes practice. We don’t just decide to come from a new mindset, and it happens instantly. We will get stuck in the old mindset, and the practice is to recognize it and practice the new one.

Ways to Encourage Yourself

If the thing you’re trying to achieve (improved health, learning a language, changing people’s hearts and minds) isn’t going to happen this week, then how do you find encouragement?

We need to look for more immediate ways to find rewards, to sustain our long-term encouragement.

Here are some things I’ve found helpful:

Find the Fun

Look for things in the activity to enjoy as you’re doing it. If you’re training for a marathon, can you enjoy the run as you’re running rather than focusing on wanting to be able to run longer (which takes time)?

Track Your Wins

Give yourself the equivalent of a gold star when you’re done—by checking it off a list, putting a sticker on a calendar, logging it on a meditation or workout app, etc. It feels good to be able to give yourself that star!

Create Accountability

Be in an accountability group. This allows you to report when you’ve done something, and it feels rewarding. I’m currently doing a fitness challenge with my wife and kids, and it’s fun to report on what I did each day.

Acknowledge Your Efforts

Find encouraging things to tell yourself. We rarely acknowledge ourselves and usually find things to tell ourselves that are discouraging or critical. Switch that up! What could you tell yourself that would be loving and encouraging? “You've got this.” “I’m proud of how hard you’re working.” “You are courageous!” It might feel silly at first, but that’s because we’re not used to it—we’re used to berating ourselves. Be encouraging for a change!

Focus on the Why

Remind yourself daily of the possibility you’re creating. What’s the reason you’re doing this? Why is it important to you? What will be amazing about it once you’re done? This is the possibility you’re creating with this effort—remind yourself of why you care about this every day.

Turn It Into a Game

When you’re running your long run for marathon training, can you set little targets for yourself and think of each target as an achievement during the run? Can you play music and let yourself feel silly and joyful as you run? When I was running on Guam, I would tell myself to pick up the pace until the next telephone pole, then run easy until the one after that, then run like a little kid for the one after that, etc.

Tune Into Your Gains

Feel how the activity is building the possibility you’re creating—as you’re doing the activity. For example, if I’m lifting weights, I can let myself feel the strength I’m building with every rep. Each time I lift the weight, it’s connected to the greater strength I’m creating for myself, and it feels powerful.

Find Supporters

Get people to be your cheerleaders. Who’s got your back? Who’s cheering you on when things get hard? When I ran my first marathon, I had friends who ran long training runs with me, a sister who would run with me at 5 a.m. in the dark, and a wife and kids who told me they were proud of me and who made signs to cheer me on during my race. Some of those running friends ran the marathon with me and didn’t let me quit when I wanted to give up. We need people—we can’t do this alone.

Mark Any Milestones

Celebrate your small victories. We are so focused on the long-term outcome that we want it to be a reality this minute. But what about the smaller victories along the way? If you’re writing a book, finishing a chapter is a great victory! Find a way to celebrate along the way, instead of just at the end.

I hope these help. You don’t have to do all of them—I’d suggest playing with the ones that feel like they’ll encourage you. If those don’t work, try some of the others.

What long-term effort have you been struggling to stick to? Learn from past failures, let them go, and give it another shot—but with more encouragement.

Leo Babauta is the author of six books and the writer of Zen Habits, a blog with over 2 million subscribers. Visit
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