Standard goal setting advice involves writing goals down, creating accountability, and tracking progress. And I’ve got no arguments that, if you can stay motivated and stick with this plan, you will successfully reach your goals. But what if this hasn’t worked for you?
Maybe you’ve tried everything and don’t make any huge strides. Maybe your motivation wanes after a month or two. Maybe you forget and fall back into your old habits.
Many of us fall into the trap of thinking we just need to “try harder” when something isn’t working. The thing is, if what you’ve been doing isn’t working, continuing to do the exact same thing isn’t going to work either, even if you do try harder.
But trying something different might work. If you’ve followed the standard goal-setting advice, and it hasn’t worked for you, maybe it’s time to try something different.
In order to reach big goals, we usually have to make multiple changes. For instance, say you have a goal to “Save $5000 in 2017”. Great. But that probably means you’re going to have to make a budget and track your spending and not go out and make a meal plan and….on and on. Making too many changes at once can set you up for failure.
What we’re really talking about when we talk about goals is establishing new habits, or changing old ones. Creating new habits is hard. It takes focus and repetition and substitution. And your routines are so ingrained into your life that it’s difficult to remember to work the new goal into your regular, everyday grind.
…we move toward what we hold in our awareness. This is a simple idea with profound consequences for making change in our lives. We become what we pay attention to. The more we hold something in our awareness, the more likely we are to move toward that thing.” – The Five Secrets You Must Discover Before You Die (John Izzo)
In The Five Secrets You Must Discover Before You Die, John Izzo shares the results of research he conducted with people who were trying to make changes in their lives – exercise, weight, lifestyle, etc.
Participants were split into two groups. One group took the standard goal setting route – write down goals, review them and track progress.
In the other group, each participant was given a card and instructed to write down words that represented their goal. They were told to carry their card everywhere they went and look at the card 10-20 times each day.
The results? Both groups made progress on their goals. But the group that carried the cards made up to three times more progress.
Having a persistent reminder of their goal, several times each day, helped people become more aware of the choices they made. Eventually this awareness led to consistent habits that were aligned with their goal.
What’s the takeaway? To change the habits that need changing, you need to pay attention to the goal – regularly. You need to be aware of it constantly.
Awareness In Practice
Pick one goal. Let’s say you want to save $5000 in one year. Break it down into a monthly goal. You need to save $416.66 each month to reach your goal. That seems doable, but how will you make the necessary changes to save that much in a month?
Write down $416.66 on your card. Then take it one step further and write down WHY you want to save the money. Your Why creates even more motivation. Because saving money just for the sake of saving money isn’t very motivating.
Why do you want to save the money? Is it for a vacation? College savings? The down payment on a home? A car? Retirement? Write it down, along with your specific savings goal.
Create awareness by looking at it several times each day.
What could happen when you create this constant awareness? Maybe you would skip the latte or the snack at the gas station. Maybe you would cook a quick dinner, rather than ordering take-out. Maybe you’d have friends over instead of going out. When you’re looking at the card regularly each day, the awareness starts to change your behaviors.
It isn’t going to happen overnight, and might not happen in a month or two, but over time, the little changes start to add up. You may not save the entire $416.66 that first month, but you will start the ball rolling on the habits that need to change in order to save more.
Reminders to develop better money habits
You aren’t limited to using a card as your reminder. There are so many other ways to do it. It may take a little experimentation to see what works for you, but here are some suggestions:
- Reminders on your phone
- Automatic text messages to yourself
- Automatic emails to yourself
- Post it notes everywhere you are during the day – computer, phone, wallet, mirror, car, desk
- Write it on your to-do list
- Computer and phone screen savers
- Use it as your password (I do this! I’m reminded several times a day of my goal.)
- Wear a bracelet with your goal reminder on it
- Use an index card
You can also be strategic about reminder placement. For example, if you are trying to pay off debt, you could wrap a reminder around your credit and debit cards. Or put a photo of your Why in your wallet. (I would also recommend unsubscribing to retailer’s email lists and putting a note on your computer to squelch online purchases.)
Give it a try and see how it works for you. Use reminders to create the awareness that compels you to act every single day.
Have you ever used awareness as a tool for reaching your goals? How do you work on changing habits? What reminder tools do you use?
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