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By The Muse
February 19, 2015

This post is in partnership with The Muse. The article below was originally published on The Muse.

This year, instead of just setting goals, I resolved to meet more of them, and I eagerly went on a quest to narrow down the best tips.

Achieving your goals isn’t an exact science. However, there are certain tricks that can greatly increase your likelihood of success. The three tricks I’ve discovered—focusing on keystone habits, pinpointing deeper motivation for change, and using technology to analyze and celebrate progress—can help you transform vague career and personal resolutions into actionable habits. Here’s how.

1. Set Keystone Habits

The first mistake people make, especially at the beginning of the year, is trying to achieve too many goals all at once. The second mistake is expecting immediate progress. It’s pretty unrealistic to think you’ll start eating better, working out, and getting eight hours of sleep—overnight!

A better approach is to identify and build keystone habits, an idea outlined in Charles Duhigg’s book The Power of Habit. As an article on A Life of Productivity explains, Keystone habits, “create a chain reaction; changing and rearranging your other habits as you integrate the habit into your life.” They have three characteristics: They “give you numerous small senses of victory,” “serve as the soil from which other habits grow,” and “give you energy and confidence to do more.”

If you want to be healthier, for example, one good keystone habit might be waking up earlier. It’s a pretty easy change, so you’ll start each day with a small victory. Also, with more time for yourself each morning, you’re more likely to reach your other goals—like cooking a healthy breakfast or getting to the gym. Finally, this change is energizing, because it will empower you to make better choices in other areas of work and play.

Looking for a new keystone habit? I highly recommend beginning and ending each day with meditation. Whether you’d like to run a marathon or get a promotion—meditation carves a focused time each day to mentally prepare for your morning run or engage in elevated thinking about your work.

2. Discover Your True Motivation

Napoleon Hill, author of Think And Grow Rich, writes that, “the starting point of all achievement is desire. Keep this constantly in mind. Weak desire brings weak results, just as a small fire makes a small amount of heat.” Behind every goal lies a deeper reason that is motivating your desire for change or achievement. Whether your goal is financial freedom or moving to the C-suite, knowing the deeper reason is vital to reaching your desired result.

Unfortunately, these greater reasons for career or personal change often get lost amid the daily noise of emails, events, and immediate deliverables. Without them, it’s easy to become discouraged. Even if you’re steadily maintaining your new habits, what will happen you face challenges or a plateau?

Say you’re looking to change fields, and you’ve diligently set aside time every Sunday for job-hunting. But, after a month, you still haven’t secured an interview. Unless you can hold onto the deeper reason why you’re searching for a new job—perhaps you want to do work that you’re passionate about—you may consider giving up.

In The Power of Habit, Duhigg explains that there is a significant chance of relapse (even after you’ve successfully replaced old habits) when you’re under pressure. So, in times of increased stress or challenge, do the following: Create a vision board that includes pictures and words that illustrate exact goals and feelings. Write down specific and detailed reasons for each new goal on a piece of paper, and place it where you can clearly see it each day. Make these visual sources of empowerment immediately accessible, and openly share them with friends, family, or like-minded peers.

3. Use Apps for Accountability

The success of any viable corporation is measured through daily accountability, quantifiable progress, and recognition of smaller—as well as larger—milestones. Likewise, your year-long goals should be broken down into measurable pieces, during which time you hold yourself accountable and celebrate achievements.

There are many user-friendly apps to track progress toward personal and professional goals, using real-time data. For fitness, Seven challenges even the busiest person to do just seven minutes of high-intensity workouts each day for seven months—using no more than a chair, a wall, and your own body weight. This app guides you through the workouts with illustrations, timers, and spoken instructions while tracking your progress on graphs and calendars. Charlie App makes meeting prep painless by syncing with your Google calendar and doing automated research on your new contact. The app combs the internet and sends you a one-pager on your contact’s social profiles, bios, interests, and as well as their tweets and common connections. And Wunderlist lists daily priorities, sets reminders, and categorizes tasks.

At the end of each month, use the aggregate information to study your progression and highlight any areas needing attention. Then, make the journey more meaningful by celebrating growth, small or large. Spotlight mid-year achievements with a special trip or treat. Send thank you gifts or take friends who’ve been there for you out to dinner. Balancing the discipline and professionalism of a business mindset with gratitude and self-love creates a motivating environment for growth.

Every new goal is an opportunity to grow, personally or professionally. Use these effective and integrated tips to track progress and achieve your goals.

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