When setting goals, wording is everything. A goal should sound positive. For example: “I have to try to exercise more because the doctor said otherwise I’ll drop from a heart attack” isn’t exactly the best way to phrase things.

For starters, using “try” immediately suggests the possibility of failure. “Exercise” is a somewhat vague goal, and doing it because someone else thinks you should forces the choice on you. The goal’s an admirable one, but the statement’s hardly a positive affirmation—it sounds more like a prison sentence!

Here’s a possible alternative: “I’m going to make time in my week to go swimming because I’ve always enjoyed it.” Much better! Now that there’s no “try” the statement makes it clear that this is what’s going to happen. The reason has been internalized—this is something to do because it’s enjoyable, not because it must be done.

Do, or do not. There is no try. — Yoda

Now let’s take the next step. I haul my flabby body off to the pool to swim some laps. I’m doing this to exercise, so I swim laps until I’m exhausted. The next day I can’t move—every muscle in my body is screaming from the shock of actually working. My body is on strike. Am I going to go again? I doubt it!

When setting goals it is important to be specific and realistic. Being specific allows you to evaluate your progress. You can examine the specific aspects of the goal you have set and determine if you have met the criteria. If you have only met part of your goal, that is still reason to celebrate and it may mean that your goal was too lofty. Set a specific time frame for your goal. If you haven't met your goal in the time specified you may have set the bar too high.

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Being specific when setting a goal will also help you subdivide your goal. For example, if your goal is to save for a luxury vacation it is easier to stay motivated if you have smaller steps within your larger goal. The first step might be to pack your lunch for one month rather than buying it and to put the money that you save into a savings account. Once you have achieved this first part of your overall goal, you can treat yourself to lunch out. While this may seem counterintuitive, spending when you should be saving, finding motivational techniques like this will help you stay on track.

In order to stay on course to achieving your goal it is important to set a realistic goal. If you choose a goal that is too large, or even impossible (no one can lose 50 pounds in a weekend), it is easy to get discouraged when you can't achieve that goal. Set lots of small goals that will help you achieve a larger goal. For example, losing 1 pound a week is realistic. If you maintain that goal, you will have lost 50 pounds in a year – and that is an impressive achievement.

It is also important to be realistic in achieving your goal. If you want to exercise 3 hours per week and you do it all in one day…well…you're not likely to maintain that schedule. But, one hour, three times a week, is much more realistic – and easy to attain. When it comes to approaches to goal setting, realistic and specific are the way to go to ensure success!

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