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How to Get the Life You Want

Step 3: Set a date.

Every type of goal needs structure, says Fortgang. Otherwise, real life just washes over it like a tidal wave and sweeps it away. To build a solid foundation for this or any dream, construct a schedule: Decide how much time you'll devote to your hobby, whether it's an hour each night or twice a week for two hours, and block it off on a calendar—this "makes a promise" to that time and, by extension, to yourself.

Then, commit to that schedule for 90 days—that's just long enough to create a habit; face the challenges of making room for your dream in your busy life; and decide if you're going to keep at your goal for good, says Fortgang. "As you move along, don't judge the time you're using or try to measure whether it's productive," she adds. "Just get absorbed in the activity, and follow the joy as it develops."

Ask yourself: Are you ready to finally tackle the burden or bad habit that's been dragging you down?

Quit smoking or lose weight or stop biting your nails or be on time or...?

To truly commit to these more "ordinary" yearnings, you need to give them the same emotional investment and time as "bigger" dreams. Know, too, that tackling this type of goal may be especially difficult for you if you've tried—and failed—to achieve it in the past. Or perhaps it's daunting because you're not sure you're ready to do the hard work it requires. Either way, the longer you let yourself live with this albatross, the more your self-esteem suffers. To change all that:

Step 1: Make a vow.

Quit procrastinating on this dream by being honest with yourself: Draw a line down the center of a piece of paper to create two columns; label one side "Why Now" and one "Why Not." In the "Why Now" column, list the reasons why it's the right time to meet the challenge (for instance, if you want to lose weight, one reason to go for it might be that you found out a friend has prediabetes, which was a wake-up call for you). On the "Why Not" side, note why it's not a good time (it might be unrealistic to commit to daily workouts right before two busy weeks of business travel).

Now, weigh the two sides: If you're ready to commit to your goal, write a promise to yourself at the bottom of the page, and put it in a place where you'll see it often, like on your bathroom mirror. If you decide that now isn't the time for this goal, decide when to revisit it. Write that aspiration in big red letters on your calendar.

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