We tend to overestimate what we can accomplish in the short-term and underestimate what we can accomplish in the long-term. The frustration that results is one big reason why so many New Year’s resolutions die before Spring.
But if you use these key strategies that are supported by deeply-held values – and science! – you’ll set better goals, achieve them, and feel better about yourself while doing so.
Know your values.
Knowing your values can provide real clarity on what you want to achieve in your life. So ask yourself, what’s important to you? What makes you excited to get up in the morning? What are the passions and interests that fill your time when you’re not working?
Another way to explore your values is to try new things. For example, volunteering at your local church or community center might reveal a passion for teaching or philanthropy that you never knew you had. These active experiments can become even more important as you age and start thinking about how to stay happy and engaged in life.
Align your goals with your values.
Behavioral scientists have found that achieving goals is rarely a matter of ability or knowledge. For example, a person who wants to lose weight knows that eating ice cream with hot fudge five nights a week is not compatible with weight loss. Yet, the reason they keep downing that ice cream is often due to a lack of motivation. They might feel the immediate pleasure from the ice cream outweighs the longer-term result of no weight loss, or worse, weight gain.
The more important a goal is to us, the more motivated we are to achieve it. Asking “Why?” can help you align your goals with your values and increase that motivational component:
- Why should you stop eating ice cream five nights a week? Because I want to be healthier.
- Why do you want to be healthier? So that I can live a longer and more active life.
- Why do you want to live longer and be more active? So that I can do more things with my children and grandchildren.
Now we’ve identified core values – health and family – that are tied to the goal. These values will make the goal more important, and more likely to be reached. Use these same steps to delve into reasons you need to save more for retirement or spend less in retirement.
Develop an action plan.
Asking “Why?” helps us move our goal-setting to a higher, value-driven space.
Asking “How?” helps us drill down into specific actions we can take to achieve those goals.
“I want to save more money” is the sort of goal many people set and then abandon. That’s because it’s too unspecific. So ask yourself, “How am I going to save more money?” An answer like, “I’m going to spend less” is closer, but still not actionable enough.
How are you going to spend less? Will you start packing a lunch 4 days a week? Or will you put $25 a paycheck into a savings account?
Those are small but solid steps that you can use to develop an action plan. You might even go a little further by creating a budget or hiring a coach to add an extra layer of accountability and keep you on track.
Measuring is Motivating.
Whatever goal you set, try to keep score. It could be as simple as pulling out a piece of blank paper and putting a checkmark on it for each day you packed your lunch. We find that the act of keeping score creates its own momentum and can be like a “pat on the back” for a job well done.
Even a perfectly-set, highly-motivated goal will be challenging. Some frantic Monday you’ll forget to pack your lunch. You’ll spend more than you planned. An unexpected home repair might throw off your budgeting goals for the month. But that’s ok! We’re all human. Expect setbacks. Roll with it that day but then get right back to your plan.
All goals and personal improvements require effort. The grit we need to get over those inevitable humps is its own kind of skill that you can cultivate. Try to push yourself above and beyond your smaller targets. Welcome and accept feedback and criticism that can make you perform better. Prepare yourself for future setbacks. And most importantly, stay positive.
We’re here to help you.
What you aspire to achieve may require a financial commitment. Please contact us and we can discuss your particular situation and see how we can help you get on a faster path to achieving your life's aspirations.