cross off items on a calendar to show accomplishments (Photo: Tetra Images; Getty Images)

Remember your mom's birthday--it could help shrink your gut. Mapping out important dates can help you reach your health goals, suggests a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Researchers asked 49 people to describe the fitness levels they hoped to achieve in 8 weeks' time. Next, the researchers gave each person a timeline, and asked them to look at the date of their goal completion. Here's the twist: Half of those timelines noted a major holiday, which fell in the middle of the 8-week goal period. Everyone then answered questions about their current fitness levels and their motivation to achieve their 8-week goals. (Eat 30 percent less with this easy research-proven trick: The Easiest Way to Shrink Your Gut.)

The results: People whose timelines featured a major holiday rated their current self as 10 percent less fit, compared to the self-ratings of the other study participants. They also reported a 12 percent boost in motivation to achieve their health goals, according to the study.

Why? You may not realize it, but your mind uses "landmark" events like holidays, birthdays, or trips in order to orient itself on the timeline of your life, explains study author Johanna Peetz, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychology at Ottawa's Carleton University. "If a major event or holiday falls in between now and your future goal date, this psychological landmark helps to highlight how far you still have to go to achieve that goal," Peetz says. (To improve your career, life, and relationships, follow the tips in our Best Life newsletter.)

Put simply, focusing on those landmark events emphasizes the gap between your current and future selves, and that's very motivating, the research shows.

Do this: Imagine the goals you want to achieve 6 months from today. Now mark that future date on a calendar, and also mark all the major events--birthdays, holidays, trips, etc.--between now and your goal date, Peetz advises. Spend a few seconds each day looking at that calendar, and consider the major "landmarks" separating the current you from the future, improved you. (Keep your mind in tip-top shape with these 27 Ways to Power Up Your Brain.)