Friday, January 7, 2011

Resolve, and a plan, are keys to achieving your goals

I would never want to underestimate the power of resolve, that state of mind where tenacity and firm determination help you accomplish something difficult or out of the ordinary. I would say I had resolve, for example, when I earned my college degree – and paid for my education myself. But I have to admit that I wouldn’t consider myself a resolute person.

That’s one reason I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. Another reason is that resolutions usually don’t lead to the success you hoped for. A resolution presumes you can change things in your life just by making the decision to do so. On the contrary, true and lasting change is most often the result of making a commitment, followed by series of deliberate choices.

Though resolutions can help you to identify areas of your life that you would like to improve, such as your health, your relationships, or your finances, they can’t give you any concrete measure of success along the way. This is largely because resolutions are typically expressed in broad, shapeless statements, such as, “I will enjoy life more this year.” Or “This will be the year I finally get my finances under control.”

Without a clear picture of what it means to enjoy life more or have your finances under control, you’ll likely abandon your resolutions. As a result, you’ll end up feeling discouraged—even powerless—to affect change in your life.

Thankfully, there is a more effective way to accomplish what you want to do in 2011. By setting goals, instead of making resolutions, you’ll be able to create a more realistic, successful plan for the year to come. Goal setting will let you take the statement, “I will enjoy life more this year” and turn it into a series of measurable steps.

To begin, you need to ask yourself this basic question: What will I need to do in order to enjoy my life more? Do you need to work less, carve out more time for hobbies, or reduce your debt? Will being better organized or cooking more meals at home help you reduce stress and improve your life? Or, will starting an exercise plan move you closer to the life you desire?

Next, you can set attainable goals. If you want more time to enjoy a favorite hobby, for example, what else are you willing to give up? If you want to devote more time to writing, you may need to get up a few minutes earlier, spend less time online, or commit to writing during your lunch hour. Your goal, then, might be something like this: I will get up early three days a week and write for at least 30 minutes.

With this goal, you’ll know if you’re making progress. You’ll also recognize when your plan isn’t working. If you end up hitting the snooze button four times, rather than getting up to write, you may want to adjust your goal and write for 20 minutes in the evening.

You can apply the same methods to other types of goals, as well. If you want to pay down your debt this year, determine how much you can realistically afford to repay. Then, consider ways you can reach your goal; taking a part-time job, selling an asset, or redirecting money you normally would have spent on eating out are all possible options.

Setting a goal as we start a new year is a worthy task. If you map out small steps to achieve your goal and resolve to stick with them, you can change your finances, or your life, for the better.

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