(& Feeling Empowered By the Results)
It’s almost that time again—the New Year—when that bright, shiny, iconic ball drops in Times Square and millions of Americans set out on their journeys to conquer big, hairy, audacious goals…the same ones they’ve been working on every new year for the last decade!
Jokes aside, setting goals is great. The problem is that we tend to overestimate what we can accomplish in the short term and underestimate what we can accomplish in the long term. Plus, we are hard-wired to seek instant gratification, which is why so many big, audacious, hairy New Year resolutions die before Spring.
But setting goals, achieving them, and feeling great about the outcome isn’t a fool’s errand. You just need to approach your goals with realism and a bit of science-backed research to set yourself up for success.
Identify Your Values
No one busts their hump day in and day out for things that don’t really matter to them. The more important a goal is to us, the more motivated we are to achieve it. So, first and foremost, you’ll need to get really clear on what you want to achieve in your life, and oftentimes, this is revealed by examining—I mean really examining—what is important to you.
In other words, what do you value most? 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? And who are the people you do those things with?
As a financial advisor, I specialize in doing what is referred to as Financial Life Planning, which means I help my clients discover what their true values are. These values help guide their decisions toward building a life that is rewarding and fulfilling to them. What we always discuss first is what really are the driving motivators when it comes to their money. Then we decide if their spending is aligned with the things they value most.
This exercise works for any type of behavior, not just financial behavior. As you think about the goals you’d like to set, ask yourself what it is about this goal that will make it a worthwhile undertaking for you.
Why do you want to lose weight? So you can live longer and live a more active lifestyle? Why do you want to improve your spending habits? So you can feel secure should something happen to your spouse? The exercise of asking yourself “why” can help you align your values with meaningful goals you’ll be more likely to keep (and feel good in doing so).
Identify the Habits That Will Help You Reach Those Goals
James Clear recently made a post on Instagram that read, “Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement. The same way that money multiplies through compound interest, the effects of your habits multiply as you repeat them. They seem to make little difference on any given day and yet the impact they can deliver over the months and years can be enormous. It is only when looking back two, five, or perhaps ten years later that the value of good habits and the cost of bad habits becomes strikingly apparent.”
There are two main takeaways I’d like to point out here: (1) small, daily habits are the true building blocks of change, and (2) their greatest impact is realized the longer the habits are in place. As I mentioned earlier, taking on big, hairy, audacious goals is great, but we must remain realistic in how much we can achieve in the short term and how much of our efforts will be rewarded exponentially in the long term.
1) Start with Small, Sustainable Habits
It really is a tale as old as time. We start with a goal and we go “all in” right away. Take a diet for example. We trash all the Oreos and ice cream in the house and replace everything with wholesome, nutrient-dense food. We hire an online fitness coach to give us a meal plan and a training protocol. We buy a new wardrobe to accommodate our new active lifestyle. And this is all well and good for a few weeks, but suddenly it feels like too much. Life throws a few curveballs our way, and we fall completely off track with no intentions of getting back on the horse. Why? Because we tried to do too much too soon. It was a great effort but not a sustainable one.
So, rather than try and become a new person overnight, focus on incorporating small habits into your daily life that support the main goal. For example, if your goal is to exercise more, decide on small, reasonable habits that you can sustain, like taking a bike ride through your neighborhood every morning or jogging before dinner 4 nights a week. If your goal is to eat healthier, start by eliminating one unhealthy habit at a time, such as soda or your nightly ice cream and hot fudge ritual.
Those are small but solid steps that can be easily worked into your daily schedule. You might even go a little further and join a gym, start a neighborhood walk group, or hire a coach to add an extra layer of accountability and keep you on track.
2) Keep a Long-Term View
Why are bad habits so hard to kick? Why are resolutions so hard to keep? Because the rewards and punishments for these actions are in the future.
In Episode 10 of Dr. Peggy Malone’s Podcast, “The Improvement Project,” Dr. Malone discusses how good habits don’t satisfy the instant gratification center of our brains, so they are harder to stick to. And the costs of bad habits aren’t realized until the future, so they are easier to ignore.
For example, you don’t eat a cupcake and instantly expand. Nor will you avoid eating the cupcake and instantly shrink. The effects of your decisions are realized in the future—making bad habits hard to kick and good habits difficult to keep.
That’s why it is imperative to keep a long-term view. You can dramatically improve your odds of success in the present by focusing on the reward you will realize in the future. And when the going gets tough (because it always does at some point), remind yourself of why you started in the first place. Why is it important for you to avoid the break room cupcake? Because you want to live longer to be around for your children’s children. Why is it important that you stash away your work bonus instead of spending it on the season’s hottest handbag? Because it is important to you that you can retire with your spouse in five years when the grandkids are old enough to remember the memories you want to make with them.
Celebrate Wins Along the Way
If your goals are truly aligned with your values, then working towards them shouldn’t feel like punishment. But because of our propensity for instant gratification, there will be times when the going gets tough and you just want to give in. That’s why it’s important to celebrate the milestones you make along the way. If you can make it through the week without your nightly ice cream ritual, reward yourself by indulging in a dessert on the weekend. If you’ve been working on improving your personal best in the gym, don’t be afraid to share your success with friends for some positive reinforcement.
Even a perfectly-set, highly-motivated goal will be challenging. Some lazy Saturdays you’ll snooze past your workout. At holiday events, you might decide to eat something off your diet plan. An unexpected home repair might throw off your budgeting goals for the month. But that’s ok! We’re all human. Roll with it that day but then get right back to your plan the next. The only way you fail is if you give up.
We’re Here to Help You
Did you know that hiring a coach or professional expert to guide you can dramatically improve your odds of success? If your goals are fitness related, consider hiring an accountability and nutrition coach. If your goals are finance-related, consider engaging in a relationship with a financial advisor.
At Falbo Wealth Management, we get just as excited about our clients’ goals as they do. And in caring for our clients this way, we see them reach new levels of success each year. If this type of wealth management relationship sounds like the right fit for you, I encourage you to schedule a call with me to discuss your opportunities. We best serve pre-retirees and retirees looking for an ongoing financial life planning relationship that helps them feel secure and in charge of the life they’re living.
The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.