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How To Set Goals You Might Actually Accomplish

The new year is upon us and with it comes resolutions and goals that you’d like to accomplish. However, as we can all agree, it’s just not that easy.How to set goals you might actually accomplish

If you’ve ever set a goal that you failed to accomplish, you’re not alone. Science says that only 8 percent of people actually achieve their goals. According to a study by the University of Scranton, a staggering 92 percent of people make New Year’s resolutions they never fulfill.

While we’re often encouraged to set goals, we’re not usually given a good framework for how to succeed. Just because you set a goal does not mean that you’ll automatically reach it. Making resolutions that you don’t fulfill time and time again can get frustrating and discouraging.

We all have things that we want to accomplish in our lives when it comes to our careers, health, family, and so on. As you sit down to map out your next set of goals, consider incorporating some of the ideas below so you might actually accomplish them.

Begin where you are

Let’s face, we tend to put off starting on something as long as we possibly can. For example, have you ever said to yourself, “I’m going to eat that brownie now, the diet starts on Monday?” Or maybe you’ve told yourself that you’ll create a budget when you start making more money? All of these are excuses that put you further away from what you want to accomplish.

The best time to start working on your goals is right now. Even small progress is better than no progress. Don’t set a goal to lose 20 lbs. starting on Monday and spend the weekend stuffing your face since the “diet starts tomorrow.” Make better decisions starting with your next meal and go from there.

One of the reasons people like setting goals at the beginning of a new year is because it’s a fresh start. January 1 is the first of 365 days and that appeals to our idea of a clean slate. We can do anything we set our mind to if we just work hard enough. While that’s a nice thought, it’s pretty far away from reality.

You don’t need a new year, a new month or even a new week to get started working on your goals. Begin where you are and make better choices now. Every day, every hour, every meal, every swipe of your credit card is a new opportunity to make a change. Don’t put off to a future date what you can start doing right now.

Identify what isn’t working

Before you can set goals that you might actually accomplish, you need to figure out what isn’t working. If you’ve consistently set goals that you did not succeed in, there’s probably something that’s getting in your way.

This could be different depending on what you’re trying to achieve. Identifying what works and what doesn’t is critical for your success. Sit down with a piece of paper and write down the last two goals that you did not meet. For each goal, create two columns – what worked and what didn’t.

Now, take some time to think back to what got in the way of reaching each goal. Did you plan to work out three times a week but only made it once? Did you set a goal for losing 20 lbs. but ended up binging on ice cream and potato chips five days into your diet? Pinpointing what didn’t work will help you set better goals in the future.

As you work on a new set of resolutions, think back to what has tripped you up in the past. Troubleshoot each obstacle individually and figure out how to make the action you want to take the default. For example, if you’re trying to lose weight, stock up your fridge and pantry with healthy foods. Throw out all junk food or lock it away at the top of your pantry or cabinet.

The easier the action you want to take, the more likely it is that you’ll actually take it. For example, if you’re hungry and all you have in the house is healthy food, chances are you’ll end up eating what you have.

It’s much easier to snack on the carrots and hummus in your fridge than to drive to the store to buy chips. However, if you already have chips in the pantry, you’ll have to fight the temptation to eat them – and often lose. Don’t rely on willpower to achieve your goals.

Figure out what works for you

Everyone’s different so what works for one person may not work for another. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that just because something worked for your friend, your mom or your sister, it’ll work for you. Figure out what gets you moving and motivates you to achieve your goals.

Think back to the goals that you set and achieved. What made you stick to your resolution? What steps did you take to make it easier to succeed? Maybe you enlisted the help of a friend that worked toward the same goal you had, and you cheered each other on. Or, maybe you told your family and friends about your goal, which made it harder to back out.

Each person is motivated in different ways, which is why no one solution fits all. On the flip side, if something is a trigger that causes you to veer away from your goals, avoid it. For example, if you always overspend when using a credit card, use only debit cards or cash. Try to remove as many obstacles as possible on the way to achieving your goals.

If you’re not sure where to start with a goal, enlist the help of a professional who can guide you in the right direction. For example, if one of your goals is to get your finances in order, talk to a trusted financial advisortrusted financial advisor who can help you get on the right track. Having someone else provide feedback and guidance can be just the nudge you need to get moving in the right direction.

Set SMART goals

It’s more than likely that you’ve already heard of SMART goals. Even if you know what SMART goals are, how many of the resolutions you’ve set follow this simple but powerful outline? Try to use this framework as you plan out your next set of goals:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Relevant
  • Time Bound

Let’s go over each of the five parts of the SMART equation.

