A wise person once said that goals are pins on the map to our future.

You’ve probably heard quite a lot about how to set and achieve goals, but you might still be asking why you’ve so far been unable to achieve them?

When it comes to achieving your goals, it can be helpful to focus on four fundamentals, as well as asking yourself one question that underpins them all: why do you want to make this change?

Let’s start with looking at the why.

Why do you want to change?

Understanding your reasons for wanting to make a change is so important in helping you set out goals in order to achieve it.

Taking a long, hard look deep within ourselves can be the hardest, but most important, part of goal setting. This is because when you ask yourself why you want to make a change, you align your thinking with a bigger picture of who you’d like to be, the best version of yourself you possibly can. Suddenly your goal has a much deeper meaning to you and offers a profound inspiration for seeing it to fruition.

Take, for example, you’d like to make a healthy lifestyle change that will improve your fitness. You know it’s going to be tough, your fitness isn’t where you’d like it to be, maybe that embarrasses you, you don’t see how you’ll ever succeed now when you haven’t been able to so far… You can almost feel yourself giving up before you’ve even started.

So let’s ask ourselves why: Why do I want to make this particular lifestyle change? Well, because it will have a positive impact on my life. It will enable me to spend more time being active with my children, who I’ve always wanted to be able to go to Sunday football with. It’ll give me the confidence to take part without worrying about being in pain or out of breath. It’ll give me more quality time with my family.

Understanding how important making a change is and what positive impact it will have will help you get through the tough days. It’ll give you the motivation to find solutions to problems that may pop up, which teaches us resilience and how to manage tension or pressure. It’ll allow us to feel successful and motivated, instead of out of control or unhappy.

The four fundamentals
1. Set SMART goals.

Set yourself reasonable goals to keep your motivation up, using the SMART mnemonic to help create meaningful goals for yourself. It stands for the following:

Specific: What is your goal? Make sure it is specific to you. Take for example, you would like to able to run 5k non-stop

Measurable: The goal needs to be measurable. Your measure is the distance, 5k. You could even add a time you wanted to complete the run in. So, you’d like to run or walk 5km in 40 minutes.

Attainable: Make sure you can reach your goal. Set yourself a realistic target. If you go too big too quickly, you might talk yourself out of things before you’ve started. Long term you may have visions of yourself crossing the finish line of the London Marathon but that is a very daunting challenge. Break it down in to manageable chunks. Set your targets on that 5k to start with and go from there.

Relevant: The goals need to personal to you. Could this be something you could continue with your family? Could you document the process in a blog or on your social media, so you can see how far you’ve come? Or tie it into something you love doing, like exploring countryside around your house or working towards a fundraising target.

Time scale: Ensure you give yourself enough time to reach your goal. Break it down into manageable chunks and build from there. Apps like the Couch to 5k are brilliant examples of easing your way in – the first week is eight lots of running for a minute and walking for 90 seconds, gradually increasing with each run. It also gives you good pointers on how to break down your training and how to progress it gradually.

Look at your goals and see how you can make them SMART goals. Instead of saying “I want to get fitter”, say “I’m going to walk outside with my partner for at least 30 minutes, five times a week, throughout February.”

2. Think positively

When goals are negative we feel less inclined to achieve them, because thinking about them makes us feel bad about ourselves. Long-term, chronic negativity can impact on our self esteem and make our dreams feel less worthy or achievable.

So try to change the language you use with regards to goal setting. Rather than “I want to be thinner”, which suggests you’re not great as you are, try instead “I’d like to feel healthier in myself.”

By adapting your language to make it more positive, each time you think about it, see it written down, or talk to someone about it, you will feel much more inspired and motivated, therefore much more likely to achieve it.

3.Write it down

There is huge power in the simple act of writing your goals down. Taking a step-by-step approach can your goal more clear in terms of the steps you need to achieve it and can avoid making you feel overwhelmed.

Write down how you’re going to get through each point, what you need to do, what obstacles you may face and how to get around them. Review and adapt these steps along the way. Things change or don’t always go to plan, and that’s okay. Avoid looking at missed checkpoints as failures, just look at them as the need to re-route your map. Cross it out (a very satisfying feeling) and move onto the next checkpoint.

You may also like to find someone you trust who can hold you to account. They know you well, so talk through your goals and checkpoints to see if they have any helpful suggestions, or just to act as a sounding board to talk your ideas through. Tell them your goal, all your fundamentals, your SMART objectives and the ‘why’ that underpins it all. Involving someone else increases motivation and compliance, as they can check in with your progress, maybe even joining you for some of your steps. Plus being held accountable by someone other than yourself may be just the push you need to achieve your goals.

4. Consistency

Regardless of how many times you experience what you may consider a setback or failure, keep going.

Michael Jordan once said the secret to his success was how many times he had failed: “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

In other words, you can’t expect to succeed without a few failures along the way. But the answer is to create a routine or schedule and stick to it, consistently practising.

Even if it feels like one step forward and two steps back, that is still progress.