Every year I see people jog around the block every day in January, then it exponentially decreases as the weeks go by. People ask me each year if I’ve made my New Year’s Resolutions. Every year I say that I don’t make them. Some assume I’m anti-commercial and some assume I’m lazy, but some actually ask why. I believe in making goals instead of resolutions.
While “goal” and “resolution” may seem synonymous, they are really far from it. A “goal” is defined as “the purpose toward which an endeavor is directed; an objective.” A “resolution” is defined as “the mental state or quality of being resolved or resolute; firmness of purpose.” The difference I see is that a resolution is a state of mind, whereas a goal is a measurable state of action.
For example, a resolution is: “I want to be healthier this year.” The corresponding goal would state: “I want to lose five pounds each month through May” or “I want to buy only organic vegetables this year.” Instead of making the resolution to “be a better person,” you can make the goal to “volunteer 10 hours a month” at your favorite charity.
Resolutions are traditionally ambiguous and difficult to measure. Many people favor the generalized statements at the beginning of the year, but are left at the end of the year feeling unfulfilled, possibly even like a failure.
How does this relate to finance? What if I said, “I am resolved to pay off my debt this year?” If I put that out there, the universe would collectively snort and say, “Good luck with that.” It’s unrealistic to assume that I could pay off all of our household debt this year (as we owe more than our annual salary), but if I just paid off an extra $10 would I really be satisfied come December? No. My goal is to use a modified debt snowball approach to pay off an additional $2000 this year. I would also like to sell my SUV to reduce our general household expenses. At that point I would increase my goal amount.
Some might argue that the only reason my argument holds water is because people don’t set proper resolutions. For those, I would argue that the Declaration of Independence, one of the earliest resolutions of the United States, was far different from the goals it took to accomplish this independence.
Regardless, it’s as possible to make bad goals as it is to make bad resolutions. So how do you create a good goal?
First, it’s acceptable to start with a resolution. Wanting to be healthier may mean you have to lose weight. That leads you to the goal of losing five pounds a month.
Second, make your goals definable. The goal of losing weight is far different than the goal of losing five pounds a month. You can even go a step further and say that your goal is to “increase your physical activity by walking the dog every day (at minimum) with the objective of losing five pounds a month.”
Third, your goals must be obtainable (but not too obtainable). Like I mentioned earlier, paying off my debt is unrealistic, but paying down my debt is more than possible. Setting the goal of paying down our debt an extra $2000 over and above what we normally would, I’m extending myself. This is a delicate balancing act of stretching yourself, but not stretching yourself “too thin.” If meeting the goal means financial, physical, emotional, or spiritual harm, it is not worth obtaining.
Fourth, create a structure that allows you to meet those goals. One of my long-running goals has been to write in my personal blog every day. This year, I’m writing 365 Days of Saving Money, which requires me to write at least one tip each day. I’m having fun, and meeting my goal.
Last, make your goals prominent. If your goal is on the whiteboard directly across from your front door, you will be reminded of it every time you walk in. Write it down. Put it in your calendars. Make it so you can’t forget it.
I’m already working on my goals for this year, and am excited about my progress. It’s not too late to rework your resolutions into definable, obtainable goals. In fact, it’s never too late.