As we are well into 2014 by now, I’m on a mission to use my fresh set of 365 to its fullest.

I spent last December setting new goals, and this week I head to a three-day intensive with my business mentor to plan out my entire year. We’ll make a month-by-month outline of what new business and confidence training programs I’ll offer, when I’ll launch them, and when I’ll be able to relax and revel in some downtime.

Planning vacations directly into my calendar delights me because it ensures they’ll actually happen. Before I knew how to plan, I’d work like crazy, stress out, and be forced to take time off. Not only was it not satisfying but I found myself needing more and more time to feel rejuvenated.

I was tired of being tired and decided to get smart and start planning things out better. Having a plan to follow has entirely changed my business and my life.

Gone are days of “I want to run my programs AND serve my clients AND climb the mountain AND go to Mexico AND write my blog AND travel with my family!”

I’ve replaced the demands of my eight-year-old-Ishita brain with:

  • “I want everything I touch in 2014 to feel good and be excellent.”
  • “I want to be present with my clients and my family.”
  • “How can I make my goals happen while still traveling and feeling sane?
  • “Excellent progress, you small, lovely person. Keep up the smart thinking.” (The eight-year-old Ishita is still with me, so I always try to give her Kudos.)

No more floor-to-ceiling Goal Scrolls. Instead I have a simple, steady plan to make the most important stuff happen while feeling good about it all. This small change in thinking has revolutionized my world.

Last year (because I planned), I restructured my business, brought on a great new team, worked with a bevy of clients, and spoke on some humbling stages. Of course, there was lots of hard work too, but I realized:

Planning makes things possible, not easy. @ishitagupta (Click to Tweet!)

Planning in advance proved to be an elegant, systematic way to make steady progress throughout 2013. And now I want to help make that a reality for you, too.

I’ll tell you what I told my client (let’s call him Dave) who wanted to enjoy his new year but felt heavy under the pressure of all the changes he wanted to make and no clue how to make them. He was worried he wouldn’t be able to keep his word to himself. We talked about real change—the kind that stays with you over time no matter how wired for laziness you may be. I shared my framework around planning and what worked for me to help him rework his goals and get started on the important things in his life.

2014 can be the year you get what you want. To not just wish for things, but to actually make progress.

1. Create a plan and clearly mark downtime for vacations and self-care.

In order to take my time off seriously and work hard towards it, I had to physically write it in my calendar in BIG LETTERS. I sent emails to family and friends saying when I’d be free to travel. I didn’t plan big launches or programs during those months. In order for my vacation to feel real, it had to look real.

How well I serve my message and my clients is directly impacted by how I feel. No one wants to work with someone who’s stressed out. No one wants to hire a haggard looking person to speak about confidence on stage. It’s only when I make my health and lifestyle a priority that I serve at 100%. (Clients also love to know you have a full life and make enjoyment a priority because it allows them permission to prioritize it as well.)

2. Lay out realistic goals and the stepping-stones to reaching them.

You want to lose fifteen pounds in three months? Great. How will you do it? What gym classes will you put into your calendar? Zumba on a Monday morning. Really? What events will you cut out so you don’t eat unnecessarily? You need a plan for how you’ll deal with eye rolling when you decline the third night in a row. How, specifically, will you to make it to the gym each day? If you’re cooking, did you budget in meal prep time? This stuff takes time and lots of foresight.

Don’t forget to plan for triggers and pitfalls, because you know you’ll encounter them.

Leaving space (and forgiveness) for slow transitions means you’re serious about your goal.

You know change doesn’t happen overnight and that fast results usually don’t last. You have to be willing to go through the process and know there will be temptations along the way. Anticipate them and build hacks, backups, and escape routes into your plan. If I know I’m going to have a tough conversation with someone, I actually tell myself it’s okay to have thirty minutes to feel bad, sad, cry, whatever, after the talk.

If you’re serious about your goal, don’t judge what you need to get there.

3. Take tiny, wobbly, baby steps towards action.

I made so much more progress in one year by doing a few small things consistently than I did in thirty years of overthinking and massive to-do lists. I saw that my tendency to want things perfect meant spending most of my time pining for results or feeling overwhelmed by my own inaction.

Then I took some advice to take “small, imperfect action.” I stopped worrying about what other people might think if I didn’t have it all together all the time. I realized that parts of my business were growing rapidly and they didn’t have to look completely polished.

