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Simple Steps to Setting Achievable Goals

"I need to quit smoking."

"I resolve to join a gym and start working out."

"I will no longer succumb to the siren song of the donut store down the street."

We've all uttered similar intentions - and yet, for many, the new gym membership goes unused, a new pack of cigarettes gets purchased and the rich, delicious, sugary donut smell wins out.

Resolutions don't often fail because of the intentions behind them. It usually isn't for lack of willpower either. For many people, the problem is the goals themselves.

To make and achieve any goal, there's a series of steps you should take.

The first thing you have to do is pay attention to time; because once it passes, you'll never get it back. You have to take control of your time by getting out your calendar and scheduling one hour, sometime in the next three days, to work on your goals.

When the scheduled time arrives, use your imagination for the first 15 minutes. Ask yourself, what do you want your body to look like?

Look through magazines and choose a body type that you want to work toward. Cut the picture out and save it for inspiration.

Stand naked in front of a mirror (preferably not in public) and look at each of your body parts. Honestly evaluate your thighs, legs, arms, shoulders, stomach and back. What needs the most work? What can you improve with each of them?

Now write everything down. These are the goals you want to achieve.

When deciding what you want to do, remember a couple of basics. If you're trying to lose weight, the average person shouldn't try to lose more than 2 pounds a week without medical supervision. If you want to put on more muscle, make sure to get clearance to workout from your doctor or medical personnel first.

Next, review your list. If you can accomplish any of the goals you wrote down in a week, that's not a goal; it's a to-do list. Write down things it'll take 3-12 months to accomplish.

When you're writing, don't use words like "I should" or "I'll try," but rather "I will." Putting it another way, if you give a flighty person your phone number and they say "I'll try to call," do they? I thought so.

Keep things positive, not negative. Also, avoid using vague terms such as "I want a ripped midsection." You need to be specific and write things like, "I will have a 32-inch waist" or "I will increase my biceps by 2 inches."

Once you've written down at least ten specific goals, prioritize them. List them in order of importance from 1 (most important) to 10 (least important). Then take that list and start fleshing it out.

Break down those individual goals into steps that need to be completed. For example: If one of your goals is to lose 20 pounds, you need to figure out how many calories you can take in each day, a way to track those calories and how many days a week you're going to exercise.

What you do next is perhaps the most important step of all. You need to put each of those steps on your calendar with the dates when you'll do each one. Going back to the goal of losing 20 pounds, you should write at the top of each day on your calendar the total number of calories you're allotted for that day. Schedule time to prepare and eat 4-6 small meals and block out the time you'll need for exercise.

The long-term goals are understandably harder to face because they can seem overwhelming. I've got this friend who has known for years he needs to drop at least 20 pounds to reduce his gut, but he's never written down how he's going to do it. Needless to say, he's still got his gut.

Is this you? But this same friend tells me how he cleans his house, which slowly creeps to an overwhelming sty of clutter. He'll block out a day, crank up his Avenue Q soundtrack and go room by room, throwing every piece of clutter into grocery bags - while singing. Then he puts everything away bag by bag. It's easier to face one bag at a time than the whole house at once.

To lose that 20-pound gut, he has to plan ahead - figure out how many calories he can take in each day, a way to track those calories and how many days a week he's going to exercise.

Then he needs to break down his goal into smaller steps. For each day in his calendar, he should write the calories he's allowed, when he's going to prepare and eat four to six small meals and when he's going to exercise.

Once a month, schedule 20 minutes to review your goals and reprioritize them as things change. If you reach your goals too easily, then make your new ones harder. If you fell short of achieving a goal, you might need to make the next one easier. Over time your goals will change. That's ok; it shows you're learning and growing.

Change can be disruptive, so you need to make sure the people around you are supportive. Explain to friends and loved ones that you don't want them to bring goodies, snacks or unhealthy things around. If you're in a relationship, ask your partner to participate with you in your fitness activities.

To stay motivated, write down the long-term benefits of achieving your fitness goals on a pocket-sized card. This is the list you need to pull out every time you want to cheat. Are you tempted by a burger and fries? Pull out that card and remind yourself that you're losing fat to have more energy, live longer and look better.

Every time you successfully accomplish a goal, reward yourself. Buy a new piece of clothing, go to a healthy dinner with friends or treat yourself to a massage. Just make sure your celebrations don't undo the achievements you've made.

The act of clearly defining your goals, breaking them down into manageable steps and committing the time for each of those steps on your schedule is the secret to making goals you can achieve. Now that you know the secret, when are you going to start?

For more goal-setting ideas, read our article titled, "How to Make New Years Resolutions that Work."

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CAUTION: Check with your doctor before
beginning any diet or exercise program.