The #1 Secret of Successful Weight Loss

Before you do anything, you must do thisBefore you do anything, you must do thisTake a moment to check in with yourself right now. How are you feeling lately? What's good in your life right now, and what would you like to change?

The questions seem simple enough, but they're actually the keys to improving your life-whether you'd like to lose 20 pounds, enjoy more family time, or give up a bad habit. Getting specific about your goals is the best way to put power behind your intentions and bring your dreams closer to reality.

"An intention is a goal, an aim, or a purpose," says Prevention's fitness expert Chris Freytag, creator of the Prevention 28-Day Challenge. "When we lack intention, we tend to go through our days on autopilot. Often, the day ends with you feeling as though you haven't accomplished anything truly meaningful. Setting an intention helps you take your dreams and turn them into goals by giving them deadlines, and then work toward them with action."

Follow these steps to set an intention that will transform your life.

1. Focus Your Intention

Of everything you'd like to change, pick just one area of your life that you want to improve. Maybe you want more joy in your life and less stress. Or maybe you want to develop the courage to believe in yourself or forge a new career path. Perhaps you simply want to improve your health or see a lower number on the scale. Then write it down.

2. Identify Your Deepest Desires
You might have had clear goals before-lose 10 pounds, organize your home, quit smoking-but haven't been able to follow through. Why not? It could be that you didn't tap into what your intention was really all about. Say you want to get in shape. The first reason that comes to mind might be looking good this summer. But is that really enough to get you into the gym at 6 a.m. every morning? Probably not. So find a deeper meaning. Ask yourself what really matters to you, with honesty and open-minded curiosity. Do you want to have more energy and strength so that you can enjoy time with your children and grandkids? Thinking of your loved ones will have you lacing up your sneakers instead of hitting snooze.

3. Set A Small Intention Each Day
An intention works best as both a long-term and short-term plan. "I like to set a daily intention in my head each morning, but I also keep long-term intentions on paper," Freytag says. For example, if your intention is to lose 20 pounds, your daily intention could be "today I'm going to walk for 20 minutes." Click here to sign up for the free 28-Day Challenge newsletters, which include daily motivations and tips from Freytag.

4. Find Allies
Whatever your intention is, consider magnifying it through the power of a group. If you're working with addiction or codependency, try a 12-step program. If you're an aspiring writer, try joining a writer's group. Freytag has seen people have incredible success with their weight loss goals when they take part in group challenges. "The most successful group I ever started was a monthlong challenge with about 500 women that I ran through a Facebook group," she says. "Not only did many of them lose weight, but they had more energy and improved self-confidence." That's why Prevention partnered with Freytag for the 28-Day Challenge. To sign up for daily tips from Freytag, download a 28-day meal plan, and receive support from other challenge participants through the Challenge Loop app-all completely for free-check out the 28-Day Challenge website.

5. Engage Your Imagination
It's a catalyst for manifesting intention. Let's say that you've had a tiff with a friend or family member and you want to repair it. Mental practice can make the process a lot easier by giving your mind the message that reconciliation has already taken place. Then, when the real moment for forgiveness comes, you can enter it from your best, most relaxed, and authentic self. For example, you can build confidence in public speaking or performing by relaxing your body and then rehearsing a successful performance in your mind. If your intention is to work out every day, then at night, think of waking up, eating your healthy breakfast, putting on your sneakers, and going outside to walk. (Try one of these 14 Walking Workouts That Burn Fat and Boost Energy.)

6. Do Nothing for 3 Minutes
Set aside a few minutes each day to meditate. It will help calm your mind and boost productivity, helping you stay focused on your month's intention. A 2010 study in the journal Emotion showed that mindfulness-a type of meditation that requires you to sit quietly for several minutes and focus on physical sensations-was highly effective in improving people's working memory, the short-term memory needed for managing info, controlling emotions, and solving problems. The result: You'll feel more centered and less stressed and have more energy to create a balanced, joyful life you'll love. Click here for find out The Meditation Style That's Right For Your Personality.

By The Editors of Prevention
Research and writing by Jenna Bergen, Joan Borysenko, and Amy Rushlow

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