Life is messy. Relationships are messy. Business is always messy—no matter how successful you are. The “perfect plan” does not exist. Stuff gets in the way all the time, but the sooner you embrace the clutter, the sooner you can get to taking action. All that matters is that you take the first step. If you never start, you’ll end up feeling like a beginner every single time.

4. Aim for clarity; act on impulse.

Too many choices (of fitness classes, notebooks, business models, take-out menus, whatever) won’t help. When presented with a wide array of options, try to just pick the one that feels right in that moment and go with it.

Be flexible and leave some room for errors and tweaking, but trust your gut and practice using your intuition. Feel the urge to run outside after work? Go. Do it. Act on as many inspired impulses (both personal and professional) as you can, for they are few and far between. Train yourself to naturally fall into small, messy action. You’ll accomplish a lot more this year if you start experimenting with it.

5. Know your larger WHY. 

You’ve heard this before, but it bears repeating 100 times: What’s the bigger picture? Make real connections between your goals and the greater good you are trying to create. The thrill of the chase is great, but when you’re in it for the long haul (as I hope you are), you need to keep your eye on the big wins if you’re going to make it to the end.

For me, the burning desire to help people find the confidence within and learn the skills to achieve personal and professional success is the ultimate motivation. If I thought only about my clients all day, everyday, I’d probably feel tired. But when I think about inspiring confidence in people, teaching real business skills, empowering people so they can solve their problems, and helping people achieve their goals, it gives me all the strength to keep going.

6. Prioritize your goals and focus on what matters NOW without guilt, shame, or regret.

I’ve been hell bent on climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro for years. I thought 2012 was going to be the year. Then I thought 2013 was going to be the year. Neither were, but that didn’t stop me from publicly announcing it and even writing about it. But I still realized that I never felt bad for not following through. I inadvertently stumbled upon my very own truth bomb: I didn’t want to climb that mountain as badly as I thought I did.

Why? Because I didn’t want my life to revolve around that goal at that time! I couldn’t be bothered with physical training, budgeting $6,000.00 for travel, planning for two weeks off, etc. I had other priorities: to grow my business, to stabilize my income stream, to help my mom with her business, to train my team, to refine my services, to speak on stage, to see my siblings more, to clear out the junk from my apartment, to go somewhere warm. I had to work through my top priority stuff before I could realistically pick a time (Fall 2015…for real this time) to pack up and ship off to Mt. Kilimanjaro.

Ask yourself, without judgment or delusion: What do I really want to pursue this year?

Remember that real change comes from your willingness to sacrifice everything for the end result. If you can reconcile with the fact that you will have to go through times that suck and you STILL want it, that’s when you commit to climbing the mountain.

It may take you a couple years to discern what you think you want from what you really want, but take it. Be kind to yourself and don’t be afraid to move things around in your plan. (And there’s nothing wrong with putting your foot in your mouth a few times on the path of discovering your true desires. Take it from me: truth bombs and goals don’t come easy.)

Real change doesn’t come from grand proclamations, public declarations, or statements of profound change. It doesn’t come because someone did it, and it worked for them so it might work for you. It doesn’t come from doing the same thing over and over and expecting to feel different. It doesn’t even come from strategy, though that helps. And though we wish it did, it doesn’t come from a gym membership or a gold-star worthy vision board. These things work, but you can’t count on them.

What you can count on is this: If you know you want something in your life, you have to be willing enough to get it.

You must create and execute a plan with maximum enthusiasm. You have to be willing to take a thousand tiny, messy steps before you take one confident, firm-footed step. And once you connect to a larger purpose behind your goal and you’re willing to go through the suck phase, consider yourself no longer goal-challenged but achievement-ready.

So, what’s your plan for 2014? What are you really going to do to make your goals happen this year…for real this time? Tell me when a plan has helped you get the results you’ve wanted. I want to hear from you. This is the time when sharing your important goals and putting in the effort to make them happen will pay off.

I love hearing from you in the comments below.

Ishita Gupta is the publisher of fear.less magazine. She worked at The Domino Project, runs the Potential Project, and helps people overcome fear and design their best lives. She also consults for authors and businesses on marketing and publishing. You can also follow Ishita on Facebook or Twitter.

*Image courtesy of USAF7Summits.