Spring is in the air, so by now most people’s New Year’s resolutions are distant memories.
Typically, New Year’s resolutions don’t involve “goals,” so much as a desire for personal, behavioral change (usually proclaimed under the influence of — or at least around the influence of — champagne). Then people usually talk about breaking them for a month before forgetting their resolutions altogether.
Is this a plan for success? Hardly.
The sad thing is that many have worthy wishes or dreams, but they never leave the “wish” stage. In order to do something about that, you’ve got to turn your wishes into goals.
The most common resolutions are to lose weight, spend less and save more money. None of these will happen unless you change your behavior, and that change starts with SMART goals: S pecific, M easurable, A chievable, R ealistic and T ime-bound. Instead of saying, “I want to spend less money and save more,” make it a SMART goal: “I want to cut my monthly budget by 10 percent within the next six months and increase savings by the amount of all the cuts.”
Let’s breakdown the SMART goal process:
Is it specific? Yes, rather than a general “save money,” there is a specific plan: cut spending 10 percent in six months and put that money into savings.
Is it measurable? Yes, with a specific percentage and set timeline, there’s finite data to measure. We can track it every month, week or even every day to chart our progress.
Is it achievable? Yes, at least the cutting part. The savings part may be another story.
Is it realistic? Sure, we’d all like to double our savings every month, and if you have never tried it, you may say, “ I can do that.” But the point isn’t to cut spending one month and then spend like crazy the next. If it were easy, wouldn’t you have already done it?
Is it time-bound? Yes, there is a set timeline. We plan to achieve our goal in six months, not “before we retire” or some other ambiguous mark. Along with specificity, this test takes the dream and turns it into a goal; it provides accountability, a time when the game is over and you can check the score.
Speaking of scores, let’s say you were able to cut spending by nine percent instead of ten. This assumes you made a budget and knew where your money was going, but were only able to save seven percent. Did you fail? Those who are all about the math and numbers would argue yes, because you did not reach 100 percent of your goal. However, anyone who has actually made behavioral changes will tell you the effort was a raving success. So, what’s next?
Set another goal. Maybe you want to challenge yourself to complete your original goal. So, you give yourself three additional months to achieve the original 10 percent and save the remaining three percent. If you achieve this, does succeeding in nine months count when you set out to do it in six? Of course it does. The point of the goal was behavioral change, which was accomplished.
So, get over the fear of perfection and forget the “all or nothing” mindset of “failure” if you don’t reach your entire goal the first time. So you fell off the resolution train by February … that doesn’t mean you forget the plan entirely. Hold yourself accountable and make a behavioral change that will last. Turn your dream into a SMART goal, and you’ll be surprised at how capable you are of achieving success.
This article originally appeared in the Nashville Business Journal.