Andy Reid believes Nottingham Forest must copy Midlands rivals Leicester City to secure promotion next season.
The Republic of Ireland midfielder, 31, has not given up hope on going up to the Premier League this term.
But with the Reds five points below the play-offs with four games left, he says the club must also plan ahead.
"Leicester came close at the end of last season and that disappointment galvanised them this season," he told BBC East Midlands Today.
"That's what we're going to be looking at. We've had a lot of bad luck with injuries this year and if we keep everyone fit at the start of next season, we feel we will be challenging.
"When the new owners came in they said there was going to be a plan over three years.
"Despite the recent run of form and some of the bits and pieces that have gone on around the club, there is still a heck of a lot of optimism."
Stuart Pearce was appointed as managerial successor to Billy Davies earlier this month but will not take up the role until 1 July.
Reid hopes to be involved after a lengthy spell on the sidelines with first calf and then hernia problems.
Reid said: "We have to get the fans to stick with us and to do that we need to perform out on the pitch which we haven't done as much of late, but we aim to start putting that right.
"We're not looking at the league table. We just need to concentrate on our own jobs and try to win our last four games."