You’ve decided to become a better project manager/crossword puzzler/paintball player. You start off strong, working diligently on your goal. Then reality hits, life gets hectic and your momentum fades.

Regardless of what you want to improve, you can learn from the experiences of experts who help people attain their fitness goals. They understand how difficult it can be to keep commitments, especially when other priorities encroach and motivation sags. Advice from Davey Wavey (could that be his real name?), a fitness coach and blogger, includes working with a personal trainer, scheduling monthly check-ins, recruiting a workout buddy and taking a “before” picture. How can these tips apply to your non-fitness goals?

Get a coach or mentor. A one-on-one coaching relationship provides structure, focus and an external perspective, among other benefits. If you don’t have the ability to hire a coach, partner with someone who will mentor you. While subject matter expertise is wonderful, one of the most beneficial skills a mentor brings is the ability to ask great probing questions. Discuss your goals, ground rules and mutual expectations up front. Don’t forget to include how this person can help you overcome roadblocks and keep this development plan a priority. Remember that even if you have a coach or mentor, you still drive the process and must do the work that will create lasting change.

Assess progress monthly. For some goals, you may need more frequent intervals, but don’t let too much time pass without taking stock of what you’ve done (or not done). For your progress assessment to be useful, you will need to set your plan up right. Focus on one thing, make sure you can measure it and find an easy way to track your progress. Set up a reward schedule so that there are positive consequences for achieving your interim goals. Conversely, you could create a negative incentive, if that creates more motivation.

Partner with those around you. Enlist coworkers or others in a position to observe you. Ask them to give you feedback on your progress. Make sure that they know that you want the good, the bad and the ugly – no censoring the truth. Ask for the feedback to be as explicit and immediate as possible, so that you can take action to improve right away.

Remember where you were. It can be easy to give up because you don’t think you’re progressing fast enough. As you begin to lay out your improvement plan, document the current state. Note how well, how often or with what complexity you do the behavior now. Periodically review this to remind yourself of your real improvement and boost your morale.

The first step in creating a plan for improvement? Make sure that the focus you choose comes with a compelling “why.” If you don’t feel an imperative to change, no amount of external structure will maintain motivation over time. Choose your focus wisely and be conscious of the choices you make each day – to continue to progress or to allow distractions to derail you. As George Eliot said, “The largest principle of growth lies in human choice.”

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