Time moves so quickly, doesn’t it? I shouldn’t be surprised really, I was a student of ancient history, so I’m used to thinking in centuries. Yet the speed at which a single year passes still startles me.
Although completely arbitrary, I like the transitional feeling of the new year. A line drawn in the sand (of time – sorry, I couldn’t help myself). The blank slate a new year offers. The opportunities that the unknown brings.
So it is time again to write down our new year’s goals. To look backward and reflect on the year behind, and to look forward to the year ahead. It’s all very well and good to write out some goals, not so good if they end up forgotten at the bottom of the drawer. The vital ingredient (and the hardest part) is taking action. Working (dare I use that word) towards achieving them. The next step then, after writing down your 2011 goals is to create an action plan.
Then take action.
Where are you now
The street directory is pressed against my thighs. With one finger tagging page 76 and another tagging page 93, page 44 bounces around before my eyes and I can just see, somewhere hidden in the spine of the book, the street I’m looking for. Now if only DH would slow down, I’d be able to read the street signs to work out where the hell we are. Maybe then I’ll be able to find our way to the crease on page 44.
Before you start on your goal setting journey, you need to know your point of departure. What is your life like now? What are you happy with? What do you want to change? If your goal is to save money, how much do you have now? If your goal is to lose weight, what do you weigh now?
You need to know your current circumstances because you will have to either change them or work around them to work towards your goal. If you want to study a new course for instance, you need to figure out when in your current schedule you’re going to study or what activities you’re going to drop in order to study.
Your point of departure is also your point of comparison. Your yard stick against which you measure your future success: “I was here, now look how far I’ve come.” Sometimes it can seem like you’re stagnating, when in fact massive change is happening. It’s just happening in such small increments that you don’t notice unless your looking. Knowing your starting point brings that change to your attention.
Think for example, what your life was like 5 years ago. What about 10 years ago? I bet it hardly looks like the same life. Now imagine how much change is going to happen in the next 5 years. The life you lead tomorrow will be the result of what you do today.
When you know where you are now, then you can work out where you want to be tomorrow.
Be SMART about it
The problem with many new year’s resolutions is that they’re often waffly. “This year I’m going to lose weight,” or “this year I’m going to save some money.” And very quickly, resolutions fall by the wayside.
I’ve written plenty before about goal setting and new year’s resolutions, but to recap the salient points, a goal needs to be written down, specific, positive, measurable and have a timeframe ie, “I’m going reach my goal weight of 65kg by 31 December 2011” and “I’m going to save $5,000 by 31 October 2011.”
20 / 20 Vision
Have a clear vision of the outcome you expect when you reach your goal. Imagine the thinner you. Image the holiday you’ll be enjoying with the money you’ve saved. But more importantly, imagine yourself doing what it takes to achieve this outcome. Visualisation seems like airy-fairy stuff to me, but studies show that it is an effective tool for achieving goals. It can’t hurt, that’s for sure.
Before you can take the action necessary to achieve your goals, you need to gather some information. What is it exactly that you need to do? Maybe you need to research exercise plans, phone a personal trainer, see your doctor about a diet. Maybe you need to sit down and calculate how much you need to save each week to reach your savings goal.
The next step is to understand the obstacles and hurdles that can get in the way of you achieving your goal. Time restraints, temptation, unexpected bills. When you understand possible obstacles to your success, you can make contingency plans to deal with these obstacles or avoid them altogether.
Finally, before writing out your action plan, consider the resources that you have and the resources that you will need to achieve your goals. These resources may be physical, like a new savings account or a uni application, or they may be personal, such as spare time. Speaking of which…
Life is busy. If you are resolving a new habit then you need to fit that new habit into your existing schedule. That may mean giving up something less important that is taking up your time.
If you’re not sure how you spend your time on a daily basis, keep a time journal for a week, it will be a surprising exercise. Use this information along with your natural bio-rhythms (I work better in the morning, for example), to schedule in your action steps and new habits.
Write a list of all the steps involved in achieving your goal. No step is too small to write down. If your goal is to save money, you will need to calculate how much money you need to save each week, you may need to open a new savings account, set up automatic payments, and if you’re not sure how, you may need to learn how. If part of your savings plan is to sell your stuff on eBay, then you will need to list the specific steps such as taking photos, writing descriptions, calculating postage etc.
Next organise your action steps (step one, step two etc) and put a time limit on each (ie, “I will do step three by 15 January”).
Finally, the most important thing is to take action right now. Do the first step today, this hour, in the next few minutes to get the motivational ball rolling. Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today.
Dangle the Carrot
Behavioural psychologists have done extensive studies that show positive reinforcement positively influences behaviour. But we know that without the expensive studies. If you know you’re getting a reward, you’re more likely to do the task in question.
So reward yourself every now and then as you progress through your action steps. Make the reward something special that you enjoy on an infrequent basis.
Don’t let the wagon leave without you
You probably didn’t wonder about the relevance of the picture above, but here it is: when I think of the wagon, I picture the American settlers heading west. Imagine for a moment that you’re sitting on the back of one of those wagons: the sun roasting your skin, the dust scratching your eyes, the jog and sway of the cart as it slowly bumps across the rough ground. Your eyelids get heavy, your head droops, you sway too far…suddenly you’re face first in the dirt.
Do you sit there in the dust thinking, ‘oh well, that does it then, I guess I’ll go home now’?
No. you run after it yelling, ‘wait for me’, and jump right back on.
Whether you goal is to save a deposit on a house, lose weight or give up smoking, you will probably fall off the old wagon every now and then. The key is to shrug and get back on, not give up on the first pot hole (as many do). You reassess where you are, find out what’s not working, understand what made you stumble, make changes if need be and then find a better position on the wagon.
Keep score of your successes. Tell people what you’re trying to achieve and how your progress is going. They will be there to
nag support you and celebrate with you when you achieve your goals.
Your life is an adventure unfolding before you everyday. And the adventure is over so quickly. Don’t let it pass you by while you watch TV.
Melissa Goodwin is a writer and the creator of Frugal and Thriving who has a passion for living frugally and encouraging people to thrive on any budget. The blog is nine years old and is almost like her eldest baby. Prior to being a blogger and mum (but not a mummy blogger), she worked as an accountant doing other people’s budgets, books and tax.