When I was in elementary school, I wanted to play sports in college. It was my dream. It was my goal. As a young child, I was at least 10 years away from being able to achieve that goal. There were many years and many steps I had to take in between to turn my dream into a reality. There were hundreds of practices, summer camps, summer leagues, countless hours practicing in the gym and the driveway, recruiting visits, and the games themselves. It’s easy to get lost or exhausted along the way. Goal-setting can be more challenging than what people realize. We see this every New Year with the practice of making resolutions. People start off motivated, but then eventually things fall apart and their goals are forgotten. What is the one thing I always do by the end of every initial counseling session I have with a new client? I, along with my client, set one or more goals for therapy. Very quickly, through not only my personal experience but also working with people for a living, I started learning how to set and achieve goals. I believe that if you follow most of these concepts, you will create the opportunity to achieve your goals.

Identify a goal

I know this seems obvious, but you might be surprised by how many people have trouble defining their goal. It is so important to know exactly what you want achieve.
Potential goal: I would like to lose 50 pounds.

Work backwards to set smaller goals

It takes many little goals to reach one big goal. Work your way backwards by asking yourself, “What will it take to reach my goal?”
Potential smaller goals: I would like to lose 50 pounds. I would have to be eating better and working out on a daily basis. Eating better involves eating less sugar and fatty foods. Working out regularly means I get my heart rate up at least 30 minutes to 1 hour every day. My smaller goals are to start consistently eating vegetables for dinner and to start walking around my neighborhood 3 times a week. I also want to consult with a nutritionist and a personal trainer.

Make gradual changes

It is very difficult to quit something cold turkey or start an intense regimen that might help you reach your goal. Slow changes in the beginning can prevent you from becoming overwhelmed and giving up too quickly.
Potential gradual changes: I will only eat sweets on the weekends. I will add one green vegetable to one of my meals every day. I will walk for 30 minutes 3 times a week.

Choose an accountability partner

Making changes to reach goals are much more enjoyable when you don’t have to do it alone. There are some days where you just won’t be motivated. That is normal, but having someone keeping you accountable is a great way to stay on track.
Potential accountability partners: A personal trainer or a nutritionist would be great. I would recommend choosing a friend, partner, spouse, or family member because they can walk alongside you on a daily basis.

Manage expectations

Identify and assess your expectations. What are your expectations? Are they realistic? Unrealistic expectations can be the quickest ways to kill your goals. Being realistic will help manage expectations.
Potential expectations: My expectation is I will lose 10 pounds within the first 2 weeks. Is that realistic? It could happen, but it also might not happen. I might only lose 5 pounds in the first 2 weeks, and I’m alright with that.

Celebrate your achievements…even the seemingly small ones

Small successes can carry giant amounts of momentum. Every small change, every small goal achieved leads you one step closer to your ultimate goal. Celebrating accomplishments builds confidence and keeps you moving forward.
Potential achievements: I lost 2 pounds this week! I ate a green vegetable for dinner every night this week! I went a week without a soda! I learned some new weightlifting exercises!

Reward yourself

It can be really important to find ways to reward yourself when you make steps to achieving your goal. It provides motivation and serves as something to look forward after working so hard.
Potential rewards: I’ve lost 15 pounds already so I’m sleeping in this morning instead of getting up to go work out, I’m taking a day off from exercising this week, or I’m getting popcorn when I go to the movies this weekend.

Although the journey is tough, we are willing to endure it because the feeling of accomplishment often outweighs the challenges. Many of us know the feeling of setting a goal, working extremely hard to reach it, and eventually achieving that goal. I hope these suggestions give you the boost you need to continue your journey.