The New Year tends to make us stop and ponder what’s going on in our lives, and can we do anything to make it better? Can we at least stop digging the hole deeper?
Most people make resolutions – to improve their health by eating right and exercising more, or by quitting smoking. Some people resolve to save money for a special trip they have always wanted to take. Others resolve to get off their asses and finally DO *blank*, whether *blank* be to go skydiving, take up the guitar, or run a marathon.
We all know what happens, usually by the middle of February, to most of those resolutions – the gyms that were mobbed all through January start to clear up by then, and by the end of March they are back to their normal attendance levels. The new, healthy eating pattern gets disrupted, either by a Super Bowl party or Carnival/Mardi Gras/Fat Tuesday, and by the time Easter rolls around, it is forgotten. The money getting saved ends up paying for an extra tank of oil to heat the house, or some other emergency arises because Americans are so very bad at saving money and making sure they have emergency funds set aside.
No, Wait! Don’t click away! I’m not just spouting off a problem here – I have an idea for a solution!
Let’s take a look at WHY people fail on their resolutions. Most of the time it’s because the goal was not SMART. S.M.A.R.T. is an acronym, which stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Results-Focused, and Time-Bound. There’s a good article here about SMART goals and how to write them.
People make goals, such as “I’m going to lose 100 pounds this year!” or “I’m going to save $10,000 so I can live for a month in Europe!” and right away, most of us know those goals may be extremely hard to meet. If you are not willing to change, and stick to the change, in your eating and exercise habits, you may actually gain weight and size. If you are living paycheck to paycheck, and already economizing as much as possible, chances are pretty slim that unless you take a second (or third or fourth) job, you won’t have the extra income to save. And you may not have a job when you get back from that month in Europe.
SMART goals are a good start. It’s not giving up on a big dream – it’s setting up the steps to achieve that big dream.
I could realistically set a 3-year goal to lose 100 pounds of body weight. 33 to 34 pounds a year is not unhealthy, nor is it unrealistic. I could set a 3 to 5-year goal to save $10,000 so I could have my emergency fund fully funded. But to achieve those goals, I need to start small – because that’s a very large chunk to look at.
You see, it’s sort of like being given a 10-pound spiral ham, and being told that you must eat all of it. Some folks would be daunted, imagining that they have to eat it all in one sitting. Other folks would try to share it, and sometimes you can share it and sometimes you have to do it all on your own. Some folks would slice that ham up, pack bits away to eat later, and start on their first slice.
Most people call this the Salami method. I like ham.
So you cut your goal into slices that you can manage. You take small actions that will build into a pattern of behavior and all of a sudden you’re thinner, or you are no longer smoking, or you are running that marathon.
So I make a small change – I eat oatmeal at home instead of going out for an omelet. That helps with two goals – I save money AND I am not eating all the extras that come with the omelet.
Then I decide that I will take the stairs when I can instead of an elevator or escalator, and more importantly, I ACT on it. I start to park a little further away at the store. I do my grocery shopping with a list. I plan my meals so I don’t buy things I don’t need.
Sometimes we need to take baby steps. Sometimes we just need to take that big old task and slice it up by the month, or by the week, or by the day, or by the hour.
It’s up to you. Find out what slice you can manage – and remember, it’s ok if you can manage a large slice today, and only a nibble or two tomorrow. Just keep chewing away at it.