"The reason most people never reach their goals is that they don't define them, or ever seriously consider them as believable or achievable. Winners can tell you where they are going, what they plan to do along the way, and who will be sharing the adventure with them."

-Denis Watley, author and speaker

Setting goals in general and creating the change necessary to achieve them is not easy. Yes, it is fairly simple to write a daily "to do" list and accomplish the majority of those small tasks. But, when it comes to achieving a breakthrough goal that can make a huge difference in your life, it's often a challenge. I'm speaking of goals like changing jobs or pursuing your passion. It could also be dealing with a physical abuse issue, a bullying problem, changing a negative habit, letting go of a damaging relationship or healing a present one. The list goes on.

The reason that reaching these larger goals is so challenging is that we, by our nature, are often over-analytical and keep ourselves stuck. We tend to create the illusion that we are actually accomplishing something when really we are procrastinating by worrying, fretting and overthinking our goal. And then there is -- fear. The primitive part of our brain tries to keep us trapped in our comfort zone by sticking to the status quo and making us blind to taking the actions necessary to achieve what we say we want. So, when change pushes us out of our comfort zone, we justify why something can't be done. Instead of seeing solutions, we see only problems. Add to that that a major change we want to make often affects someone else who is just as afraid of seeing us change as we are of changing. So, what to do?

I would like to present you with a solution that involves answering three powerful questions.

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The first question is designed to help you choose a "Stretch Goal" by prompting you to open your mind, expand your thinking and bypass the restrictions of your comfort zone.

Question No. 1: "If you could wave a magic wand and change one thing -- mentally, physically, spiritually, emotionally or socially -- which would help you live an exceptional life -- what would you change? Here are the "rules of the wand." You can't hurt anyone, take anything away from anyone else, nor can you change the impossible. For example, if you are 5-feet-2-inches tall, you cannot be 6-feet-2-inches tall. In other words, it must be realistic and yet expansive.

I have used this question with great success in a wide variety of areas including with individuals who want to get "unstuck", for teams that want to create a new product and for organizations that want to reinvent themselves. Get out a piece of paper or fire up your computer and ask yourself the question. You will be surprised at how your mind seeks an answer.

The second question will help you overcome the primitive proclivity of the human mind to see the negative before the positive and recognize the good before the bad. It is called "The Miracle Question" and is at the core of solutions-focused brief therapy or "solutions-focused therapy "for short. Solutions-focused therapy was invented in the late 1970's by the husband-and-and-wife team Steve de Shazer and Insoo Kim Berg and their colleagues at the Brief Family Therapy Center in Milwaukee. It has only one purpose -- to discover potential solutions.

When clients come in to the office for solutions-focused therapy, they are asked Question No. 2: "Suppose that you go to bed tonight and sleep well. Sometime, in the middle of the night, while you are sleeping, a miracle happens and all the troubles that brought you here are resolved. When you wake up in the morning, what's the first small sign you'd see that would make you think, `Well, something must have happened-the problem is gone!'?"

Let's tweak this question and use it as an adjunct to the "magic wand" question. "Suppose that you wave your magic wand and the change you wished for happened in the middle of the night while you were sleeping. What would be the first `small sign' that would make you think, `My magic wand goal has come true'?"

The value of this second question is immense. It not only shifts your mind so that you pay attention in general, it ramps up your awareness to notice the positive. The question also helps you to identify the tangible signs that the miracle is already taking place. Perhaps -- what you wished for has already happened and you haven't noticed it. Or, what if this miracle question made you aware of the actions you "need" to take to make your goal a reality? Depending on your goal, the action to do more of might be: "I would be more pleasant to my partner when she came home from work." "I would sit down with a book instead of having a drink," "I would take actions to control what I can control instead of worrying about what I can't control." "I would spend more time expressing my gratitude for what I have, instead of focusing on what I don't have." Remember, it is a `small sign' that makes you aware of "what you can do more of -- now" to make the magic wand wish come true.

Question No. 3 is called the "Exception Question": "When was the last time you saw a little bit of the miracle, even just for a short time."

You mold this break-through question for your individual goal. If your goal was to be more productive: "When was the last time you felt even a little productive and under what circumstances?" Or, for relationships: "When was the last time and under what circumstances did your son really communicate with you?" "When was the last time and under what circumstances did you feel intimate with your husband?" Or, for drug abuse: "When was the last time and under what circumstances did you stop using drugs for even a short period of time?" For confidence: "When was the last time and under what circumstances did you feel confident?"

Do you see the brilliance of this third question? It not only gets you to see that you are capable of solving your own problems -- it offers you the proof that you have already solved the problem -- even though in a limited way. Then you can do more of what you have done in the past by changing the context or circumstances to match the success. In other words, do more of what works.

I ask my clients to replay their own past "success scene" by having them recall in detail what was happening then, how they were behaving, who they were with and how they were communicating. It is like running a movie of success which, in turn, changes their brain and opens up possibilities.

The next time you feel you want to get "unstuck," change your behavior, and set and achieve your "stretch goals", use these 3 questions, and you will live an exceptional life.

James Mapes is a speaker, personal excellence coach and author of Quantum Leap Thinking: An Owner's Guide to the Mind. You can contact James at 203 762-1200 or email him at jim@jamesmapes.com Visit his web site at www.jamesmapes.com.