“We all have dreams. But in order to make dreams come into reality, it takes an awful lot of determination, dedication, self-discipline, and effort.”     ~ Jesse Owens ~ 

With a New Year rapidly approaching, many people are making New Year’s resolutions. It is estimated that more than 40% of Americans make them. Yet the number who actually reach their goals is dismally low. According to the University of Scranton, around 8% of people achieve the goals they set out to accomplish. My own observations bear this out.  For the last 13 years I have managed to keep a dedicated workout schedule of attending at least 3 one hour aqua size classes per week. Every year right after New Year’s the numbers in the classes seem to double.  This lasts for approximately two to three weeks when the numbers start to dwindle, gradually tapering off until we are close to the same people that we ended with in the previous year.  As Jessie Owens so eloquently states, we need self-discipline to make our dreams become reality.  Ask any successful person and they will quickly tell you that without a good amount of self-discipline, they would not have accomplished what they did. 

Here are 7 ideas to consider before committing to a goal: 

Break Down Your Large Goal into Smaller Achievable Steps 

Motivational gurus all advise us to have huge goals that will force us to grow into the person capable of achieving them. While this is an optimistic concept, it can quickly overwhelm us unless we can break it down into smaller steps.  By unpacking our major goal into smaller steps that we can actually see progress in and achieve, we will then gain momentum and confidence which will propel us further along the path to our overall objectives. When I started my aqua size classes I did not intend to continue consistently for 13 years. My goal was to do it for two weeks to see how it would feel. It became easier and eventually became part of my routine that I look forward to. 

Make Your Goals Measurable

 Many people set goals that are vague and difficult to define. An example is to lose weight.   To be realistic goals need to be measurable.  In order to be a real goal they need to define how much weight and by what time they intend to lose that weight.  When we set vague and undefined goals we rob ourselves of the opportunity to feel good about ourselves when we succeed in achieving them. It also gives us an easy out when we don’t.

 Look for Side Rewards on the Journey

 Reaching a goal will be easier if we find a way to add an element of fun or adventure into it. For me swimming lengths became boring very quickly.  When I started to do aqua size, I began to meet people that I would chat with while working out and spend time with after in the steam room. This helped me look forward to my next session and kept me motivated.  Look for pleasant side features of reaching your goal that will support the challenge of committing more pleasant. 

Set Yourself Up For Success 

When you commit to a goal, commit all the way. Book the time off and protect that time like you would any other time that is important to you.  Get enough rest and nutrition so that you have the physical and mental energy to focus on the goal.  Move things around on your schedule so that the task takes top priority and isn’t pushed aside if something more urgent or pressing comes up.  Don’t share your visions or dreams with those who you think will be unsupportive.  Ask those you are close to and support you to keep you accountable. 

 Start With Where You Are

 If you have trouble with self-discipline don’t attempt to turn things around and become highly disciplined overnight.  It simply won’t happen and you will end up becoming overwhelmed, frustrated and reverting back to your old ways.  Pick something small that you are able to do and work on it until you have it mastered, and then move on to something a little more difficult.

 Set Up Your Day the Night Before and Stick To It 

Before going to bed think of following your plan the next day and imagine how good it will feel the next night when you will have completed what you set out to do.  During the day there will be distractions and our mind may try to trick us into taking the easy way out.  When this happens the only thing we can do is force ourselves through it.  Tackle the most difficult parts of your goal first when you have the most energy, and save the easiest components until the end. 

Reward Yourself along the Way 

The further away that a reward is from our achievements, the more difficult it will be to focus. Most people have difficulty focusing on a large reward that is tied to a high and difficult goal as the reward is distant and our urge to give in to taking the easy way out is immediate.  That is why we need to celebrate small increment in our successes along the way. For example, whenever I complete an aqua size workout I treat myself to a specialty coffee or a piece of cheesecake that I normally would not allow myself.


  • Harvey Deutschendorf is an emotional intelligence expert, internationally published author and speaker.  To take the EI Quiz go to theotherkindofsmart.com.  His book THE OTHER KIND OF SMART, Simple Ways to Boost Your Emotional Intelligence for Greater Personal Effectiveness and Success has been published in 4 languages. Harvey writes for FAST COMPANY and has a monthly column with HRPROFESSIONALS MAGAZINE. You can follow him on Twitter @theeiguy.