THE BRAZEN CAREERIST- Take five: Ways to meet your big goals

The reason we don't meet our goals is because the goals suck. But if you have a really important goal, here's how to ensure you reach it:

1. Think About Money.

People who get paid to reach their goals are better at reaching them. This is why we typically can meet deadlines for work but not for ourselves. Movie stars stay thin while the rest of us have a harder time losing weight because their livelihood is often based on losing weight. If you can persuade yourself that your livelihood depends on meeting your goal, you'll probably succeed.

People who meet one goal can meet more goals because self-discipline is a muscle that gets stronger and stronger, and most of our career goals depend on self-discipline. So we can tell ourselves that if we meet one goal, we'll have more successful careers and thereby make a lot more money.

Caveat: don't set a goal about money. It has no intrinsic value beyond basic food and shelter. Set goals for things that truly will change your life. The money will come from living that life.

2. State Your Goals in a Way That Encourages Sticking to Them.

You can't structure a change if you're telling yourself only what not to do. If your goal is to stop smoking, the goal is actually to replace that behavior with something else. You can't change behavior if you don't know what to change it to. Don't make your goal so broad that you can't tell if you're getting there.

3. Write the Goal Down Every Day.

Experts say writing your goal down each day makes you more committed, and it works, because changing behavior takes intense focus, and writing down goals reminds our brain. Scientists know that children's brains can easily change, but adults become more hard-wired, and changing their behavior requires much more intense focus.

Writing down goals takes about a minute a day. But it's a good litmus test. If you can't commit to thinking about the goal regularly, you probably won't have the focus to change.

4. Commit to Three Weeks.

The hardest part of changing behavior is that your brain is addicted to the bad behavior. When you think about the gym, your brain remembers when you didn't go to and did work instead, and your brain gets happy from having the extra time to work. 

If you force yourself to change your behavior for three weeks, your brain will start to develop more dopamine in response to the behavior you're trying to change to, and your brain will start to release dopamine when it thinks about going to the gym instead of when it thinks about ditching the gym.

During those three weeks, you need to know the night before how you're going to meet your goal the next day. When I was starting out as a writer, I knew I needed to write an hour every day, but it was hard. I used to put it off and put it off and then it wouldn't happen– until I realized that I had to schedule every single day around that hour.

McDonald's tip: you also have to organize your days around avoiding the dopamine triggers of the behavior you're trying to avoid. If you don't want to eat fries, drive three blocks out of your way to avoid McDonald's. Research shows that for some people, just seeing the colors red and yellow makes their brain release dopamine in anticipation of McDonald's. Your issue might not be fries, but most of us have our own version of the red and yellow trigger.

5. Make Some New Friends.

People who don't change their behavior tend to justify it by saying that it's socially acceptable. This is why, for instance, if you have fat friends, you're likely to be fat. So travel in circles where the behavior you want to change is not accepted. And find like-minded people. They will help you to be the person you want to be.