If you’re like my sarcastic, cynical alter-ego, then you probably think New Year’s resolutions are a dumb waste of time. Nobody ever keeps them because they’re idealistic and unrealistic. Like the diet that lasts a week or the gym membership that sees heavy use in January and then loses its appeal the rest of the year, all those resolutions get left behind when life picks up again. What’s the point in making goals if we can’t keep them?
Historically, I’ve had a very pessimistic view of goal-setting. I am constantly taking on way more than I can handle and in the day-to-day of trying to keep all of my work commitments, the last thing I want to do is hold myself to standards that seem impossible to meet. In recent years, however, I’ve changed my tune thanks in large part to a dear friend of mine who happens to be the most impressively goal-oriented individual I’ve ever met. While I will admit that I couldn’t begin to keep up with her amazingly healthy, go-getter, aggressive lifestyle, her approach to goal-setting and striving to be better have had a surprising influence on how I now see goal-setting and habit-changing. For my friend, goals became an integral part of her lifestyle when she worked at Lululemon, the fancy yoga apparel store that embraces a corporate culture of goal-setting and self-improvement.
When she first shared with my husband and I some of the goals she had set for herself I was drawn to how unique and specific they were. Instead of the usual “lose weight” or “save money” goals that you hear so often in the month of January, she had goals like writing one thank you card a week and saving every Tuesday evening on the calendar to go on a date with her husband. Instead of letting her goals be defined by shame or guilt for not doing the responsible, “healthy person” things, her goals were defined by things that made her life more full. In view of that approach, my husband and I spent our most recent date night making a list of some of the goals we had for the year and discussing how best to accomplish them. We made practical, lifestyle goals like wanting to max out both of our retirement accounts and wanting to run a half-marathon together in the fall, but we also made goals for preserving our relationship and maintaining the health of our little family. We decided on a weekly time to date and agreed on a few books we wanted to read together and discuss in 2017. We then talked about what it would take to make these goals happen. Were there things we could do to hold ourselves accountable and increase our chances of following through? The practical ones were easy. We set up automatic deposits on our accounts and began researching races to sign up for. The relational ones of course will take more effort, but for us, taking the time to talk through what it means to really keep our commitments and make time for the things that we value was incredibly helpful.
Additionally, we made a list of our goals on a piece of paper and tacked it up on a cork board in our kitchen for daily visibility to help remind ourselves of what we wanted to accomplish this year.
At this point, you may be thinking that all sounds nice but still pointless and unrealistic. I don’t blame you. My alter-ego is right there with you. My financial planner ego, however, wants to point out that a big part of being financially healthy has to do with forming and maintaining healthy spending and saving habits and like achieving our goals, changing our habits is a very difficult but worthwhile activity. Maybe you know that you need to save more to retire or have a nasty pile of debt that keeps you up at night. What if instead of letting your shame and guilt set goals you know you can’t reach, instead you brainstorm ways to set goals that are achievable and make your life richer. The folks at Lululemon know that goal-setting is difficult, which is why they’ve created a simple, but helpful approach. First, they apply 6 core concepts to their goal-setting process: possibility, vision, balance, audacity, format, and integrity (you can read more about their core concepts here). They then encourage you to write specific goals in the present tense (you can find their worksheet for goal-setting here). This forces you to think about exactly what you want to accomplish and to visualize it happening. If you find yourself needing a little help don’t be afraid to reach out. Goals are easier to keep when you have a support system. Invite a friend to sign up for a 5k with you and train together. Ask your advisor to sit down with you and talk through how you can better tangibly meet your financial goals. Join a book club. There are plenty of ways to hold yourself accountable if you decide that this is the year to really follow through and not only keep your resolutions, but change your habits for the better. Good luck and happy New Year!
(This article was originally published January 11, 2017, on our sister site The Cupcake Club).