Most of us have heard that setting goals improves our chances of achievement. But how do you set goals, and how do you actually stick to them to completion?

One excellent way to set goals is to use the SMART system. Use this acronym to determine whether you're going about the process the right way, so you'll get results.

S = Specific

The more specific a goal is, the better. If a goal is vague, it will be hard to focus on it. For example, say "I will lose 15 pounds" rather than "I will lose weight."

M = Measurable

There should be some way to determine when you've accomplished your goal.

A = Attainable

Make goals that are attainable by you. For example, there's no point in setting a goal to grow 3 inches if you are an adult - or even if you are a kid - since it's something you don't have control over.

R = Reasonable

Ask yourself if the goal is reasonable. There's no reasonable way you can lose 15 pounds by tomorrow, or play in the NBA if you are a 50 year-old woman.

T = Time dependent

Goals should have a time element. "I will lose 15 pounds" is specific but has no date of completion to shoot for. "I will lose 15 pounds by July 20" is better since it has that time element involved.

You should also be specific about how you will accomplish your goal

The more detailed you can be the easier it will be for you to picture yourself doing it. "I will lose 15 pounds by July 20, by exercising four times a week and eating less than 2000 calories per day" is one example. (You could make the exercise and eating elements separate goals.)

Studies show that writing down a goal improves your chance of success. In fact, one study by psychology professor Dr. Gail Matthews found that the act of writing down a goal was good, but writing down specific actions to take to achieve it was even better. An additional benefit was found in reporting progress to a friend.

Spend some time visualizing yourself having achieved your goal. The more you do this, the more your subconscious will grow to believe it's possible. If you can, find a picture that represents your goal and put it somewhere you'll see often.

Apply the SMART system to your goals, write them down, hang up a picture, and find a goals buddy. Perhaps you can be accountable to each other. This way you can both be on your way to improving yourself, step by step.

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