By Kevin Gibbons
We’re in the last week of January. That’s a good time to check how we are doing with our New Year’s Resolutions. Most behaviorists agree that 30 days is a good period for establishing a new habit. Whether you are on track or not, it is important to periodically check in. So, let’s talk about where we are.
If you’re on track with your resolution, congratulations! Take a few minutes to think about why you are being successful. Can you apply this to other areas that you may want to improve? Leveraging what works is a key critical skill towards making changes and maintaining desired behaviors.
Are the results what you really intended, and what you wanted? If they are, keep doing what you’re doing! If not, look at what tweaks you can make to fine tune the process and results. Remember, resolutions and behavior changes should improve some aspect of your life. We don’t just do them for the sake of doing them.
Kind of Working but Struggling
If you’re sort of making progress, but struggling, take the time to look at the 3 key areas of behavioral change: The Goal, The Reward, and the Action. All three have to be coordinated for your success.
- The Goal
Consider slightly modifying your goal.
Is this really something you want to achieve? Why do you want to do it?
Is it measurable? This is a big one. A goal to save $100/month for next year’s vacation is much more focused than simply saying “I want to spend less.”
Is the goal reasonable? For someone making $40,000/year, paying rent in Boston or San Francisco, trying to set aside $2,000/month may be noble but is probably unrealistic in most cases. Goals should be a little bit of a stretch, but give yourself a fighting chance!
- The Reward
You’re a lot more likely to achieve your goal if you have intermediate rewards for changing your behavior. That way, you are not waiting for the big payoff at the end to get some sort of positive feedback.
If you are trying to reduce spending by packing your lunch instead of eating out every day, give yourself a reward of buying a relatively inexpensive treat on the weekend if you successfully pack your lunch every day of the week. That gives you something to aim for in the short term when your willpower may wane a little bit. “If I make it through Friday, I can get that mocha on Saturday.” In some cases, that can be more motivating than seeing a bank account grow or a debt whittle down. Human brains are strange that way…
- The Action
Are you doing the right action to achieve your goal? Does it need to be tweaked or performed incrementally? No one starts a physical fitness routine by doing 100 pushups. You start by doing just enough to feel the effect and then slowly, regularly increasing to the desired goal.
Will another action get you to the same result? Sticking with the physical fitness example, if your goal is to improve your cardio and you try running but absolutely hate it, can you switch to swimming, gym fitness training, or some other approach? Don’t mistake the process for the end result.
Frustrated and not Getting Anywhere
Sometimes, resolutions just don’t work out. They are over ambitious life gets in the way, or they are not addressing the core change you really need. If you are frustrated with your lack of progress with your resolution, take the time to learn why. There is a problem-solving technique called The 5 Whys. There are many variations, but the basic idea is that you ask “Why?” at least five times, digging deeper into the reason until you get to the core issue. Then you address that core issue. Taking a page from current news and fashion, an exercise might go something like this:
- I want to save money to remodel my house. Why?
- I’m frustrated with the way it looks. Why?
- It looks old and messy. Why?
- Things are scattered everywhere and I can’t find anything. Why?
- Nothing is ever put away. Why?
- There’s no room. Why?
- I have too much stuff. Aha!
Maybe the redecoration isn’t the approach. Rather, decluttering is the more appropriate action.
There is nothing wrong with redefining goals or approaches if they are not working. You just have to be honest with yourself about why you are making the change to your plan. The end objective is to improve yourself and make your life better.
Whether you are on track, need some minor tweaking or need to honestly re-evaluate your goal and approach, keep at it! Send us your stories of progress and challenges at email@example.com.
Kevin Gibbons is the Chief Operating Officer of The Savvy Life and co-author of the international bestseller Living The Savvy Life. For the past eight years, Kevin and Savvy Life Founder Melissa Tosetti have worked with over 525 individuals and families to create Spending Plans.
They also work with financial advisors and their clients doing cash flow planning as well as giving Savvy Living presentations via webinar and in-person to audiences across the U.S.
If you’d like to learn more about how Kevin and Melissa work with clients, visit The Savvy Life’s Programs page.
If you’d like to learn more about how they work with financial advisors and their clients visit: The Savvy Life Advisor’s Page