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Take That First, or Next, Step Toward Success

Learn to use the right perspectives to stay on the path to your goals.

Big goals can be exciting and energizing to contemplate…at first. Then they can be daunting—draining you of the enthusiasm to move forward. However, if you stumble upon a goal that seems exciting and worthy, don’t let it become a mere fantasy. Instead, choose to turn it into a reality.

Tackle your goal by approaching it from two perspectives: the long view and the short view.

The Long View

Remind yourself of why you want to pursue this goal. Consider how it fits your interests, values, and the life you want to lead. Reflecting on the value of attaining your goal can help you to commit—and recommit—to it.

Visualize the path. Do the best you can to identify the steps you need to take to achieve your goal. For example, you might decide to enroll in an introductory class—or attain an advanced degree—in your chosen area. Or, if you are not certain about pursuing a particular career path, you might decide to learn more about it, such as by finding and interviewing people already engaged in it.

Next return your gaze to your current position and your next step in the path.

The Short View:

Break down your short-term goal into achievable objectives. Small steps are always easier to think about, and so to act on, than large ones. For instance, if you tend to see the darker side of life and want to become more optimistic, this can feel unachievable. However, you might be able to list 1-3 positives about your day in a journal each evening. As this gets easier with practice, you find that you notice more positives as you move through your days. You might also choose to share your positive perspective about one topic with one person during one conversation. When you achieve success, you can continue to practice this with more people and more topics. Eventually you will feel and think more positively without as much effort. Notice that setting these smaller goals is more achievable than promising to be positive from this moment forward.

Be a good friend to yourself. Whenever people set and commit to achieving goals, they are bound to run into some obstacles. The key to being resilient and persistent is to support yourself effectively through these times. You can do this by praising yourself for taking on the goal and empathizing with your own struggles. Too many people use setbacks, mistakes, and failures as a reason to attack themselves, as if they were an enemy. Choose not to do this. Instead, be as encouraging and compassionate as you would be to a good friend, such as by saying something like, “Everyone makes mistakes; it’s only human. What’s most important is that you try again. Remember the Japanese adage, fall down seven times, get up eight.”

For ultimate success, remember that you want to do what feels right and makes you happy in the long-term (whatever that means for you). To accomplish this, you will need to alternate between the long and short views, depending on your needs in the moment. Feeling lost? Reflect on your long view to remind yourself of the reasons for what you are doing. Feeling discouraged or overwhelmed? Return your focus to the short view. Focus on your current situation or short-term goal, and counsel yourself through it.

Remember that even as you vacillate between the long and short views, every hard-won goal is accomplished one step at a time!

Leslie Becker-Phelps, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice and is on the medical staff at Somerset Medical Center in Somerville, NJ. She also writes a blog for WebMD (The Art of Relationships) and is the relationship expert on WebMD’s Relationships and Coping Community.

Dr. Becker-Phelps is also the author of Insecure in Love.

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Making Change blog posts are for general educational purposes only. They may or may not be relevant for your particular situation; and they should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional assistance.

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