Goals, Habits, and The Strangest Secret

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I tend to scoff at the thought of “New Years resolutions” but I absolutely believe in setting goals and working to achieve them. When a lot of us think of resolutions, we think of good intentions with zero follow through. The gym gets really busy in January, but then dies back down to manageable levels come February. How many times have you resolved to be “better with money” only to backpedal into old habits and not make any real change? Resolutions tend to be flimsy things that fade away at the first sign of adversity.

Setting goals at the beginning of a new calendar year is great though. You have a set amount of time to achieve them and can measure yourself by the months of the year. Good goals are measurable and time-bound. There is something to be said for the feeling of a “fresh start” that January 1st brings us. I think the key is to throw out the term “resolution,” set some SMART achievable goals, and be intentional about reaching them. I want to share some goal setting & achieving tips with you in this post.

SMART Goals

I was introduced to SMART goals during annual objective setting in my last corporate job. So, basically I was not in the right frame of mind to fully embrace the idea. With some non-work exposure to the concept, I started to understand that the SMART acronym was a valuable tool.

SMART Goals are:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Reasonable (realistic or results-based)
  • Time bound

Instead of “I’m going to exercise more” I would say “I’m going to walk on my treadmill for 30 minutes a day 3 days a week.” Rather than “I resolve to keep a journal” I would say “I’m going to record at least one thing I’m thankful for each day in a journal before I go to bed.” And a money example, of course! Instead of “I’m going to be better with money” I could say “I’m going to cut up my credit cards and live on cash so I can put $200 a month extra toward my credit card debt.” You get the idea. Follow the SMART rules to make a concrete goal that you’re more likely to measure and achieve.

Make the Goal a Habit

You can see how some of the examples above could end up turning into habits. That’s a more recent aha that I’ve had. Getting into a good habit means you can achieve a goal without even thinking about it. It becomes your default.

In my last post I reflected on the past year and listed some great audio books I’d “read.” One of those was Better than Before by Gretchen Rubin, all about habit formation! I don’t know about you, but I’d never really thought too much about what makes a good habit stick. It made me more intentional with developing my habits.

Know Your Habit Tendency

Gretchen identifies four common tendencies that people have with regard to habit formation and she even has a quiz to help you determine which tendency you have. I didn’t even have to take the quiz to realize that I’m an obliger, which is actually the most common tendency. It means I’m really good at doing what other people expect me to do, but horrible at doing things I want myself to do. But as a newly self-employed person, I have to get my act together. An obliger can achieve their own goals by declaring it to others. I declared to my readers that I would write one post a week (see? it’s a SMART goal, too!). Now I know you’re expecting that from me and I have to live up to that expectation. I’ve made an internal goal external so now I’m more likely to achieve it! If an obliger wants to exercise more, he or she should go to a class with others or get a running buddy. Involve other people. Make sure someone is counting on you.

Pairings Aren’t Just for Wine

I realized I had already discovered and put into successful practice another habit formation tip before I’d even read about it. Pairing is the practice of combining something you know you should do – but don’t want to – with something you enjoy. I realized that if I walked on the treadmill while I watched a Netflix show on my phone or tablet, I looked forward to exercise more. It became my cherished “me time.” And I felt like I was the queen of multitasking. I can’t attribute my 35 pound weight loss 10 years ago to my own will power and motivation. It was all thanks to a daily habit of walking 45 minutes on the treadmill while watching episodes of Dawson’s Creek. Watching trashy TV can induce guilt, but I bet you wouldn’t feel so guilty if you were exercising while watching!

Another great example of pairing is having a glass of wine while having your weekly/monthly “money date.” Do you dread bills and budgeting? Pair it with something you enjoy to make it a habit that you keep.

Fresh Start

Starting a habit is going to be hard and awkward in the beginning. No denying that. That’s why a good time to start a habit (besides NOW) is when you have another change in your life. You’re already going to have to settle into a new routine, why not incorporate a new healthy habit? When I started my last job, I actually BROKE a habit – wearing make-up to work. I just walked in Day 1 of that job not wearing any make-up. No one knew me otherwise, so it wasn’t weird. One of the best decisions I ever made. Be more intentional about the changes in your life – a new job, a new home, getting married, having a child – and use them to jumpstart some positive life change. My new job working from home is creating an opportunity to start lots of new intentional habits!

Be a Morning Person

My husband will be the first to tell you I’m a night owl, not an early bird. You can’t deny your own biological clock. There are tons of articles about successful CEOs getting up at 5am and going to the gym before getting an early start on the work day. That will never be me. But whenever you start your day, you CAN prioritize the things that are important to you and make them happen sooner versus later. When implementing a new habit, can you factor it into a morning routine? Exercising in the morning means it gets done and you have that win all day no matter what happens. If there’s a project you want to work on, allot 15 minutes every morning to it. We all know how our days can get out of hand. If we make sure the important things happen first, they may actually happen!

