From a young age, we’re encouraged to dream big and follow those dreams, because anything is possible. It’s a great philosophy! Often times, though, it’s easy to be overwhelmed in the feeling that your dreams are so big that they are unattainable.

That doesn’t mean lowering your expectations for personal achievement is the way to go. Quite the opposite! When you dream big, you allow yourself to visualize or imagine the way you’ll feel when you finally achieve your biggest goals, which is key to maintaining the enthusiasm you need to make positive behavioral change.

Keeping constant reminders around your personal living spaces, like pictures of your dream house hanging on your wall or photographs of your ideal vacation spot on your desk, are great to use as reinforcement for why you work so hard on a daily basis to achieve your goals. They help you visualize your time spent on a beach with the sound of the waves washing onto the beach and the laughter that comes from your kids playing tag on a sunny day in your huge backyard.

If you are always imagining your dream life, though, you may be falling short of creating the daily habits needed to make real change in your life. It’s healthy to realize that in order to make long-term goals manageable, you need to set series of milestones and rewards in the short term.

In a Q&A with the Washington Post, Christine Whelan, public sociologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison said a secret to behavior change is to think small.

“Every time you can break something into a small step that you can accomplish, it boosts your sense of self efficacy. If you boost your self efficacy, you’re significantly more likely to accomplish your goals and change,” Whelan said.

Behavioral changes occur gradually, over time. Have you ever seen a friend after being apart for a long time and said, “Wow, you look great! Have you been working out?” That smile on your friend’s face is validation for weeks of exercising regularly and adhering to their short-term fitness goals.

Experts say it takes about 4 weeks to feel physically stronger and fitter from regular exercise and up to 6 weeks to see changes in your appearance. That is about the time it takes to make any positive habit stick. This makes the first month of behavioral change critical to forming that type of positive habit that leads to real change in your life.

Whether to shed a couple pounds, become faster or achieve any other type of goal fitness-related or not, it’s proven effective to monitor your progress daily to hold yourself accountable and later reflect on your results. These short-term behavioral goals may be as simple as going to the gym three times a week or as specific as running three miles in under 30 minutes four times in a week.

The more specific you can be in identifying your short-term goals, the more likely you are to stick to them. So, if your goal is to go to the gym this week, set out the days and times you plan to go to the gym at the start of the week. You’ll rest easier and wake up more refreshed knowing your day and week is planned out ahead of you.

Recently, research has shown a link between the usefulness your phones have on creating healthy behaviors. Studies show that programs like Caterpilly that send text messages, push notifications and other alerts sent from your mobile phone can actually help as reminders and reinforcement to follow-through on your short-term goals.

When setting short-term goals, what you’re actually doing is mapping a path to long-term success. Those dreams of owning your dream home and curling your feet in the sand will not seem so far fetched when the road ahead is clear!

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