From Resolutions to Reality

I was visiting with my cousin just the other day and she was sharing with me something new they added to their Christmas celebrations this year - the Viking toast. She explained that it was a three-part toast of sorts that included a boast (something you felt proud about from your past year), a toast (to another person whose actions you admire), and an oath (something you will accomplish this next year). When she got to the part about an oath, I interrupted her to mention that I really liked the sound of an oath. In my mind, an oath bore more weight than a resolution. I chuckled adding, "resolutions are just for breaking, aren't they?"

My comment might have sounded a bit "glass half empty," but in all honesty, I don't think my comment was far off from reality. Whatever you call it - a resolution, an oath, a promise - we all know that it's easy to quickly lose that enthusiasm of the new year, slip back into our old habits, and never achieve those goals we've set for ourselves. In fact, I was recently reading an article by Michael Hyatt that detailed some gloomy statistics regarding resolutions. It stated that...

"25 percent of people abandon their New Year’s resolutions after one week, 60 percent of people abandon them within six months, [and] the average person makes the same New Year’s resolution ten separate times without success."

As a financial coach, I find those statistics particularly disheartening. You see, goals are my thing! When I sit down to work with a client, one of my very first questions is, "What are your goals?" Where are you going? Why are you wanting to make a change? What's driving you? Knowing my client's goals and passions helps us determine his or her financial plan and, moving forward, guides each step that client takes - from budgeting to saving to spending. And, obviously, I want to see my clients achieve their goals. I want them to succeed!

So, what can you do to make those New Year's resolutions become your reality?

Put your resolutions in writing.

Did you know that you're more likely to achieve your goals just by writing them down? Much more likely...42 percent more likely to be exact! Writing down your resolution helps clarify your goal. You are forced to think through your goal and actually put it into writing. Additionally, it creates a visual cue, something that you see on a daily basis that reminds you of your goal and allows you to review it often.

However, when we write down our goal, there is an even deeper biological process taking place that impacts our likelihood to achieve that goal. You see, there is a process known as encoding in which the things we perceive travel to our brain's hippocampus where they are analyzed. From there, our brain determines whether these things are discarded or stored in long-term memory. (This is a really basic explanation of the encoding process. An article on neuroscience by Forbes further details this process.) Writing improves the process of encoding. Therefore, what you write, you are more likely to remember and more likely to accomplish.

Turn your resolutions into S.M.A.R.T. goals.

This is something I am always working on with my clients! I often hear things such as, "I want to take my kids to Disney World!" That's great, but if you leave it at that, chances are good you are NEVER going to go to Disney World. It's a great dream, but that's all it is...a dream. Without further detailing this dream and putting steps into action to move you towards this dream, Disney World will never become a reality for you and your kids. What you need is a S.M.A.R.T. goal!

Specific - Your goal is direct and detailed. Ask yourself, "Who? What? When? Where?"

Measurable - Your goal is quantifiable, allowing you to easily track your progress and set 'mini-goals.'

Attainable - Your goal is realistic, and you have the tools and resources to achieve this goal.

Relevant - Your goal aligns with your priorities. (This is HUGE! Your priorities should direct every aspect of your life - your goals, your health, your finances, your schedule, etc.)

Time-bound - Simply put, your goal has a deadline.

So, what does it look like if we turn that Disney World pipedream into a S.M.A.R.T. goal? Well, it might look something like this...

"I want to take our family of five to Disney World during the summer of 2022. This vacation will cost $12,000 which I want to have saved in 26 months. I will save $462 every month for the next 26 months in order to reach this savings goal by March 2022."

When you turn this Disney World dream into a S.M.A.R.T. goal, you are forced to further detail this goal including total trip costs and a timeline for taking your trip. Your goal is not only detailed, but there's a realistic plan that will be put into place allowing you to achieve this goal. With this example, it's easy to see how a S.M.A.R.T. goal could actually be achieved as compared to the pipedream of "I want to take my kids to Disney World!"

Napolean Hill was quoted saying, "A goal is a dream with a deadline." I think what he actually meant is, "A [S.M.A.R.T.] goal is a dream with a deadline."

Find a good accountability partner.

Typically, our New Year's resolutions involve changes to our personal and/or professional lives. Whether it's a shift in our mindset, goals for healthy physical activity, or changes to our financial plan, these resolutions are often behavioral and require us to alter ingrained habits. And I have no doubt we can all agree on this...changing habits is HARD. In fact, on average it takes 66 days for a new behavior to become automatic. However, the true timeframe to form a habit depends largely on the behavior, the person, and the circumstances; and it can actually take anywhere from 18 to 254 days. That's a whole lot of consistent action required for a behavior to become a habit! And let's face it, it's easy to get defeated and 'fall off the wagon' long before your new behavior has become a habit.

One of the best things you can do to keep yourself on track with your resolutions - to ensure your new behaviors become habits - is to surround yourself with people who believe in you. This is exactly why we love teaching Financial Peace University in person! What a better way to instill new, positive financial habits than when you are surrounded by like-minded people who are cheering you on and holding you accountable?!? It's super important that you too find yourself an accountability partner...and a good one at that! For example, if you're trying to take control of your finances and get on a budget, don't choose your friend who loves shopping sprees to be your accountability partner. Instead, choose a friend who already has control of his or her finances and can encourage you through the tough times. If you've got some awesome workout goals, choose your friend who already loves working out to be your accountability partner. Find an accountability partner today and surround yourself with a community that will encourage you as you implement these new behaviors!

Take time to celebrate!

New resolutions, new goals, and new habits can feel 'restrictive.' While our new behaviors are often healthier than our old ones, we can still be left feeling bummed as we cut back on our spending, our sugar consumption, or our time spent watching our favorite TV shows. So, once you have turned your resolutions into S.M.A.R.T. goals, then take time to set some 'mini-goals.' Along with those mini-goals, make a plan for how you will celebrate - how you will reward yourself - each time you achieve one of those mini-goals. These little celebrations are important as you work towards achieving your goals, and they will actually help keep you motivated and on track!

Don't let the belief that New Year's resolutions are just for breaking keep you from setting goals for the year ahead. Having goals is important. In fact, did you know that having goals can actually make you happier?

When people set goals - detailed, written goals - and commit to going after something better than what they currently have, they give themselves hope. And with hope comes happiness.

Just be sure to write down your resolutions, turn them into S.M.A.R.T. goals, find an accountability partner (or a whole community of supporters), and take time to celebrate along the way. Implement these simple steps and you'll find yourself approaching your resolutions for the next year with 20/20 vision - vision that's ready to see those resolutions become your reality!

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