Maybe it’s the intrusive crowding at my gym come January, or the incessant hype around unrealistic resolutions paired with lack of expectation management and vision, or maybe, I’ve grown cynical in my old age ::wink:: Either way, I am not a fan of New Year’s resolutions and, truthfully, I can’t remember the last time I made one. Don’t get me wrong – I love goals and lifestyle challenges but these should be predicated on a deep yearning for growth and change brought on by self-reflection, not because the clock strikes midnight on December 31st.
Now, I don’t want to knock those of you who actually tackle your New Year’s resolutions; cheers to you, 8%! That’s right, only 8% of people actually succeed in reaching their New Year’s resolutions. Bravo. But personally, I do not find January 1st, >>insert year<< to be a good motivator for goal success or habit forming and it clearly doesn’t work for more than 90% of the population. Motivation needs to come from within when you are not only emotionally ready to tackle your goals but have also put in the research and planning it takes to achieve them. Above all, growth and self-improvement is an ever-evolving, year-round process. Why put off January 1st what you can start next month, next Monday, or even today?
But What About Your 30-Day Challenges?
Yes, I have a whole page, 30-Day Challenges, dedicated to goals or challenges to encourage active participation and mindfulness in life, possibly opening you up to new habits and lifestyle modifications you might like to adopt permanently. Starting something different each month gives you exposure to new challenges without trying everything at once, inevitably overwhelming yourself and setting you up for failure. 30 days is generally enough time to know whether or not you like the challenge, enough time for modifications to the challenge where you see fit and, in some situations, enough time to form a habit. They coincide with each month to make it easy for others to follow along and, out of convenience, (because habit-forming needs to have some convenience), it keeps us on schedule.
Ironically (and intentionally), I did not post a 30-day challenge for January. With an international move, new job prospect and upcoming travel I knew finding a worth-while challenge that I could realistically tackle was not in the cards. I was not emotionally or physically equipped to deal with one more thing on my plate. Sometimes, having the foresight and humbleness to recognize this is just as important as deciding to challenge yourself. Know when to step back to focus on life’s essentials and when to step up for a new challenge.
So What’s Your Beef With Resolutions?
Well, to begin – they’re vague. They generally consist of: “I want to be better about my financials”, “I want to lose weight”, or “I want to be a better friend”. Resolutions don’t offer any concrete plan and therefore value. Intentions are good, but the fact is – their just not S.M.A.R.T. goals (Specific. Measurable. Attainable. Relevant.) or well-defined challenges. When we don’t have a vision for what we’re trying to accomplish it’s difficult to stay focused and we often find it easier to make excuses for our short-comings.
What’s The Difference Between S.M.A.R.T. Goals and Challenges?
The way I see it, challenges are the practice and a goal is the championship. It’s the daily five minute sketches before the masterpiece. The training wheels before the mountain bike. The pixels to the entire picture. Challenges can help you achieve your goal directly by creating milestones or indirectly by helping you with habit-building, accountability, and mindfulness when it comes to your successes.
I look at challenges as a quick way to jump start a small modification in my life. It usually involves little resource investment or planning and allows me to explore new habits that improve my overall self. Sometimes, the task can be achieved the very first time you try it and the real challenge is from the duration of which you can do it. For example: I challenge myself to drink 64 ounces of water every day for 30 days. Pretty straight-forward. It can technically be achieved the first day but the challenge comes from doing it every day for a month long. Hopefully, it builds a habit of drinking more water, becoming conscious of your hydration and overall health.
Goals are a bigger investment. They require more resources either financially, consciously, or overall more prep-work. They tend to be long-term, impactful changes that you’d like to see in yourself. More specifically, S.M.A.R.T. goals are Specific. Measurable. Attainable. Relevant. Let’s look at the “I want to be better about my financials” example as it pertains to a S.M.A.R.T goal. As I mentioned before, this is rather vague. How do you want to be better about financials? And by when? Will you spend less? Or Save more? How will you save more? What is your current financial status or net worth? How much debt do you have? What will you do with the money you saved? Too many open ended questions. Here’s how S.M.A.R.T. goal setting can reel it in and clearly define your goal(s).
- Specific. Start by answering your W-questions.
WHO: I (Liz) want to be better about my financials
WHAT: (Be specific.) I want to save more money. (A little more…) I want to save $3,000.
WHERE: I want to save $3,000 in my savings account. (Great, it’s helpful if it’s a separate account from your checking so you’re not tempted to use it unnecessarily.)
WHEN: I want to save $3,000 in my savings account in six months. (It’s awesome if you can put a specific date to that timeline). I want to save $3,000 in my savings account by June 15th, 2020.
WHY: (Probably the most important step.) I want to save $3,000 in my savings account by June 15th, 2020 so I can invest in VTSAX with Vanguard for my future retirement. (Now you have an actual goal and can head to the next check-points.)
- Measurable. We essentially answered this in the WHAT section. But, it’s helpful if you break it down into smaller, attainable chunks. For example: saving $3,000 by June 15th, or six months from now, means saving $500 per month. Furthermore, it means saving $250 per paycheck (assuming you get paid every two weeks).
- Attainable. Due to the nature of this goal, this step might require the most work. If you’re not familiar with your finances on an intimate level you might not even realize whether or not this goal is something you can achieve. Do you make enough to save this much? Have you reduced your spending? What about your debts? Do you have any major upcoming expenses? Here is where you need to get into the nitty-gritty details when it comes to your money flow. If you find that saving $3,000 in six months is not realistic then what is? Maybe you can save $2,000 in six months. There’s nothing wrong with modifying your goal to make it more realistic! If you want to have a side hustle of earning an extra $1,000 per month with professional photography but have no experience with a camera other than your iPhone then you might want to scale it back a little. Start with smaller goals: Learning how to use a professional camera. Taking a photography class. Learning Photoshop. Offering free services to three clients to build a portfolio. It’s okay to set new goals for things you have no experience in, but make them attainable to where you’re currently at in life.
- Relevant. Do you actually care about achieving this goal? Or are did you set this goal because social media told you to? Find the reasons that matter to you or trying to achieve this goal will be painful.
- Timely. This was also answered in the WHEN question. By June 15th, 2020. Deadlines are essential for goal setting. Without urgency where does the pressure come from? A timeline keeps you on track and provides mile markers for check-in: After three months do you have $1,500 in your savings account?
Tips For Achieving Your Goals
- Keep your goals positive-oriented. You don’t just want to “spend less money” but, rather focus on “saving $250 every paycheck so you can invest in future you.” Work towards something, not away from something.
- Have others keep you accountable. Share it with friends, family, or co-workers. If you’re worried someone will judge you for the goal you set (first of all, don’t be and maybe re-think that relationship) then feel free to email me and tell me about it! I’m happy to help keep you accountable and encourage you to keep on keeping on.
- Write down your goals – on your computer, in a notebook, wherever. Revisit every week or two to make sure you’re on track.
- Modify when you need to – even if you’ve already started. Set backs happen. Sometimes this is an indication the goal is unrealistic. Don’t be ashamed to re-calibrate what isn’t working. It’s better than quitting or failing to reach your goal because “you don’t really care.”
- If you have a goal in mind, something you want to improve, or you’re ready for a challenge out of pure boredom then just do it! (Please don’t sue me, Nike.) It’s now or never. Don’t wait for the clock to strike midnight because the new year doesn’t care about the new you.