By January 9th, most people have already given up their New Years Resolutions. While you may rank resolutions for improving your finances or health high on your list of importance, chances are they’re not quite as high on your list of motivation. To set ourselves up for success, it’s crucial that we have a plan on how we will reach our goals. You may have heard about SMART goals, but if you really want to implement change, set SMARTER goals.
When it comes to my approach to personal finance, I can’t help but to apply what I know about motivation, behavior change, and other psychological constructs.
Previously, I wrote about how applying principles of ACT has helped me save money by making financial goals that are consistent with my personal values.
I also wrote about how many of the leading causes of death in the USA are related to lifestyle factors, which is one reason I became a Health Psychologist. Staying healthy can also have a tremendous impact on our finances. I mentioned some of the changes we can make that can save money and improve our health.
But please do not think that I am suggesting that behavior change is easy. It can be hard! But there are things we can do to improve our chances of making successful changes.
In today’s post, I give a glimpse how I apply techniques for setting goals and increasing motivation using an example from my own New Year’s Resolution.
We often know what we want our outcome to be, but it’s getting there that’s the hard part. This is why when psychologists are working with people to assist them with behavior change, we start with creating a treatment plan.
When creating a treatment plan, the overall goal (e.g., get out of debt, lose weight) is just one part of it. How do we achieve the goal? When will we know if the goal has been reached? More importantly, what do we do if we don’t achieve the goal?
Make it a SMARTER goal!
You may have heard of setting SMART goals:
Then to make it SMARTER
One of my goals this year is to get back into shape. What does that mean? How do I do this?
To make it a SMART goal, break it down to make it specific, measurable, and time-bound:
Specific: Go walking for 30 minutes a day 5 days per week during lunch.
Measurable: Bring my phone to keep track of the time. Record daily walks on calendar.
Achievable: I would love to workout at the gym for an hour a day, but given my schedule that’s not realistic at this time. Walking is something I will actually be able to do on a regular basis.
Relevant: My health is something high on my list of values. I love walking because it also provides me stress relief.
Time-bound: Starting in January and walking daily for at least 6 months.
The problem is, I’ve been off my regular routine lately. I actually haven’t exercised at all in weeks. Now my seemingly simple goal to walk just makes me feel like a failure. So do I give up my goal? No, I need a SMARTER goal.
SMARTER goals take into account the importance of Evaluating and Readjusting.
Evaluating: After the first week, I look at my activity calendar and find that I have not been exercising everyday. I often have meetings on Tuesdays and Thursdays during lunch and do not get a break during those days.
Readjusting: Knowing that walking everyday during lunch is just not going to happen, I need to change my goal. My new goal will be to walk 30 minutes on any 5 days per week (aiming for Mon, Wed, Fri, Sat, and Sun).
Evaluating (again): After another week, I again look at my activity calendar and Readjust (again) if necessary.
Being SMARTER will provides me with a strategy to turn my resolution of getting back into shape into a clear yet modifiable goal.
Notice in the example above that I did not go on about all the reasons that I didn’t achieve my goal. I could have also told you about how cold it’s been or how busy I am or how I really need more socks before I can start walking everyday.
The reality is, there’s always a reason NOT to do something. But I am not going to focus on all the reasons I haven’t done something. That doesn’t help my motivation, it hurts it!
When evaluating and readjusting my goals, I try to catch myself with the “yeah, buts” and instead focus on the positive.
- What have I been doing well?
- e.g., I walked one day
- What is working for me?
- e.g., the day I did walk was a day without lunchtime meetings
- Which changes (or movement toward change) have I already made?
- e.g., I bought new socks and kept a pair of socks and sneakers at work
- What are the reasons I want to make the changes?
- e.g., I want to look and feel good. I also want to manage my health the best I can with diet and exercise. It also saves money on healthcare costs.
- Why is this personally important to me?
- e.g., I can’t fit into my pants! That’s a big deal during winter!
Behavior change is hard! There are entire courses and approaches to psychotherapy devoted to this very topic.
Whether it’s financial goals, health-behavior changes, or personal achievements, I’ve applied what I know about some of these psychological constructs to help me accomplish my goals in life:
- Set goals that are consistent with my values
- Make SMARTER goals by regularly evaluating and readjusting as needed
- Increase my motivation by not focusing on excuses but instead reminding myself of my reasons for wanting to make changes and any progress I have made so far.
If you’ll excuse me, it’s time for my walk.
What are some of your goals? How can you make them SMARTER?