Goals and Resolutions

Nearly half of Americans make New Year’s resolutions each year. Of those, only eight percent are likely to succeed. That’s according to a study conducted by the University of Scranton and published in December in the Journal of Clinical Psychology. Losing weight was the number-one commitment reported, followed by getting organized and spending less (or saving more). Others in the top 10 include “enjoying life to the fullest,” quitting smoking and spending more time with family.

This dismal success rate might lead some to conclude that making New Year’s resolutions is actually counterproductive. After all, who wants to begin the year in defeat? In fact, the report notes, 38 percent of Americans refuse to make any resolution at all. However, applying ourselves to thinking about and planning our goals can make resolutions valuable and productive in our lives.

Setting goals
Setting goals, regardless of whether your motivation is the passage of a new year — is definitely worthwhile. Considerable past research shows that goal setting can be a useful and valuable tool, leading us to clearly specify and achieve our objectives at a higher rate. It is true that at least some New Year’s resolutions are achieved, which means some benefits are being realized — albeit not every single desired benefit — and this is consistent with research showing that goal setting adds value. The most valuable goals are those that challenge us but are not so difficult as to be entirely out of reach. Further, more specific goals are much more valuable than vague ones. Finally, resolutions or goals that are accompanied by a specific plan of action are the most likely to be achieved.

Indeed, the trickiest part may be finding ways to stick to those goals once they are articulated. Many write their resolutions down, post them where they will see them every day (on a mirror, fridge, car or computer screen) and work with others to achieve them — perhaps partnering with someone to achieve the same goal. The Journal of Clinical Psychology report notes that people who make explicit New Year’s resolutions are 10 times more likely to succeed than those who don’t. For that reason, you should be sure to tell others what your resolutions are.

Someone once asked Texas oil billionaire H. L. Hunt how he had managed to amass such terrific wealth. His now-famous response: “Decide what you want, decide what you are willing to exchange for it, establish your priorities and go to work.” Sounds simple, and it is — in theory. But in practice, most of us need a little help setting effective goals. It’s worth the investment of time and energy to do it right.
Here are some tips for nailing down targeted, realistic and productive goals:

Keep goals specific and measurable
Effective goals are razor-sharp: specific, focused and to the point. Unfortunately, most people’s goals are broad and vague — at least initially. Clear goals are measurable ones. If you can’t measure your progress, you can’t track it. You can’t have fuzzy statements as goals . . . they need to be measurable. It is helpful to break your goals into incremental achievements (monthly, quarterly or maybe daily). This makes big annual goals more bite sized and less intimidating to accomplish.

Have a long-term vision
One of our biggest challenges is shifting focus from transacting today’s activities and goals into building tomorrow’s. Give some thought to the problems and risks attached to taking a short-term outlook. Bring goal setting back to daily things that matter. If you don’t change, none of the problems you’re experiencing will change. Don’t lose sight of the big picture of what you are trying to accomplish, and be flexible enough to change your efforts and redirect yourself as you move toward the long term plan. Don’t get stuck in mundane repetition toward something . . . keep revisiting your vision.

Remember: “God is in the details”
Goals don’t work unless you can envision the steps leading from point A to point B. Unfortunately people “tend to look at the end result, not the steps along the way.” Be certain you have really thought through each goal and developed at least a rough idea of how to make it happen. We have to remember that God does not call us to be successful, but faithful . . . so do the best you can with what you have been given.

Keep goals realistic but ambitious
We sometimes have trouble viewing our own capacity for progress objectively; everyone either undershoots or overshoots. It’s important to avoid falling into either of these traps. If you suspect a goal you’ve set may be overly optimistic, ask yourself a few questions: “How has this worked for you in the past? Have you been able to do this before?” If the goal still seems unrealistic, consider lowering the bar a bit, and then make sure to achieve that new goal. But remember that low-balling goals can be just as problematic as setting expectations too high. Modest goals lead to modest results. If you want to achieve great things, challenge yourself.

Get the support you need
Nothing is more discouraging than running into a brick wall when you should be translating goals into real-world results. Take the time to set effective, intelligent goals and proactively discuss them with a trusted friend or colleague. Then initiate a discussion about what kind of support you’ll need to accomplish them and watch your goals and resolutions get achieved!

Remember that performance is not everything
To set and actively attempt to achieve goals one must have the mentality that achievement or failure to reach your goals is not what it is about. It is about the challenge of going after a goal regardless of success or failure and the enjoyment of the process. One must be careful not to make the success or failure to reach the goal an overarching motivator, risking making performance your identity and thereby setting yourself up for the pride of success or the depression of failure. It is okay to have a goal and resolution mentality, but it must be combined with the attitude that failure and underachieving is okay. We need to have balance and to remember that we can’t take anything with us anyway, so you do your best and realize that God measures our success by what Christ has already accomplished by the cross on our behalf. This frees us up.

Jeffery Masters, president of Jeffery W. Masters & Associates, can be reached at 954-977-5150. Securities offered through LPL Financial, member FINRA/SIPC. Investment advice offered through Independent Financial Partners, a registered investment advisor. Independent Financial Partners and Jeffery W. Masters & Associates are separate entities’ from LPL Financial – Jeffery.Masters@LPL.com. Jeff is a locally endorsed Investment Advisor by Dave Ramsey, who is not affiliated with LPL Financial.

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