Taking Specific Action on New Year’s Resolutions

Question:

What’s a more popular topic on blogs around this time of year:

  • Boldly proclaiming your New Year’s Resolutions to the world, in hopes that the public declaration will keep you accountable? (That’s a questionable argument.)
  • Writing a blog with the theme “Why New Years Resolutions Fail, and here’s 3, 4, 10 Ways to Ensure Yours Don’t”? (I love Nerdfitness, just put it here as an example.)

Background
Since 2010, I’ve kept a simple spiral bound notebook with my goals for the year, notes on books I’ve read, etc. I intentionally did this non-digitally (even though I use Google Docs or Evernote for almost everything) for two reasons:

  1. Having a notebook sitting on my desk is a constant reminder of my goals, since it is right there all the time, I can simply flip it open and quickly see my progress.
  2. Someday when I’m old (or worse), I’d love for my kids to be able to flip through these and look back at what was going on that year. “Hey, 2012 was the year Dad built the dining room table, cool.”

With the above two considerations in mind, after reading Ramit’s excellent post “Why Resolutions Fail”, I went back to my 2013 goals and reviewed which ones were (1) unspecific, (2) unrealistic or (3) required a lot of willpower from me to accomplish.

Taking Action
I started with one of my financial goals, which was:

-Save 10% of after-tax (net) paycheck for retirement.

I analyzed this goal by the above three criteria, to find my weakness:

  1. It is specific? Yes, 10% of my net paycheck is easily determined.
  2. It is realistic? Yes, it’s only a slight bump from what we saved for most of 2012.
  3. Does it require willpower? Sort of – see below.

To overcome #3, I wanted to automate the process, so it wouldn’t require me remembering to move money around every 2 weeks. In 2012, I found myself going back through records trying to figure out if I had contributed enough, since I rarely made the transfer on a paycheck date, it was even harder.

Here’s what we did last year:

  1. Half of our retirement savings went to my 401(k) plan via automatic deduction from my paycheck. (Roughly 3.5% of my net, also enough to maximize the employer match.)
  2. Every paycheck (or when I remembered) I’d transfer the other half to our Roth IRA account, alternating between mine and Stefanie’s. (Another 3.5%.)

In retrospect, I’m surprised I contributed as much as I did. Not only did I have to remember to go to Vanguard and make the transfer every 2 weeks, but I also had to remember which account that check’s contribution was designated to.

Here’s what I’m doing now:

  1. Still have the automatic 401(k) deduction coming out of each check.
  2. Set up a recurring deduction from EACH Roth account for ½ the amount, every two weeks. (I tried the alternating method again, but Vanguard’s settings only allowed for monthly or every 2 weeks, not every 4 weeks like I needed.)
  3. Set up another recurring deduction for the remainder – to another long-term savings account.

Long story short, now the default result is that my goal will be accomplished, even if I do nothing else the rest of the year.

This is one example, but it can apply to many other goals as well.

Want to learn something new? Your goal shouldn’t be “learn how to use QuickBooks more effectively”. Take 30 minutes and figure out what tasks you are spending a lot of time on. Schedule 15 minutes every morning three times per week to work on improving one of those tasks.

Your goal (or part of it) could be “learn to email invoices to customers so I can get paid faster”. On Tuesday I will look for 2 YouTube videos on the topic and watch them. Wednesday I will call my favorite customer, ask for her email address, tell them I’m testing this process and email her the invoice. Thursday I will follow up via phone and make sure she received the email and ask for feedback.

Want to get organized? A goal of “declutter my office so I can actually have a place to work” is not specific enough (or maybe realistic). Take some notes on how you work throughout the day – why is so much crap piling up? What problems is it causing you?

Create a system. At the end of the day: take 15 minutes to deal with your clutter so it doesn’t pile up for a week. Get rid of unnecessary paper by using a to-do app. What projects could be done in a minute or two? Just get them done now. You’ll end the day positively and start tomorrow the same way, knowing your office isn’t bursting at the seams.

I hope this post helps you attack your resolutions and build habits to support them. I’d love to hear feedback in the comments on your best practices for accomplishing your goals.

2 thoughts on “Taking Specific Action on New Year’s Resolutions

  1. Jill Koenig Goal Setting Coach

    Great advice, Kevin. I like how you take a disciplined approach to ensuring your goals are achieved.

    I also write my goals on paper and keep them in front of me, in addition to the few electronic tools I employ. Writing your goals on paper activates the RAS (Reticular Activating System), which is the brain’s ‘seeker’ mechanism. Science tells us that our subconscious mind is infinitely more powerful than our conscious mind, so it makes sense to empower it consistently. Pen and paper does just that.

    I am also a believer that out of sight is out of mind, so for the bigger stretch goals that require reminders and greater will power, I wear a Goal Band, a custom bracelet with a word or phrase that represents my goal. When people ask me about it, which is quite often, it serves as a reminder to myself, encourages me to verbalize my goal, and is great for accountability as well.

    I also use my Facebook page, of all things, to share many of my goals and their progress. That approach is not for the faint of heart, but is great for that extra element of support and accountability. I used this strategy to achieve running 365 miles in 365 days each of the past two years. It inspired others to do the same and now we have a group where we post our miles. The extra measure of social support works wonders when you are truly committed.

    Thanks for the great post and much luck on your goals for the year!

    Live Your Dreams,

    Jill Koenig
    Author, Goals Coach

  2. Kevin Post author

    Jill,
    Those are some great strategies to keep your goals in front of you all the time. The RAS thing is interesting, I hadn’t heard of that before.

    Thanks for the terrific comment!
    Kevin

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