Take a moment to reflect on this past year. What are some accomplishments that make you feel particularly happy? Are there areas that you feel you could have done much better if you’d given them more focus? Michelangelo famously said, “The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.” My personal observation is that far too many people set their goals too low or they don’t have goals at all! Without goals, your destiny is left to the wind…to be blown this way and that by other people…often people who do have goals.
If you’ve never set goals before, here’s a simple guide:
- Write it down. A goal unwritten is little more than a dream. By writing it down, you create a ‘connection’ between your brain and the world around you. I think you’ll be surprised at how the world will bend over backwards to help you. Keep it simple: I use one index card for each goal.
- Be specific. Fuzzy goals equal fuzzy outcomes. Be specific about what you want and when you want it. The best test of this is to have someone read your goal. If they are clear about what you want and when, then you likely have a well written goal.
- Review them often. My index cards of goals rest on my office desk where I see them daily. As you review them, think of ‘why’ each goal is important to you. If you have a great ‘why’, you’ll find the ‘how’ becomes much easier.
- Go bite size. With some goals, you can just go do them (spring clean your closet), but most require a series of steps (buying a home) or setting and completing routines (exercise). Break the bigger goals down into smaller parts…pieces that are easy to accomplish one at a time. At the beginning of each week, develop a short list of actions you can take this week that will move you towards one or more of your goals…then get it done.
- Get leverage on yourself. One of the best ways to increase your odds of success is to solicit the help of an ‘accountability partner’, someone who you share your goals with and who agrees to hold you accountable for taking the action necessary to succeed. Ideally this is someone who also has goals with you as his or her accountability partner. Make a habit of checking in weekly for progress reports.
- Most goals are marathons, not sprints. Learn to celebrate as you achieve certain ‘goal posts’ along the way. It will make the process much more fun.
Easy versus stretch goals
I like to divide my goals between what I call easy versus stretch goals. An easy goal is one that you know you can do, you just need to identify it and do it. For example, one of my easy goals is to reclaim my office space. After years of storing my tax files, my CPA finally decided it was time to ‘reclaim his office’ and deliver all my files to me! Now my office if full of files and it’s my turn. They require a little bit of organization and a place to go. Not hard…an ‘easy’ goal. A stretch goal is one that you expect to be a challenge to accomplish. It’s doable but will take a lot of effort, planning and discipline. One of my stretch goals for this year is to lose fifteen pounds of body fat. I’ve always paid attention to my nutrition and exercise but even small inconsistencies in good habits catch up with you over time. Now’s the time. I plan to launch this goal in a few weeks…giving me some time to get organized and hoping that at least a few of you will join me on a fitness quest of your own. I’ll pull together a group of experts, (nutritionist, physician, and personal trainer) to advise me (and you) and I’ll set up a Twitter account and web site so everyone who wishes to participate, has the basic tools you need as well as a group of accountability partners. I’ll keep you posted on my progress in my weekly column and via Twitter. Typically, I set two to three stretch goals and half a dozen easy goals.
Why financial goals matter. I realize that a lot of people feel that setting goals has gone the way of the rotary dial telephone. However, my experience is that people who don’t have goals also most often don’t have a lot of money. I wonder if there’s a connection?