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How to Reach Your Goals

Experts describe strategies for setting goals -- and making sure you achieve them.
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The Art of Saying 'No'

Another reason many people don't reach their goals is that they just can't say no -- to everyone else. "Many of us, especially women, put other things and people first," says Susan Newman, PhD, a social psychologist at Rutgers University and author of The Book of NO: 250 Ways to Say It-and Mean It and Stop People-Pleasing Forever. We're unable to refuse when asked for our time, our talent, our expertise, or merely our presence.

"Saying yes is a habit we're not even aware of," says Newman. "Think 'no' before you think 'yes' (not the other way around). By adding the word 'no' to your vocabulary, you open up vistas of time, not only to work toward a goal but also to think about how to reach it," Newman says. "In short, you put boundaries in place and establish priorities in the correct order [for you]."

If you haven't mastered the art of saying "no" and you think that's derailing your efforts to reach your goals, Newman suggests taking these steps:

  • Make a list of how many times a day you say 'yes.' "You'll be startled," says Newman.
  • Pay attention to how you parcel out your time. "For most of us, it just disappears. … Who's monopolizing the time you could otherwise spend on reaching your goals?"
  • Set priorities. Who has first dibs on you and your time?
  • Look at your limitations. When do you start to lose your stamina? "Don't keep pushing until you run out of steam and collapse altogether," Newman advises.
  • Let go of control. You don't have to do it all yourself. "If you're doing everything else, there's no time for you to get back to your goal."

Be Specific

There are two tricks to properly setting your goals, says University of Alabama at Birmingham clinical psychologist Joshua Klapow, PhD. Klapow is co-author of Stop Telling Me What-Tell Me How: The Simple Answer to Better Health.

First, turn goals into specific behaviors, says Klapow. "To say that you are going to exercise doesn't tell you which exercise to do, for how long and how frequently. If you don't know what to do, you are less likely to do the behavior. Be specific. Saying that you plan to walk five minutes a day -- and increase the time by one minute each week until you are walking 30 minutes per day -- is better than just saying that you plan to exercise."

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