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How to Set Your Goals and Reach Them

The secret to making your dreams come true lies in commitment.
By Colleen Oakley
WebMD Feature

Want to be a successful musician? Or a novelist? Or maybe you just want to fit into your high school jeans? Everyone has dreams, big or small -- but not everyone makes them come true.

Even among people who explicitly stated their goals, only 46% considered themselves successful 6 months later, a study in the Journal of Clinical Psychology found. And those who just had a dream they wanted to pursue but didn't resolve to do anything? The number of successful people dwindled to 4%.

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Most goals are hard to achieve -- that's why they're goals -- but why are more than 50% of us dropping the ball on our dreams?

People tend to think goal-reaching is about willpower and motivation, but it's not, says Heidi Reeder, PhD, author of Commit to Win: How to Harness the Four Elements of Commitment to Reach Your Goals.

"There are many goals that require a much longer vision," Reeder says. "Willpower can help me go running on this particular day, but what about 4 months later when I'm still training for that marathon race? The secret to reaching your goals is commitment."

How to Commit to Commitment

Here are three tips to help you cultivate that commitment -- and dedicate yourself to achieving your dream.

Break down your goal into smaller pieces. In our we-want-it-now culture, we often expect to see results right away, but change takes time, Reeder says. To stick to your efforts, celebrate the progress, not just the final outcome. Trying to save $10,000 for a down payment on a house? Shoot for $500 a month, and then reward yourself for meeting your mini-goal.

Remove small barriers. "Surprisingly, it is often the little, fixable things that get in our way," Reeder says. Is your gym too far away to get to every day? Sign up at a closer one. Does your boss always bring donuts into the office? Avoid the break room. Instead of making excuses, just fix them.

Stay focused. If your goal is a lasting marriage, don't allow yourself to linger on thoughts of your sexy new co-worker, Reeder says. If your goal is to finish project A, don't start fantasizing about the excitement of project B or C. "Your attention matters," she says, "so consistently focus it on your commitment."

Keep Dreaming

Are your goals realistic and achievable? Ask yourself these questions to find out, Reeder says.

Why do I want this?

Is your goal something you truly desire, or are you pursuing it for some other reason? For example, people who wanted to lose weight for personal reasons rather than pressures -- such as to please others -- were more successful at sticking to their goals, a recent study found. That applies to all goals, Reeder says. "If we don't personally value the idea, we're less likely to achieve it."

What's my larger goal?

Let's say you want to be a successful musician, but you attach a specific condition -- such as you have to have 1 million likes on YouTube. "That may be unrealistic, but the larger goal, to be a successful musician, is not," she says. "If you are firm in your commitment, but flexible in exactly what it looks like or how you get there, your chances for success abundantly increase."

Find more articles, browse back issues, and read the current issue of "WebMD Magazine." 

Reviewed on June 05, 2014

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