If you’re like most of us, you had big plans at the beginning of last year. You set financial goals, travel plans and retirement savings targets, and even made good on a few of them. But then your New Year’s resolutions vaporized sometime before February. How do you avoid a repeat performance of that this year? How do you get back on track with your financial and investment goals?
Setting goals can be a monumental task, especially if those goals are ambitious. The best way to handle them is to break them down into smaller steps that will be easier to accomplish.
Try these steps and see if you can get back on track with your goals — whatever they are.
Take a Fresh Look at Past Goals
We like to create new goals, perhaps because they offer the hope of energizing us and adding renewed motivation. But you’ve probably had some really good goals in the past, ones that you simply abandoned because you didn’t — or felt you couldn’t — accomplish them.
This year, instead of creating a new list of goals, first take a look at goals you’ve had in the past. Are they worthy goals, ones you think will add benefits to your life now? Then they should remain on your current list of goals, perhaps with a bit of tweaking.
The idea isn’t to ignore goals you haven’t achieved, but rather to take a fresh look at them and see how they might be better accomplished with a new strategy going forward.
If there are any goals you’ve had in the past that are no longer worth pursuing, then cross them off the list. At that point, they’re just dust collectors that will get in the way of more desirable goals.
Solidify Potential Resolutions
Maybe during the past year you’ve had some ideas floating around in your mind that didn’t quite rise to the level of goals because you weren’t exactly sure about them. But if there are any resolutions or ideas among the many you think are worthy of pursuing, spend some time solidifying them.
You certainly don’t want to load up your list of goals with a bunch of new ones on top of ones you had in the past. The idea is to sift through the list — both old and new — and decide which are most worth accomplishing.
Once you do that, it’ll be time to start crossing some of the less important goals off your list. Accomplishing goals is very much about divide-and-conquer. It’s much better to concentrate your time and efforts on accomplishing a relatively small number of very important goals than spreading yourself across a dozen or more that have little chance of ever being completed.
Commit Your Goals to Writing
With your list of important and worthy goals, it’s time to formalize them. That means committing them to writing. Think of your goals as being something very much like a business plan. Businesses create them in order to have a roadmap of where they want to go and what they want to accomplish. Your list of goals should do the same thing.
List each of your primary goals and include the following for each:
- A concise name or label for the goal — once you “name it,” the goal will become real.
- A brief description of why you want to accomplish the goal and what the benefits will be. This will be your reminder as to why you’re pursuing this goal.
- A short list of the steps you need to take in order to complete the goal (more on that in the next section).
- A timetable with target dates as to when you expect to accomplish the goal.
Though this looks very formal, it’s absolutely necessary if you hope to achieve any goals at all. Given that life is so busy and pulls us in different directions, achieving anything — especially goals — requires a written mission statement.
This document can be that mission statement and should be prominently displayed in one or more areas of your life where you are likely to see it on a regular basis.
Push Forward With Small Steps
Creating a short list of steps you need to take in order to achieve each goal is key to reaching success. The next step is to get into the mechanics of that list.
Very few people accomplish important goals in one giant step. If the goal is big enough, there just won’t be time in your life to make it happen. And if you fail in that initial step, it’s extremely likely you’ll abandon the goal altogether, due to discouragement or being overwhelmed.
You’ve heard this before — and it’s completely true — big tasks need to be broken down into smaller ones. Though it can be difficult, or nearly impossible, to achieve big tasks, smaller ones are usually very doable. And that’s the key — in order to achieve any goals at all, your plan to do so has to be readily workable.
If you have four or five major goals you want to accomplish in the coming year, create a list of steps you will need to take toward each of those goals on a regular basis.
This can be daily, weekly or even monthly. If you don’t schedule activity toward achieving a goal at least monthly, you’ll probably abandon the effort. The key is always pushing forward with small steps on a regular basis.
This is the foundational step in achieving virtually any goal. You have to take action, and the sooner you do, the more effective it will be. This means if you’re setting goals in January, you need to put your plan into action in January. Putting it off until February, March or “later in the year” removes any kind of deadline.
Here’s a bit of tough love: goals that aren’t accompanied by a written mission statement, a list of required steps to implement, and a definitive plan to take action are nothing more than wishes. And wishes aren’t goals — they’re just something that we hope to do someday. That’s another way of saying never.
It’s a new year, and you have the chance to achieve a number of worthwhile goals, but it will happen only if you make a plan and follow through with it.
Then next year, you won’t be regretting the goals you didn’t achieve — you’ll be celebrating the ones you did! And then make strides to set new and better ones.
Readers: How do you handle getting back on track with your goals? Do you have a way to find more motivation, or other tips for taking action?