From the January 2001 issue of Entrepreneur

There are many ways to define a goal, and dozens of synonyms for the word-target, purpose, objective, destination, intent and aim, to name a few. Goals give us direction and focus. They turn impossible undertakings into achievable tasks. They help us keep our vision clear and our footing steady. A goal accomplished isn't just another step toward a destination-it's a building block in the foundation of success.

Successful salespeople usually reach for many goals at once. That's why it's important to write down your goals and keep them in plain sight. If you lose sight of them, they disappear from your mind, and you begin to lose track of where you're going and how you're going to get there.

One way to help you stay focused on the challenges you've set for yourself is to keep the acronym GOALS in mind:

G:Gather Information. This is an ongoing activity in sales. Not only do you gather information in a general sense (about your industry, marketplace, product or service) to keep yourself apprised of the big picture, you also focus on information specific to one customer or one goal.

O:Organize. After you've gathered as much information as you can, sift through the data and prioritize it. Successful people know nothing is ever achieved in one giant leap. It's the tiny steps you take, one by one, that help you reach your destination. You also need to prioritize your list of goals. There may be times when you realize goals are no longer valid, whether because of changes in the marketplace, changes in your business or changes in what you want. Constantly clarify your goals to make sure you're on the right track. Organization applies to your files and materials, as well as your overall action plan.

A:Act. Some people get so caught up in writing down their goals, they never take the steps to achieve them. No matter how distant your goals appear, the only way to get there is to take the first step. The best salespeople never stop making calls, following up or sending letters and articles of interest. Find ways to maintain a constant connection with your customers; let them know you're always thinking of new ways to serve them.

L:Look To The Past And Look To The Future. Keep the past in mind so you can see your mistakes and learn from them, but also look toward the future. For example, I was replanting a tree recently and wanted to put it in a certain spot so it would block an opening. The landscaper moved the tree so it was between two other trees, no longer blocking the opening. He said, "You're thinking right now; you're not thinking in the future." In other words, I needed to leave room for the trees to grow together so they would naturally close the open space. If I'd planted the tree in the first spot, there wouldn't have been enough room for it to grow.

S:Set New Goals. You gather strength through struggle, not when you grab the prize. We're at our best when we're climbing, stretching and challenging ourselves. Don't settle for what you know you can do-reach for the next star. Success can make you complacent, so the best way to keep going and remain successful is to always set new goals and start new journeys.

Many people are afraid to write goals down, because that makes the commitment real. But there's no better way to go about it. Perhaps you'll need to change the way you gather information, change the prospects you call on or change the times you work. Change is difficult; it creates obstacles that must be overcome. But the best rewards in life often come when change happens, when we've opened new pathways to reach our goals.