A Slow but Sure Approach to Success in the Year Ahead

The new year brings a sense of urgency to make changes in our lives and become better than we were before.

This article has been reprinted at forbes.com as The Secret of Successful Saving and Investing

I know, I know, you are shocked that there’s an article about goal setting at the start of a new year. ‘Tis the season and as such my aim is to give you at least one idea that can change your approach to goal setting.

The first idea is to change your goal structure: don’t set a deadline, set a schedule.  Rather than set a goal to read X number of books by the end of the year, set a schedule of when you’ll read.  For example, you’ll read 20 minutes each night before bed, or 1 hour every Saturday morning. You’ll find that by sticking to a schedule you will meet your ultimate goal of reading more and the likelihood of reading the number of books you originally set out to read will increase. A simple adjustment of more or less time to the schedule is easier to do once you’ve created the habit. Consistency is key.

“Productive and successful people practice the things that are important to them on a consistent basis,” says James Clear, an author focused on behavioral psychology. “The best weightlifters are in the gym at the same time every week. The best writers are sitting down at the keyboard every day.  The strange thing is that for top performers, it’s not about the performance, it’s about the continual practice.”

Jerry Seinfeld was once approached by a budding comedian who asked for advice on how to become a successful comedian. Seinfeld told the young comedian to hang a large year-at-a-glance calendar on the wall and each day he wrote new material to mark the calendar with a big red “X.”  Seinfeld told him to write every day. No. Matter. What.  Eventually one red X would turn into two, into three, then five days, maybe even a week straight.  Then, once he had strung together these multiple days, Never Break the Chain.

This resonated with me.  But I know me, and I know things don’t always go the way I hope. Then came the revelation. While attending a conference last year, James Clear shared another adage worth remembering. He said, “Make sure you never miss two times in a row.”  It was that practical advice that we have all listened to, but don’t REALLY hear or understand.

Just because you miss one day doesn’t mean you’ve failed, or that you should give up.  It was like Seinfeld’s advice to the budding comedian, but in this case intended for regular people. I can do that!  I can release the guilt and momentary thoughts of failure that come with missing that one day, with the gap in my perfect rows of big red X’s and move on. I can count it a success that there aren’t two gaps.

The second idea is to change the way you think about your behavior.  A simple change in your mindset can not only position you for goal achievement, but also allow you to have fun while doing it. Adding up all the little successes all along the way can really help keep you on track and motivated.

One great example of this is Teddy. Teddy was living paycheck to paycheck.  He really wanted to save money, but had been unsuccessful in doing so.  One year he decided to simply add a dollar sign with a blank space next to it to his calendar every Saturday. Each week, he then wrote in how much he had purposefully not spent and instead put into a savings account.  He was now visually accountable to himself (and to that blank space on his calendar) to save.

Some weeks he only filled in $5, others he was able to save over $100.  Eventually Teddy started writing in a goal amount he was going to save at the beginning of the week, and spending only what he had left over. It was this key change that led him to a new paradigm. Teddy now saw himself as a saver instead of a spender.

The power to set a schedule to achieve your goals and to see yourself in a new way is extremely enabling and exciting.  No matter what your goals are this year, I challenge you to find little ways to set yourself up for this kind of success.  Hey, set a goal to check in on your progress in six months and see what you’ve accomplished.  And if you have a lot of blank days in a row, re-establish a goal and get another big red “X” up there in June.

JJ Sessions, CFP®, is a Sr. Financial Planner in the Twin Cities office of The Planning Center, a fee-only financial planning and wealth management firm.

Email him at: jj@theplanningcenter.com.

 

 

Many of the ideas in the article come from work by James Clear, an entrepreneur, author, and self-help guru. See more at www.jamesclear.com

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