Whether you’d like to believe it or not, I think that most people are generally pretty good about setting and completing goals. However, these “goals” that people are so good at don’t really deal with improving their finances, relationships, or physical fitness (ie, things that actually matter). They’re typically more like shopping lists, or “to-do” lists.
More times than not we’re creating to-do lists that help us complete mundane tasks that have little to no long-term impact on our lives. We’re really good at filling our nights, weekends and even our time at work with B.S. that could be spent on productive activities. For example, people spend more time complaining to people about being broke than actually doing something about it. You know those people who love to complain about their lives to anyone who will listen? What if they could re-direct their energies into creating a strategy to remove themselves from their pit of hopeless despair (their words, not mine). These people simply need a little goal-orientation in their lives.
So how do you set a meaningful goal and follow it through to completion? You create a mission statement which will act as the blueprints for success. It’s pretty easy to write “become a millionaire” as a goal. It’s a pretty meaningless line item when you write it like that. How does this sound instead: I plan to become a millionaire within the next ten years by creating a rigid savings plan. I will put $x into these funds every month, re-assessing my strategy every three months. Who do you think is going to be more successful in their attempts? My bet is on the more thorough goal-creator.
It’s imperative that you understand the difference between goals and to-do lists. A to-do list will contain very short-term items that don’t usually have a very significant impact on your life. Grocery shopping would go on this list. Grocery shopping is important, but will a single shopping trip change the course of your future? Meh, I wouldn’t count on it. You don’t need a mission statement to convince yourself that you need to go shopping. You know how to do it; you know you’ll do it. You can add things like buying stamps, or mowing the lawn to a to-do list as well as their impact is almost nil.
In contrast, a goal is by definition “something that somebody wants to achieve”. Do you feel a sense of achievement when you walk out of Safeway every weekend with your Doritos and a tub of Ben and Jerry’s? Probably not. But, would you feel a sense of achievement if you paid off all of your debt? Hell yes you would! Would you feel a sense of achievement if you knew that you’d successfully rekindled a personal relationship? Of course, sucka! Goals are big. They’re something to base your life around and something to live for. Without clear and concise goals people get caught up fussing over the mindless and the mundane. Without big goals, insignificant things seems important. These petty things are distractions and they shouldn’t be the focus of your day.
I would recommend that you take about 30 minutes each week to devote yourself (and your significant other) to planning your future. Choose whatever frequency works for you, but make it a regular part of your life. My wife and I tend to re-write our goals out whenever we’ve completed all of our short-term goals (about once a month).
After you’ve written out a solid list of short-, mid-, and long-term goals you’ll want to set priority levels for each individual item. This can be accomplished by setting deadlines for each goal. A proper goal shouldn’t say that “you want to become a millionaire eventually”, you’d say that you “will become a millionaire in ten years”. With these words, you can literally trick yourself into completing goals, just by writing your goal statement the way a lawyer would: with no loopholes. Using words like “will” and “by” empower you to complete your goals. Psychologically, you might feel a need to follow-through on your goals when you say that you “will” accomplish them.
Once you’ve written all of your goals out you’ll want to see how your day-to-day activities either help or prohibit you from achieving them. You might reconsider spending your entire night after work watching TV if you have greater plans to accomplish something. Maybe you want to have a deeper connection with your family? You could have a family dinner then go for a walk every night. Maybe you want to learn a new hobby or skill? Maybe you want to be able to run 3 miles in under 24 minutes? You’ll never regret spending 1 hour a day working out (unless you’re mauled by a wild animal during your work out). The point is: Are the things that don’t really matter taking up more of your time than your goals?
Not every goal that you set has to be completed. Your life could change before the completion of a goal, and make the goal seem either pointless or redundant. Here’s a personal example: After we bought our house we were planning on renovating the crap out of it. It was brand new when we bought it, but there were a few touches that we wanted to add. It was our goal to change out the hardwood, add a stone patio and a fourth bedroom, along with some other things. Then, we decided to rent our house out. All renovations took a backseat, because it no longer made sense for them to be a priority.
Life changes constantly. The things you want today, you may not want tomorrow. That’s why I stress that goals should be written and re-written every 3 months. That’s a significant enough amount of time to say either “Yes, I still want to do this” or “No, let’s modify or remove this from our list of goals”. Here’s a financial example: If you were investing money heavily into an industry that was on the verge of becoming obsolete, you probably wouldn’t keep dumping your money into it, would you? No, because the priorities have shifted in the market, and so should yours.
The bottom line is that setting and actively pursuing goals will help you become a more productive and more well-rounded person, employee, husband/wife/parent, etc. A goal-oriented person will have a better chance at success in their industry, leading to higher compensation and a more comfortable office chair. At home, you’ll have better relationships with your family and friends. You’ll eat better and be in better shape if those are the things that you care about, or want to start caring about. And all it takes is about 30 minutes per month.