Why is it that so many of the New Year’s resolutions you have made in the past—to lose weight, to be a better person, to save money or pay off debts—have failed?
According to professionals, these kinds of goals fail for many reasons. Let’s use saving money in 2016 as an example here.
For one thing, saying you want to save money, depending on your current circumstances, might not be possible.
For another, you might be able to save a little money over the next few months, no problem. But the seemingly trivial action of saving a little bit of money every month might not bring you the kind of life-changing satisfaction you originally hoped for when you made the resolution in the first place.
You might think making goals is easy, but that’s likely because you haven’t been doing it right. All these years of making resolutions on January 1, and, without even realizing it, you’ve been doing it all wrong.
Before we get to your ultimate guide to goal setting, we first need to talk about what makes a good goal and why choosing your goals carefully is so important.
What makes a “good” goal?
Let’s say your New Year’s resolution this year was to save money. That’s it: you just want to, over the next 12 months, save money.
On the surface, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Wanting to save money, wanting to take steps toward spending less, is a really great start.
It’s a goal. But it is a “good” goal?
Good goals—goals you will actually be able to work toward and achieve—have five major components. To be effective, a goal must be:
Setting S.M.A.R.T. goals is what will take your ambition from a dream to a reality.
Giving yourself a general idea of what you want to accomplish isn’t going to be a very good motivator when you’re three months in and just have to buy that new pair of shoes you absolutely do not need.
First you need to decide the five Ws of your goal. Who, what, when, where and why. We’ll keep to our money-saving theme. The first one should be pretty easy.
Now, instead of a general, “I want to save money,” you should be able to come up with something like, “I want to save money over the next 12 months by adding $200 to my savings account every month so I can take a trip in 2017.”
Seem a little too specific? Sit tight. You’ll see why that matters.
Setting a measurable goal means you have a plan of exactly how you’re going to hold yourself accountable for taking steps toward reaching it.
If we stuck to our original goal of “saving money,” it’s hard to determine exactly how we’re going to keep tabs on our spending and how much we have accumulated throughout the year.
However, looking at our more specific goal, we see that saving money is going to involve adding $200 to our savings every month.
That means we will have to leave at least $200 left over from our monthly expenses to make sure we will actually save it. That probably means no new shoes for us. It will be worth it.
For a goal to be attainable, you actually need to make a plan. You are much more likely to, for example, be able to afford transferring that $200 into your savings account every month if you already know it’s coming.
In a way, you can almost factor out that $200 completely when budgeting for weekly or monthly expenses like groceries and your gym membership (because priorities).
Just make sure you can do it
Another important checkpoint when creating goals is to determine whether or not it’s legitimately feasible for you. Many goals fail because they are a little bit too far out of reach. It’s important to stretch yourself, but going too far just sets you up for failure before you even have the chance to begin.
Ask yourself if you can really afford to not spend that $200 every month. If you can’t, decrease the number a little. It’s not cheating. It’s being realistic.
Give yourself a time limit
A goal should in itself be timely. Giving it a sense of urgency is often what will motivate you when you’re feeling stuck or discouraged.
Breaking your yearly time limit up into quarters is one way to help you keep track of time in this case. Shoot for having saved a certain dollar amount in a certain period of time and regularly check in with yourself to make sure you’re on track to meeting your goal on time.
You don’t have to choose to save money this year. You can make your goal whatever you want. Another important aspect of goal setting is that you actually have to want to achieve it.
If you want to lose weight or be a better person or save some cash over the next 12 months, great. Take some time to plan out, month by month, how you are going to make that thing happen.
If you’re not ready, though, or you need to start smaller, or you want to accomplish something that seems a little silly, there’s no rule that says you can’t. You’re never going to accomplish something you don’t want to accomplish.
Goals don’t work that way. Often, they are an individual desire, and if you’re trying to reach a goal just because someone else thinks you should, you are pretty much guaranteed to fail almost instantly.
Deciding what really matters to you and making sure you have tools in place to take slow, small steps to accomplishing your goal is how you will succeed. A year might seem like a long time to make something happen, but being patient is a must.
There are no easy solutions to any problem. If you want something done, be S.M.A.R.T. about it.