It’s that time again, when the year is drawing to a close and we begin to think about the better versions of our lives that we want for the future. And so we make new year’s resolutions as people have done since ancient times. These days we resolve to lose weight, to eat better and exercise more, to save money, to get out of debt, to drink less or to quit smoking, and just maybe to actually be a more loving person. But how resolved are we if these resolutions are infamous for being broken?
In a recent article, Money suggests that people making financial resolutions fared better than with other types of resolutions and that’s a start. But instead of just making resolutions, what if we made goals backed up by a plan?
The Difference Between New Year’s Resolutions and Goals
Resolutions are things we are determined to do. But goals are “the result or achievement toward which effort is directed”. A resolution is like a misty destination in a far-off place. How do we find it? And how do we know when we’ve arrived? Goals are clear destinations we are going make an effort to reach. We’re going to make a roadmap and follow it step by step. And good goals are measurable so we will know when we get there.
Creating Reachable Goals
The best way to insure your resolutions don’t fall by the wayside in a few months or weeks (or days?) is to create reachable goals. Let’s say your resolution is to lose weight, something you are determined to do. A reasonable target might be to lose 50 lbs. in a year, which is a specific measurable achievement toward which you can direct your effort. But a year is a long time away. So what if you made a more easily reachable goal of losing 8 lbs. in the next two months? Then you can make another goal for the following two months. Meanwhile, you can assess how you’re doing, decide whether your goal is really reachable, adjust your strategy, and gain a sense of accomplishment to help keep you going.
Making a Plan To Get There
Having a specific, reachable goal will do you no good unless you have a plan of how to get there. Your effort needs direction. If we look at the goal to lose 8 lbs. in the next two months, there are many ways to achieve that. You could stop eating sugary snacks. You could start eating healthier, less processed meals. You could exercise more. You could do all of these and more. So it’s time to get specific with your plan and decide that for the first week, you’ll replace one sugary snack each day with a healthy alternative. And then for the second week, you’ll continue with that strategy and replace three meals out with home-cooked, healthier alternatives. Make specific strategies, with specific timelines, and write them down. Look back at them and check how you’re doing.
When we make our goals and plans, it can be very helpful to include your partner or your family as they can help support your efforts, or even join you in making progress on those goals. Even if you’re flying solo, just telling a friend, or publishing your goal on social media, will help to keep you accountable and give you some encouragement on the way.
Another way to help motivate yourself to stay on course is to stack your goals. You can add financial motivations to most “non-financial” goals. How much money would you save in future healthcare costs by losing weight, exercising more, or quitting smoking? Drinking or smoking less also improves your immediate finances as you save money on cigarettes and alcohol. We just need to be careful that in pursuing one goal, we don’t cost ourselves another. For example, starting out with an annual membership to a fancy gym before you’re sure of your commitment to exercise won’t help your savings when you can exercise at home for free with loads of workouts available on the internet.
Setbacks are practically inevitable. At some point, you’ll make likely make a misstep or three on your way to your goal. Don’t let that derail you. Don’t decide that the day/week/month is ruined and let yourself backslide. Take time to figure out what led to your setback so that you can adjust your strategies if needed and then get right back on your path.
When You Reach Your Goal
When you reach a goal, the first thing you should do is celebrate. Not in a way that’s going to wreck the progress you just made, but even small rewards can help keep your momentum going. Review how you got there and see what worked and what didn’t. And then most important of all, make your next goal, even if that goal is simply to maintain your existing progress.
There’s Nothing Magical About January 1st
Many people like to make and talk about new year’s resolutions, but there’s nothing magical about January 1st. You don’t have to wait until new year’s, or Monday, or tomorrow morning to start working on your plan. I joined a gym a few days before Thanksgiving. Sounds a bit backwards, committing to exercise more just before one of the biggest eating days of the year. But after exercising outside all summer and fall, I wanted to exercise indoors when the weather here got cold, plus I got a good deal on my month-to-month membership at a basic gym. Now I’m working on my goal through the holiday season and I’ll be ahead of the game when January rolls around. While sooner is better, there’s no reason you can’t start your plan on January 15th or whenever works for you. If you miss January 1st, you don’t have to wait for January 2016 to start making things better.
What’s your track record with new year’s resolutions? Do you have goals you’re working on now or plan to start? What’s your best tip for sticking to a plan?