You say you want a resolution?
For most of us, the New Year is a popular time to set personal goals and look back on the what we’ve achieved in the last 12 months. But with all the goodwill in the world, it can be hard to turn resolutions into results.
People who study behaviour for a living reckon that for a resolution to actually work, it needs to tick five boxes. Happily, the five boxes spell “SMART,” making them not just easy to remember but also clever-sounding. (Public transport enthusiasts among you will also have spotted that they could also spell “TRAMS” but that’s just a bit off-topic.)
As in, the opposite of vague. If your goal is to save for a house deposit, then work out exactly how much that is, and make that the goal. “Saving more money this year,” isn’t as useful as “save $10,000.” “Lose weight” is a lot less motivating than “ditch 10 kilos of unsightly lard.”
This goes hand in hand with money-related goals, but can take some thinking about for other parts of your life. A lot of us make health-related resolutions like “do more exercise,” or “get fitter.” If your exercise goal is a set number of steps or minutes a day, or you can measure your fitness via resting heart rate, then you’ll know if you’ve nailed it or not.
In business, you hear a lot about BHAGs: Big Hairy Audacious Goals. The problem with those, though, is that you feel stink if you don’t achieve them (or get invited to “spend more time with your family”). Achieving a goal can be a great motivator, so setting one that you can actually hit is a good idea. Let’s say you want to review all your household bills (this is such a good idea that I recommended it in a previous column). Setting a goal of reviewing every single household bill, comparing suppliers and switching to make savings by the end of the Christmas holidays sounds good on paper… but it’s pretty daunting, especially when the sun is shining and there’s delicious meat sizzling on the barbie. A more achievable goal might be reviewing one bill and switching one supplier if needed each month.
You could argue that this is a bit like “Achievable,” but the scientists would argue right back that if you tool the R out then you could only spell SMAT. Realistic is not quite the same as achievable though – it comes down to setting goals around things you can actually control. Reversing climate change, for example, might be something you want, but could be tricky for you to achieve personally (unless you own a stash of coal-fired power stations I don’t know about). Planting a tree each month, or walking to work once a week, are realistic goals that you can control, while still contributing to the outcome you want.
And here we get to the reason why we’re still fat, poor, single and in the same dead end job every New Year’s Eve (generally speaking… not you: you’re awesome!). For resolutions to change your life, they need to have a deadline. “Eventually” is not a deadline, and neither is “ASAP.” If you want to clear that credit card debt, clear it by the end of May, and check how you’re going every month. There are plenty of personal finance apps and websites that will help you do that, or you could just bust out some graph paper and do it the old school way. On the fitness side, make the most of the Fitbit you probably got for Christmas – especially the progress tracking apps that come with it. Promised yourself to spend more time with Auntie Sue? Make your goal to visit her by the end of January… and if you walk to her place instead of drive, you might hit two resolutions at once. Smart, huh?
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