Everyone from elite athletes to top business executives knows it's important to have goals. After all, goals are what turn dreams into actionable, achievable steps.

Whether you set out to lose weight or you strive to complete a triathlon, defining your goal can boost your motivation--at least initially. But the reality is, most people lose motivation fast. And that lack of motivation prevents most goals from ever being achieved.

The Sad Reality About Goals

The statistics on goal attainment are pretty grim. And during this time of year, when people are trying to make their New Year's resolutions stick, it becomes apparent just how difficult it is to create lasting change.

Studies show that one in three people give up on their New Year's resolutions by the end of January. And only 46 percent of people continue their resolution past the six-month mark. Of course, it's not just New Year's resolutions that fail.

Most weight-loss goals aren't successful, no matter what time of year they're established. Depending on which study you read, somewhere between 65 and 95 percent of people who lose weight eventually gain it all back.

The statistics on financial goals aren't much brighter. Almost 29 percent of Americans don't have any retirement savings nor a traditional pension plan. And a whopping 59 percent of people report being very or moderately worried they won't have enough money for retirement.

Sadly, many goals of all types go unrealized every year. But the good news is, making one small change to the way you set goals could improve your chances of success.

Establish a Goal Range

Most goal-setting experts recommend establishing definitive goals. Rather than saying, "I want to lose weight," they advise setting a measurable goal like, "I want to lose 30 pounds."

And while quantitative goals can be helpful, a study published in the Journal of Consumer Research says picking a number goal might backfire. If you set out to lose 30 pounds, you may run out of steam before you reach that goal. And once the motivation starts to decline, your chance of success plummets.

If, however, you create a goal range, you'll increase your chances of victory. Declaring you want to lose 20 to 40 pounds could be more effective than setting out to lose 30 pounds.

Researchers found that when participants reached the low-end of their range, they believed their goal was attainable. They experienced a sense of accomplishment that fueled their motivation to keep going.

Then, when participants looked at the high-end of their goals, they felt challenged, which was an essential component to success. They knew their goal required hard work, but they felt confident in their ability to keep going. As a result, their chances of hitting their goals skyrocketed.

Creating a Range for Yourself

Establishing a goal range for yourself could be one of the simplest, yet most effective, ways to change your behavior. Whether your goal is to exercise three to five times per week, or you want to save $100 to $200 per month, establish a reasonable range.

When you hit the low-end of the range, challenge yourself to keep going. You'll likely find a little taste of success motivates you to get to the next level.

Published on: Jan 6, 2016
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.