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Finances & Money General

Guide to Setting Goals (and my own New Year’s Resolution)

In past years, I’ve half-heartedly made New Year’s resolutions, and never got much past the first week (or even the first day) with them. But this year is going to be different because I’ve found the secret to keeping New Year’s Resolutions!

Choose a Single Resolution

The mistake that most people make is resolving to do or stop doing too many things at once. Even making TWO resolutions for most people is too tough. So I decided to only make one resolution this year.

Obviously there are many things I want to change about myself and many things I want to accomplish, but I had to choose the one biggest thing that

1) I think I can accomplish

2) I’ve really been complaining about a lot

I could have tried to be more patient. Or I could try to pay off all our debt. Or I could try to increase my website readership or income. But all those things will have to wait until I get a handle on my true resolution.

Here’s the simple method I used to set my resolution:

Setting S.M.A.R.T Goals

Each letter in SMART stands for part of the method for setting goals. I didn’t come up with this, but it’s become the standard in both personal and professional goal-setting endeavors.

Specific

You can’t just say “I will lose weight”. My weight changes up to 5 pounds in a day (even more if I’ve exercised) between morning and night, so I could say I’ve met my resolution every day if I wanted! Your resolution needs to point to a specific goal. For instance, if you say you’ll “save enough for a big vacation”, you need to be specific about where you’re going for vacation so you know the specific amount you need to save. This means you’ll need to do some research into your goal to decide a place, duration and site-seeing route. Then you’ll be able to come up with a rough number (e.g. $4,000).

Measurable

You need to set a goal for which you can measure the progress. In the prior example of choosing a vacation, you have a number ($4,000) as a goal. Well how are you going to get to that goal? Just hope that on Dec 31 you’ll have all the money somehow? You need to set up mini-goals to track your progress. Each month, you need 1/12 of the goal amount. If you know some months bring in more income than others, then adjust your measurements accordingly.

Achievable

This step is HOW you’re going to accomplish your goal. To save $4,000 in a year for a vacation, try to set a goal of saving $334 per month or $154 every two weeks, or so on. Set up an automatic savings plan (easily done with an ING Direct saving account (get $25 for opening a new account here) so it’s automatically deducted from your account before you have a chance to spend it! Then, each month you’ll know exactly how much you’ve saved for your goal (Measurable).

Realistic

Want to be a millionaire? Great! How close are you? Oh, you have a negative net worth right now? Well, it’ll be hard to attain your goal unless you have a proven method for success (and buying lottery tickets doesn’t count). If you want to save $4,000 this year, but have no extra income each month (i.e. it all goes to bills), then how can you accomplish your goal? Perhaps you need to get a second job? Same goes for losing weight. If you weight 200lbs and want to lose 100lbs, perhaps that’s not the healthiest or safest goal?

Time-Bound

Getting back to the vacation example, maybe you want to travel to Ireland next summer, and need the money to book the trip by the end of this year. You have a time-bound goal of 1 year. You can parse out this timeline into smaller chunks to make the goal easier to attain. If you want to lose 20lbs in 3 months then you lose 1.66 lbs per week (1-2lbs per week is a healthy weight loss, unless you’re already at your realistic weight).

Set a Meaningful Goal

It also helps to have a goal that means something to you. Just saying you’ll increase your savings is fine, but why are you saving money? Are you worried about a layoff? Saving for a much-needed vacation? Need to go see your dying relative?

For me, I chose a problem that’s been plaguing me all my life. I’m fat. Granted, I only started to get fat when I started grade school, but by middle school and high school, I was probably the fattest kid in my grade. I went through a lot of verbal abuse, and it left its scars. I’m still overweight, but people don’t seem to notice it as much. When I tell them I’m 225lbs, they gasp in shock. People think I’m more like 200lbs or less.

