The simplest way to accomplish big goals is to accomplish small ones. Huh? I'm sure that might puzzle you at first, but it makes sense. Follow me here.

The biggest problem with setting big, vague goals for yourself is that it's just plain difficult to actually do anything in particular to accomplish them. Lots of people start the New Year by saying they'll lose weight. They might even name a specific target weight for themselves or say they'll lose 50 lbs this year or something like that. Maybe they'll just say something like, "I'll eat better" or "I'll work out more this year." The problem with all those things is that there's nothing specific to hold a person accountable as the year goes on. The likely outcome is that you'll find yourself doing the exact same things all through the year, and you'll be making the exact same resolutions the next New Years Day.

There's absolutely nothing wrong with having big, even vague goals. In fact, your first step should be stating those and writing them down. Keep this list short. I recommend at most five big goals at any one particular time. If you list too many, you'll be overwhelmed. Some people even recommend tackling a single big goal every year, which isn't a bad plan. You don't have to do this at the beginning of the year. Do it right now! Let's say your list looks like this:

1. Get up earlier.

2. Lose weight.

3. Spend less.

Now comes the really important part. Once you have your list, you need to break each down into specific tasks you can do each day, week and/or month. This is the most important step in accomplishing big goals other than actually doing the tasks. What this does for you is provide daily motivation and give you something to chart your progress each and every day, week and month. Your specific tasks should consist of both "positive" and "negative" tasks. Positive tasks simply state positive goals that will help you progress toward your overall goal. Negative tasks aim at eliminating behavior that can stand in the way of accomplishing the overall goal. Let's look at our sample goals and see how we might break them down into specific tasks that we can tackle.

Get up earlier. Let's say you're currently getting up at 7, but you'd like to start getting up at 5 so you'll have time to exercise, read, eat breakfast, write an article or whatever in the mornings. Let's say you currently go to bed at 11, and you still need 8 hours of sleep. Maybe you watch 2 hours of television and spend 1 hour absent-mindedly browsing the web most nights. Your specific daily tasks might look like this:

1.1 Get up at 5. (positive)
1.2 Go to bed at 9. (positive)
1.3 Cut out 1 hour of television per night, leaving only one hour for TV. (negative and so on)
1.4 No absent-minded web browsing at night.
1.5 Use your cell phone as your alarm clock and use the most annoying ring tone you can find for your alarm.
1.6 Move cell phone so that you must get up and walk to shut it off every morning.
1.7 No snooze button use allowed.

Lose weight. Let's say you don't have a specific target weight or weight loss to aim for. You just want to live a more healthy lifestyle, which you know will lead to a loss in weight. Your goals might look like this:

2.1 Walk briskly for 30 minutes every morning.
2.2 Do 15 minutes of light resistance training every morning (push-ups, crunches, light weights).
2.3 Drink water for lunch rather than soda 4 out of 5 workdays.
2.4 Never "up-size" a fast-food menu item this year.
2.5 No dessert with any meal with one exception (continue reading to see this exception).

Spend less. These might be your sub-goals:

3.1 Only eat out for lunch once per week rather than every day. Take something healthy from home the other days (save money and lose weight!).
3.2 Reduce your cable or satellite TV plan to a cheaper plan, since you'll be watching less television (results in a monthly savings).
3.3 Drink tap water (not bottled!) for lunch rather than soda.
3.4 Use the library or rather than buying a single book this year.
3.5 Cook dinner at least 3 times per week to avoid eating out.

These are just examples. Your situation is no doubt very different, but you can see how this can work. Think carefully and creatively about your major goals and the sub-goals that will help you accomplish them. Type up your major goals and sub-goals in an outline format. Print this out and hang it somewhere that you'll see it every day. Review the list every week and see how you're doing.

You'll likely fail on occasion, and that's okay, especially early in your efforts. But what you want to avoid is getting in the habit of failing. In fact, what this system amounts to is helping you form habits that lead to success! One good way to help avoid failure habits is to provide for some sort of punishment for yourself if you fail one week. Let's say that despite your efforts, you manage to sleep late two days one week. You want to avoid this in the future, but you fear you'll continue failing again and again. So, to punish yourself, you decide to not watch the big ball game you've been looking forward to or maybe you give away a nice outfit that you really like. Whatever it is, make it something that you won't easily forget. Something important, but something that you're willing to sacrifice to help accomplish the bigger goal.

If that sounds a little too masochistic for you, consider finding someone who will hold you accountable. Tell a friend about your goals. Give him/her a copy of your goals and sub-goals and tell them that you need help accomplishing them. Tell them that you'd like for them to question you at the end of every week about each specific sub-goal. You can do this by email even, but the point is for you to be accountable to another person. Someone else will know when you fail and when you succeed. That can be a powerful motivator.

You should also provide yourself with positive motivation. When you have a successful month, you should reward yourself. Maybe go see a movie or enjoy a favorite dessert. You don't want this to be just a grudge match with yourself. There should be positive rewards in addition to negative punishments, and these should occur often, not just at the ends and beginnings of years.

You may also have even bigger goals or desires that led you to formulate your big goals. Maybe you want to spend less so you can save up for a trip around the world. Maybe you want to lose weight so you'll be in good enough shape for a special backpacking trip or maybe for your wedding. Maybe you want to have a regimine of rising early so that you'll be able to use the mornings to finish a book you've been working on. If you have some overarching goal or wish like that, you need to keep it dangling in front of your face all year. If it's a trip you want to be able to afford, print some beautiful travel photos to hang near your goal list. If it's a dress you want to fit into, hang that dress near your goals. Find some way to keep the ultimate prize(s) in front of you. That will be a huge motivator. Make sure you know each and every day WHY you want to do all this!

The biggest point you should take from this article is that the way to accomplish big goals is to break them down into bite-size chunks that you can do each and every day or week so that you can see that you're working and progressing toward that big goal. Remember, water carves stone one drip at a time. Don't count on big goals to accomplish themselves or just happen because you want them to. Be proactive and creative and take small steps toward your dreams!

by NDKennedy