4 Ways To Accomplish and Sustain Our Goals

“We are the creative force of our life, and through our own decisions rather than our conditions, if we carefully learn to do certain things, we can accomplish those goals.” -Stephen Covey

As an undergrad, choosing a major was a daunting task. Like many 18-22 year olds, I felt as if I was choosing my life’s path with a stroke of a pen. When I first signed a major in Psychology, I felt overwhelmed by the amount of school ahead of me. Four years of undergrad, which at the time felt like forever, followed by another 3-6 years of graduate school!? Oof! On top of that, the tuition cost needed made my head spin. I remember my parents saying “take it one day at a time, and before you know it, you’ll be there”.

Well, of course, my parents were right. Nearing the end of my graduate program, the 7 years since signing my major flew by. What was once a monolith of a goal spanning into the unknown future, day by day, turned into reality. There were stresses, failures, essays, graduate applications, crummy jobs, irate clients, and so on. What got me through all of it was a strong group of supporters. Friends, teachers and family who helped me solidify my goals by creating small, manageable steps and calming my anxieties. 

The following are six steps that I’ve learned over the years and that I still use to this day with my clients and in my personal life. Hopefully, you will find them as helpful as I have.

Specific is Terrific

When we set out to accomplish a goal, we usually start out vague. “I want a better life.” “I want to be happy or healthy or have a better job.” While starting with a big picture can be helpful, creating specific, measurable steps will help our goals become more attainable. Goals should be S.M.A.R.T: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-limited. Following this process provides a clearer vision of our end result and allow us to track progress along the way. 

A good template looks something like this:

Goal: I want to be less stressed at the end of each day by 25% May 2014
Step 1: Go to bed at 10am each night
Step 2: Replace coffee with tea 2 out of 5 days a week
Step 3: Set aside one hour each evening to read and write
Step 4: Meditate for 5 minutes each morning before work
Step 5: Organize and sort mail and email each evening after work…etc.

By doing this, you’ve provided yourself objectives that can be measured, are simple, specific, easy to accomplish and provide a designated time each day to accomplish them. With this, you also have a checklist available to mark after completing each step (more on that later).

Share and Pair

Making major life changes can be met with resistance which can cause anxiety. We may be concerned how friends will react to our decision to spend less money, meaning we don’t go out as often. Others may interpret change as dissatisfaction with them and become defensive. At the same time, we want to share our life with others, including our dreams and desires.

Sharing your rational with friends and family will help demystify the process and help avoid defensiveness. While you may be open to change at this point, others may not and project their own dissatisfaction onto you. Being patient and modest while articulating your case. If you don’t believe in the possibility of change, no one else will.

Also, finding like minded individuals, whether loved ones or through internet communities, will help motivate and encourage. I use the app Everest to track my goals. Doing so provides encouragement from a community of individuals looking for change as well. Seek out blogs, groups, seminars, and community events relevant to your goal. A strong support system is essential for initiating and maintaining positive change.

Keep Tabs

Using our checklist, we can monitor progress daily. Setting simple goals that can be accomplished each day will help our long term goals stay fresh. For example, each day I list one thing I am grateful for before I get in or out of bed. This helps me start and/or finish my day with joy rather than worry. Finding one habit that can be practiced daily will make the bigger goals seem less daunting. At the end of each week, take 5-10 minutes to look over what you’ve accomplished throughout the week.

For example, if we’re trying to relieve stress, jot down if how you feel each Sunday night before bed. Can you tell a difference in your mood? Do you feel better rested? If so, great! If not, try upping the intensity of your steps to account for habit tolerance. This is still a positive step, it means change has taken place and what you once found difficult is now commonplace!


When checking our accomplishment each week, it’s important to be gentle with ourselves. The one thing that can ruin our progress is a case of the “screw-its”. If we miss one day or week of a specific step, it’s alright. We’re human, life is complex and does not always work with our schedule. The simpler the steps are, the easier it will be to get back into the groove. This happens often when trying to lose weight. We eat one donut or a whole pizza and we feel like a failure.

Habits are hard to change and a lifestyle change is simply a collection of new habits. Give yourself a break when you mess up. Excuses do not help either. We admit we’ve goofed and move on. There are countless examples of individuals who have accomplished great things only after failing miserably dozens of times. I’m talking Steve Jobs and Thomas Edison here. Learning from our mistakes and forgiving ourselves is essential for growth.

Positive Reinforcement

My brother recently lost 30 pounds in a short period of time by cutting carbs from his diet and exercising. He maintained this for several months and managed to get back on the horse after falling off a few times. What kept him going was having one free day each week to consume carbs. Pizza, pretzels, fries, whatever. It’s important to reward ourselves for our accomplishments. Consider, the reward doesn’t have to be the object we’re avoiding (splurging one day a week is probably not effective for everyone) but rather a treat to keep us on track.

If you’ve given up watching television or social media for a month, go see a movie with close friends. This reinforces your goal by maintaining a social life aside from social media while enjoying entertainment. When we create goals we are trying to increase the quality of our lives, not make ourselves suffer. Replacing harmful habits with beneficial and enjoyable ones makes it seem less like we’re withholding from ourselves and more like we’ve gained something. It’s important not to create a forbidden fruit. Instead, explore new ways of adding joy to our days.


Life is lived from moment to moment, though we often become lost in our future. However, while chasing our goals, we should remember to stop and breathe. Because what’s the use of making plans for tomorrow if we cannot enjoy today?

Photo by Jeroen