Honestly, I do feel like a thin person in a fat suit sometimes. Heck, I even ran (and finished) a marathon 2 years ago. That’s 26.2 miles of physical abuse, but my fat body did it. And I want to do it again (in 2010), but I need to set some smaller goals first. And that gets me to my resolution…

My Resolution: Exercise Twice Weekly, 30 Minutes Each Time

While many people say “I’ll work out more” or “I’ll exercise every day” or “I’ll get into better shape”, I used the S.M.A.R.T. method to create a specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound goal for myself.

Specific – I’ll exercise twice weekly

Measurable – twice in a 7-day period, with at least 30 minutes each time.

Achievable – Here’s the big part. I know 3 times per week hasn’t worked for me in the past, so I’m trying 2 times instead. If I don’t do it during the weekday, I can catch up on the weekend.

Realistic – I’ve defined “exercise” as walking, running, strength training, or even Wii Fit (we got one May 2008). I chose walking as an activity because I’m a fast walker and it’s still a good workout. I can get 2 miles in 30 minutes.

Time-bound – 30 minutes isn’t too much to ask just twice in a 7-day period, is it? We’ll see.

People will tell me that I’m supposed to set goals with higher bars than just 2 days, especially when the recommendation is at least 3 days per week, but I have to go back to the achievable step. If a goal has proven unattainable in the past, I know I need to lower the bar.

But also keep in mind that I’m not limiting myself to 2x per week. That’s just the minimum exercise. I’d really like to exercise 3-4 times per week, but I’m only holding myself to twice per week.

How about you?

Now that the new year is past, how are you keeping up with your goals? Does this article make you rethink your goals? It’s never too late to adjust your goals! If you set the bar too high, or didn’t meet criteria like time-bound or realistic, then change your goal!

Don’t give up! Just because you failed on the first day or first week doesn’t mean all is lost. It’s not a one-time deal; the resolution is for the whole year, and maybe even your whole life. Don’t use failure as an excuse to give up. Use it as a learning experience to realign your goals to something more realistic and achievable FOR YOU!

About the author

Clever Dude

4 Comments

  • One focus at a time is a good idea, particularly if you’re bad at sticking to goals. However you may need to do something else too in order to change your mentality if losing weight is something you’ve failed at before.

    Do you have a friend you could phone every week? You simply tell him/her how many times you’ve worked out that week, and what you weigh. He/she does not respond or give judgement – just notes it down in a book, say.

    Weirdly, this public outing can really work.

    I’ve resolved to stop checking my stock portfolio every 2 hours. I resolve this every year, and usually go about a week before slipping into bad habits again! 🙂

  • About “R”…

    I read some reputable research recently (wish I could quote – probably Women’s Health or Self magazines) that people who set a lofty goal achieve more than those who set realistic goals. I would argue that people fall into two categories in this respect…

    My best friend likes to set ridiculous goals. She achieves a helluva lot, but rarely attains the full goal. You could say she’s a great argument for setting outrageous goals based on her at times incredible progress, but she really beats herself up over these “failures”, e.g. losing 17lbs instead of 20lbs. Make of that what you will.

    I like to set a Realistic goal and surpass it – that way I get to feel like an overachiever in a good way, and I find it very motivating. Ridiculous Goal Friend thinks that makes me kind of lame, but I see it this way: if I set a goal to lose 50 lbs in a year @ 1 lb per week and start falling behind in hitting those weekly targets, I’ll give up. And probably regain. If I set that goal for 20 lbs and don’t postpone starting, I’ll hit that even if life gets in the way (stress, vacation, illness, etc) for a few weeks here and there.

    I guess what I’m saying is, be conscious of how you personally respond to challenges, successes and failures.

  • I set my New Year’s Goal for exercising using this S.M.A.R.T. method and it works out great. I work 10-hour shifts, 4 days a week, and have three days off (Wednesday-Friday). It’s great because if I sometimes am too tired from work to go and work-out, then I just make it up during my W-F days that I’m off from work. Love the blog, very great ideas on finance and frugality!

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