Sustaining your motivation is the key to reaching goals.

A goal rewards you with satisfaction when you reach it, and torment when you don’t. What’s the difference between abandoning and achieving your goals, whether they’re New Year’s resolutions to get healthy or overarching goals that enable you to live a better life? The key is having the motivation to stick to your plan for success. 

So how does that motivation stay fueled?

Multiple studies by psychologists Ed Deci and Rich Ryan at the University of Rochester have found that the 3 keys to sustained interest are autonomy (a choice you value), competence (confidence in your ability to succeed), and relatedness (connection to others or feeling part of a group or team). Autonomy allows you to feel ownership of your goal, so it’s not forced on you and you can choose how to go about it. Competence makes you feel like you’ve got the ability and can get better at it. You will feel successful if you learn, improve and work toward mastery. Relatedness allows you to feel a sense of belonging. Sometimes these 3 key elements compete with each other, but competing agendas often work together to bring out our best selves. 

Having social support leads to more enjoyment and a higher success rate, autonomy on the other hand, means your motivation still has to come from you! Competence leads us toward a challenge of self-improvement and yet still requires getting out of our comfort zone to reap the benefits of satisfaction. 

A great example is when we come together for a common, pro-social goal, like raising money to find a cure for a disease or help out when disaster strikes: Kelly Ripa raised over $100,000 for Hurricane Sandy Victims by leading a 45-minute Soul Relief class. Emma Stone, Halle Berry and Christina Applegate joined Revlon’s 2014 EIF Run/Walk for cancer. Reese Witherspoon walks with thousands of women in The Avon Walk for Breast Cancer. Mathew McConaughey, Teri Hatcher, and Max Greenfield (along with Jennifer Lopez, Mario Lopez, David Duchovny, and more) became triathletes for the day competing in the Nautica Malibu Triathalon to benefit The Los Angeles Children’s Hospital. And last year Pippa Middleton and her brother James took on the 3000 mile Pedal for Cause, riding from San Diego, Calif. to Annapolis, Md., to raise money for their charity, The British Heart Foundation. (Check out our photo gallery of stars and their goals)

Goal choice and motivation go hand in hand. So does doing good versus being good. To stay motivated, remember getting better is a mindset to embrace. It will be easier when you see it as one step at a time.