The first step in reaching your goal is to define it. A well-defined goal is a real target and you will be able to aim for it. On the other hand, if you don’t define your goal well, you won’t be able to plan for it, work towards it, or even know when you’ve gotten there.

It is essential that your goal reflect your own deepest desires. Don’t set the goal that you think you should set. Set the goal that expresses your real ambitions. If it takes you some time to determine what your real ambitions are, spend that time before you start to work on your goal.

Your goal should be challenging but realistic. If you are one of the many people whose goal is to lose weight, set an optimistic but realistic weight goal with a deadline that can be attained with work and dedication. If your goal is too ambitious, you will be discouraged from the start.

When you set your goal, decide on a deadline for it, too. A deadline will make a goal real. It takes it from the realm of “maybe someday” and puts in in the realm of “starting now.” Like the goal itself, your deadline should be optimistic but realistic. You want to encourage yourself to act with intention, but you don’t want to ambush yourself by making something harder than it has to be.

Once you have your deadline, set up a plan. Decide when, how and where you will be working on a goal. Schedule times during the week when you will work on your goal. If your goal is to lose weight and get in shape, for example, schedule times for the gym. And don’t forget to schedule time to plan your menus, shop and prepare your food for the week.

If you have an ambitious goal, you may want to set up intermediate goals, too. The dieter could set a goal of losing six to eight pounds a month, for example. That monthly goal should have a deadline and a plan. And when you reach each intermediate goal, reward yourself.

When you start working on a goal, your plan should be optimistic but realistic. Accept that there will be setbacks along the way but decide in advance not to let them stop you.

Remember that you are setting goals for your own benefit, not for your detriment. So every time that you choose working on your goal over another, easier activity, think of it as a gift to yourself. If you stick to your diet instead of joining in the office donut party, congratulate yourself.

If you stay home to study for your master’s degree instead of going out with friends, let that boost your motivation. If you use your paycheck to pay off your credit card bills instead of buying shoes, you have given yourself a gift. Don’t feel deprived over those decisions. Congratulate yourself for them.

And always keep in mind that you have the power to achieve your goals and make your dreams come true. By systematically choosing, planning, setting deadlines and valuing your goals, you will succeed.