Commitment is the first step toward achieving any aspiration. But quite often, you can set out to accomplish something with great enthusiasm, only to quickly find yourself losing steam and abandoning the project.

It happens to all of us at one point or another. The intention is pure, but the execution can be exhausting without a clear direction. Frustration sets in. Disappointment whittles away at your resolve. Giving up starts to look promising.

You have to know what you are trying to accomplish in order to accomplish it, but getting from here to there isn’t always a straightforward journey. How can you stay on track?

Enter goal setting!

Goal setting can be beneficial because it illuminates the path and keeps the finish line in focus. Goals can pave the road to change by helping you home in on what needs to get achieved as you progress toward your objective, while filtering out what does not need to take up brain space.

Why goal setting is important

Goal setting is a fantastic way to hold yourself accountable. For example, when you’re attempting to establish a healthier lifestyle, you may set a goal to incorporate two-and-a-half hours of physical activity into your week. You then know you are trying to hit a specified amount of physical activity during a specified time period. You have a target to aim at. You are not simply running/walking/biking/etc. haphazardly each week when opportunity presents itself. You have a context. Setting a goal gives you the ability to see where you are and how you’re going to get where you want to be.

In addition, goal setting helps with momentum and self-efficacy. Hitting those milestones week after week will have positive effects on your psyche. Meeting your goals empowers you to set new goals and complete them. Suddenly, anything becomes achievable. Progress becomes reasonable and plausible.

What is the purpose of an action plan?

Goal setting is particularly effective with action planning. Action planning lays the step-by-step foundation for success. If the goal is the destination, the action plan is your map.

Creating an action plan sorts out the logistics — the how, when and where— for meeting your goal. It creates a blueprint, making goals easier to reach.

In the example above, where the goal was to partake in two-and-a-half hours of physical activity, the action plan could consist of walking 30 minutes in the evening, five times a week. The action plan helps with the specifics of meeting the goal. With an action plan in place, you know you have to walk those 30 minutes five separate times within a seven-day window. Without an action plan, it is very easy to just say “I am going for a walk” when it’s convenient but never actually hit the goal amount consistently. The action plan puts the process into motion by outlining progress that can be monitored and managed in attainable blocks.

Action planning is effective. In a randomized clinical trial, participants who incorporated action planning into changing their lifestyles were more successful in keeping-up the new behaviors and sticking with the changes they had made nine months after they started. Having that blueprint makes it easier to hit goals, and ultimately easier to keep them going. When the steps are laid out, it’s hard to get lost. And when those steps are easy to follow, it’s easier to stay the course.

How to create an action plan

There are lots of ways to create an action plan. The best method is the one that you can keep long-term. That is not to say you must stick with only one method. Test out a few different plans to see what works best for you. You can experiment using a phone app, pen and paper tracking, spreadsheets, a whiteboard — whatever works best for you. There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to action planning or goal setting.

The important thing is to set up a goal and a plan and follow through. The plan should be specific, realistic, and attainable in order to make sure the goal is met. This does not mean you cannot (or should not) reach for the stars. It just means that larger goals may need to be broken down into a series of mini-goals. Almost any goal is achievable — with the right plan.