Set Specific Goals

It’s not enough to just formulate a goal of what you want to achieve – it needs to be clear and well defined. Making a resolution that is too vague will leave you frustrated as you’ll never know if you’ve quite hit the mark. A goal such as “save money” is too broad but a goal that says “save $1,000” is more specific.

Set Measurable Goals

When setting a goal, make sure you include precise amounts, percentages, dates, etc. to make it easier to measure your progress. Saying you want to lose weight can be too vague and easy to fudge.

If you lose 1 lb., you’ve lost weight, but you’ve probably not gotten even close to achieving your goal. However, if you say you want to lose 20 lbs., now you know that losing 1 lb. is a step in the right direction but you still have 19 lbs. to go until you reach your goal.

Set Attainable Goals

One of the reasons that many people fail at getting the results they desire is because they aim too high. Setting a goal to save $10,000 in six months when you have $5 in your bank account is not realistic.

Lowering that goal down to $500 or even $1,000 makes it more likely that you’ll succeed. Setting goals you have no hope of achieving erodes your confidence.

Set Relevant Goals

There’s no point in setting goals that don’t take you in the direction in which you want to go. This is where it’s important to know your long-term goals and vision for the future, so you can aim accordingly.

Take the time to think about what direction you want your life and career to take before making any resolutions. By being intentional, you’re more likely to accomplish your goals since they align with where you see your future self.

Set Time-Bound Goals

Every goal needs to have a deadline. This will keep you on track and ensure that you meet your objective in a timely manner.

Saying you want to pay off your credit card debt is not as compelling as saying you want to pay off your credit card debt in six months. Having an end-date in mind gives you a sense of urgency as you work toward meeting the deadline.

Align your environment with your goals

As mentioned previously, aligning your environment with your goals is an important part of sticking with your resolutions. Resolving to save money won’t get you anywhere if you keep doing the same things that caused you to overspend in the past. We all have our triggers so it’s important to design an environment that works with your personality.

For example, if you want to save money but going to Target is a spending trigger for you, avoid Target. Instead of going to the store to shop, try shopping online or getting in-store delivery or pick up. Or better yet, find other places to buy what you need and avoid Target altogether.

Try to make your desired action as easy as possible to do and the behavior you’re trying to avoid as hard as possible. If you want to work out every morning, set out your clothes and shoes the night before.

Some people even sleep in their work out clothes so they’re ready to go once the alarm goes off. Design everything in your life to help you accomplish your goals rather than prevent you from reaching them.

Create accountability

Having someone in your corner cheering you on and holding you accountable can be a great motivator. You can enlist the help of a friend or a family member who can serve as your accountability partner and keep you on track with your goals. Knowing that you’ll have to report your progress or lack thereof can be a good way to stay focused.

If you don’t like the thought of having someone you know be your accountability partner, there are other options. For example, if you’re trying to save money or get your finances in order, talk to a qualified financial advisor who can help you get your finances in order. Set regular check-ins so you can go over your progress and troubleshoot what is and isn’t working.

Celebrate milestones

We often focus so much on the end-result and reaching that big goal that we fail to celebrate progress. Depending on the goal you’ve set and your time-frame, it can take months to get to the end result. While the initial start of working toward your goal can be exciting, as you get into a routine, the process can be boring.

One way to fight boredom and make it more likely to achieve your goals is to celebrate milestones. As you draft your initial SMART goal, set three to four smaller milestones that will serve as your checkpoint that you’re headed in the right direction. For example, if your goal is to save $1,000, celebrate when you have $250, $500, and $750 saved.

This will keep your momentum going as you see how you’re getting closer and closer to the finish line. It’s also a great way to pause and pat yourself on the back for staying on course.

Just don’t go crazy celebrating and undo all of your hard work. Pick a small reward that will let you still make progress toward your goals but allow you to recognize the milestone.

A final word

Setting goals you will actually accomplish means taking the time to work with your personality and not against it. What works for one person may not work for another. Look at past goals you have achieved for insight and ideas on how you can be successful with your next resolution.

Enlist the help of a professional or accountability partner to keep you on track. Celebrate milestones and focus on enjoying the process of working toward your vision for the future.

This is a post from Clint Haynes, a Certified Financial Planner® and Financial Advisor in Kansas City, Missouri. He is also the founder and owner of NextGen Wealth. You can learn more about Clint at the website NextGen Wealth.

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About the Author

Aurtho Clint Haynes, CFPThis article was written by Clint Haynes, CFP®. Clint is a Certified Financial Planner® and Founder of NextGen Wealth. You can learn more about Clint by reading his full bio here.