What’s Your Carrot?

By Kevin Gibbons

If it’s New Year’s, that means it’s time for many of us to make resolutions. Whether you’re looking to change a personal habit, learn a new skill, make a major life change or just improve at what you are already doing, identifying the best motivation is one of the keys to successfully completing that resolution. Part of understanding that motivation is distinguishing between a goal and a milestone.


In my previous life as a program manager, we used to talk about BFHGs – Big Fat Hairy Goals. These were the ambitious achievements we wanted the company to reach in the next 1 – 5 years. Things like increasing market share 30%, becoming a world-renowned leader in our technical field. Things that would really redefine and enable the company to excel. Personal goals, whether big or small, are likewise about redefining and enabling yourself to excel. A goal is envisioning a better you. What is the end-state you want to achieve? It could be wanting to improve your physical fitness or health, having clear control over your day-to-day finances, becoming fluent in a new language or being more attentive to a loved one. Whatever that end state is, it makes you better than who you are today.

In order to be a real, achievable resolution, the goal needs to have a clear definition of success, and a timetable. “I want to lose weight,” is a wish, not a goal. “I want to lose 30 pounds and be able to run 1 mile in 8 minutes by September 30,” is a goal.


So if goals are the big life-improvement objectives, what are milestones?? Milestones are the incremental improvements you make on your way to achieving your goal. If you’ve ever done any type of physical training, or weight loss program, you know that you don’t just miraculously jump to the end, be that losing the 30 pounds, running the 8-minute mile, or knocking out 50 push-ups at a set. In any self-improvement, you progress in steps. The milestones are the steps you recognize so you can see you are making progress. They are the 5 pounds you lose in a month, or the $1,000 you’ve paid down on your debt. Milestones are critical because they are what keep you going towards your goal. You get to have “mini-celebrations” when you reach them and you see how what may have appeared as an unobtainable goal is now one or two steps closer.

This is where your “carrot” comes in. Most of us recognize the ultimate value in attaining the goals we have established for ourselves. Being healthier, being on sound financial footing, broadening our horizons are all lofty concepts to aspire to, but they can be abstract or quite a ways off in the future if we are just starting our self-improvement journey. We need that carrot, that short-term reward to keep us going when we want that one snack or want to buy that one luxury. Many people try to just tough it out and push through, striving for that goal with a single-minded purposefulness. While that does work for some people, our experience at The Savvy Life has shown that clients are much more likely to succeed long-term if they give themselves periodic, planned rewards for achieving milestones. Those rewards can reinvigorate them to keep going without blowing the diet or budget they are ultimately working on.

So, what is your carrot? The idea is to reward desired behavior. This works best if you make your reward something you really like. As you think about what you want to change or improve, what is it that will keep you focused and motivated towards your next milestone? Is it a favorite food, drink or dessert? A movie, video game or book? Maybe a spa treatment or a special enjoyment of a hobby? Whatever it is, identify it, set it up as a reward for achieving a specific milestone and then keep repeating. Before you know it, you will be well on your way to achieving that New Year’s resolution.

Please drop me a line throughout the year at Kevin@TheSavvyLife.com (mention “Resolutions” in the Subject). I’d love to hear how you are doing.


Kevin Gibbons is a Cash Flow Planning Expert, the Vice President 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 600 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.

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