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5 Steps to SMARTer New Year's Resolutions

You have unwrapped all your gifts and swallowed your last bite of pie. Ready to tackle the new year, you resolve to make it the best year yet. You join millions of people who, bolstered by the lessons of the past year and motivated by the promise of a brand new year, will begin crafting New Year resolutions that promise a brighter and more productive year ahead.

How can you improve your chances of keeping your resolutions? Maybe you’re envisioning storing away extra cash, exercising more frequently, or finally cleaning up your eating habits. How intentional have you been about setting a goal that you will actually keep? According to the Statistic Brain Research Institute, only 9.2% of people keep their resolutions.

Motivation is a great catalyst, but it is often not enough to carry you through the long haul. What internal resources do you already possess that will allow you to not only set goals but keep them?

How. Not what.

It may be more about how you motivate yourself to achieve success than the actual goal itself. We can be more successful when we place the locus of control for success within ourselves. Locus of control refers to the degree of control an individual believes he or she has over the outcome of a situation.

In the 1970's, Edwin Locke and Gary Latham developed SMART goals as a way to increase the likelihood that goal setting would be successful. In his book, Smarter Faster Better: The Transformative Power of Real Productivity, Charles Duhigg provides powerful vignettes about how setting SMART goals helped a major cooperation become one of the most successful companies in the world. SMART goals have to meet certain criteria. Namely, they are: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time specific. The more concrete the goal is, the greater the likelihood that you will make it happen. Saying that you want to save more money becomes more achievable when you break this goal down into specific steps. Let’s look at how you could turn saving more money into an actionable SMART goal.

1. Specific

“I want to save money for my emergency fund.”

The more concrete you are about your actual goal, the more likely that you will achieve it. Picture every detail about your goal. Avoid vague, unclear statements. You want to set goals that have clear actions behind them. Instead of saying “I want to feel financially secure”, state what that means for you and exactly how you will do that. Maybe you will pack your lunches 4 days a week and only buy coffee from a coffee shop 2 mornings per week. What would allow you to feel more financially secure? What is currently lacking in your financial life that is leaving you feeling insecure?

2. Measurable

“I have chosen $1200 as my target”

Your goal should be quantifiable. How much money, how many pounds, how many servings of fruits and vegetables? A number attached to your goal gives you something that you can track. Using concrete measurements to track your goals allows you to clearly see your progress. Instead of “I want to save more money for my emergency fund”, naming $1200 as a target helps you track how close you are to your goal.

Having a tangible way of measuring your goals also helps you set goals that are realistic and achievable.

3. Achievable

“If I cut down on unnecessary expenses, like buying my lunch every day, I can save money from each paycheck.”

It is important that your SMART goal is achievable. While it is important to fantasize about your larger than life goals, SMART goals are ones that you design as achievable. You are more likely to see small successes as you work towards your final goal which is important for maintaining your motivation.

4. Realistic

“With planning, I can find enough things to change that will result in spending less money on unnecessary items”

Don’t set yourself up for failure. While STRETCH goals, goals that push us beyond our comfort zone to achieve are important, SMART goals are based on resources that you already have. When you set your smart goal, set it knowing that you have all the internal and external resources available to achieve it. So, don’t set a goal to save $500 every month if you’re planning to save by packing your own lunches. Most people don’t spend $500 per month on lunch

5. Time Specific

“I would like to save $1200 over the next year. I will identify $100 of unnecessary expenses in each month and put that money into my emergency fund.”

Put yourself on the clock. Another way of making your goal more tangible is setting a finite time frame. Time adds an additional scaffold upon which you can build a more solid and attainable goal. Breaking a money-saving goal into smaller, monthly portions makes saving for the larger goal more manageable.

Whether you are hoping to work towards a fitter you, or save a few more dollars, coming up with a concrete action-oriented plan can be the key to your success.

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