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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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We all have goals. What are yours? To lose 20 pounds? Get in shape? Buy a new house? Make more money? Having a goal is the easy part. Reaching it? Well, that's something else entirely. If you're frustrated because you feel like you keep coming up short when it comes to realizing your dreams, maybe it's time to try a different approach.

When setting a goal, ask yourself first of all if your goals are realistic and if you are really ready to make the changes in your life necessary to reach those goals.

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"Most people don't take into consideration whether they're ready to do what it takes to achieve their goals," says Steven Rosenberg, PhD. Rosenberg is a behavior therapist, the team psychotherapist for the Philadelphia Flyers hockey team, and author of I Hope the Hell I WIN! Turning Hope into Reality...How Winners Win! If you're going through a stressful time at work, for example, this may not be the best time to start a weight loss program; maybe you'd do better to wait a few months and start on, say, your birthday.

Be realistic as well, says Rosenberg. You can't lose 40 pounds in two weeks, or even a month. Set an achievable objective, such as 1 to 2 pounds a week; by the end of the year, you will have lost the 40 pounds.

Be Committed

"Goals that get reached are those that are firm, well-defined, and to which the individual is truly and completely committed," says Susan Schachterle, director of the Denver-based Ahimsa Group, which provides consulting and coaching services to individuals and organizations worldwide. "Without that commitment, trying to reach goals is like grabbing Jell-O -- you think maybe you have it, but there's really nothing to hang on to."

Schachterle suggests that you check your commitment. Ask yourself why you want to achieve that particular goal. What will that do for you? Why is it important? What will your life be like when you have reached it? How will achieving your goal change things for you?

"If you're having trouble making a strong commitment," says Schachterle, "make sure it's the right goal and the right time for you."

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."
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