Wait, Are We Talking About Goals or Habits?

I realized I hadn’t said the word “goal” in a few paragraphs, I was on a habit tangent. But it’s not really a tangent. If I can develop a new habit, I’m more likely to achieve a bigger goal. If my goal is to lose 25 pounds this year, then the best way to get there is to form healthy habits around food and exercise. If I want to pay off my credit card debt, then I need to develop new habits around using cash versus a credit card. I need to break some bad spending habits. I need to start a saving habit and funnel extra money to the debt. It’s always helpful to break up a large goal into pieces and daily habits can be the baby steps toward achieving our bigger life goals.

Keeping a journal is a personal goal and habit for me. At first I thought setting the goal to write every day was too lofty and unachievable. And I didn’t want to give myself any parameters for writing either because I thought I wouldn’t live up to them. It turns out that it actually became LESS daunting of a task when I set a daily reminder on my phone to write specifically about gratitude. At the minimum, I write about ONE thing I’m thankful for from the day. Then I added writing about one thing I accomplished. Some days the entries are short, other days I go on long diatribes and pour out my heart. But it’s definitely a habit now, part of my bedtime routine. If I don’t do it, it feels as wrong as not brushing my teeth! I also gave myself the rule that I couldn’t write about anything negative. Who wants to remember the bad stuff?! Now when I look back, I only read about positive things!

Looking back, changing my habits in small ways helped me achieve big life change last year. I started listening to audio books and podcasts instead of mindless radio during my daily commute. I was inspired by these motivational words to follow my dreams and go after big scary goals. I was journaling about the good things in my life, my accomplishments, and other goals I wanted to achieve. My good spending and saving habits allowed me to start an “opportunity fund” with extra money from our budget each month while we still had two steady incomes. The money from that fund is allowing us to live on a budget deficit for a period of time while my business gets off the ground.

You’ve heard in the weight loss realm that it’s not about a diet, it’s about lifestyle change. Lifestyle change comes with habit development. What habit do you want to start this year? What habit do you need to break?

The Strangest Secret

Habits are literally life-changing, but it was 30 minutes of spoken word from the 1950s that really inspired me to write to you about goals. A while back I was on facebook (a habit of mine that probably needs to be BROKEN) and saw someone in my financial blogging community group cite a quote from Earl Nightingale. I had no clue who this guy was but I was intrigued by the quote and thought I’d google him to find a potential audiobook to add to my list. It turns out he didn’t really write a book. He’s most known for a spoken word record from the 50s called The Strangest Secret. And thanks to technology, I could enjoy it for free and on demand via Youtube. And so can you!

I took copious notes while listening to The Strangest Secret. Tons of great nuggets to chew on! Nightingale began by pointing out that not a lot of people succeed in life. Only about 5% do. Wow. The rest of us are conforming to the masses, doing what we’re told, and bobbing along with no direction. Hello, American consumerism! Must go to college to get the corporate job to buy the house and the car and all the things! It drives me nuts. Nightingale’s message reinforced my theory that if I’m in the minority in any part of my life, I’m probably doing the right thing. He defined success as “the progressive realization of a worthy goal.” See? Goals!

The “strangest secret” to achieving goals is that we become what we think about. Apparently, a lot of philosophers agree on this. In fact, it’s a common theme from a lot of my self-help sources. That’s why positive thinking is so important. If you’re thinking negatively, you’re going to have a negative life. I have worked hard to be more positive in the last couple years. I don’t feel like I’m 100% there, but looking back, I can see that I’ve made real progress. I can spot negativity in others quickly and call it out. I look at the bright side more. It may sound crazy at first, but positive thinking can really change your life. What we think about can propel us forward or hold us back.

We need to harness the power of our minds. Use it to our advantage. If we think about and focus on a singular goal, we will achieve it. We need vision to guide our lives. We need to figure out what we truly desire in life and go after it. We’re never going to achieve “the good life” if we haven’t defined what that means to us. Determine your goal and focus on it daily.

I am not doing Nightingale’s words justice, so I hope you will listen for yourself. Set a goal, make it a habit, and think positive thoughts focused on your goal. I hope this advice takes your goal-setting to the next level this year.

My Next Steps

All of this has been on my mind since I’ve left my 9-5 corporate job. My routine is shot and I need to be intentional about deliberately developing healthy habits and achieving MY goals (not obliging the expectations of others). One of my biggest fears with my career change is that I won’t be able to manage my own life, so I have to prove that I can!

With that in mind, I think my overarching goal for the year is time management. Not all of these are fully SMART yet, but I’m getting there:

  • Maximize time with my family. I want to be mindful about time that I could be spending with family but I end up doing other things. Being on my phone is the big problem here, that’s something I can control. However, I need to just get used to the fact that my new job is going to pour over into nights and weekends. I had a 9-5 job and I know that I would appreciate a travel agent who could accommodate me outside of my workday. I’m prepared for that. So I will limit my mindless phone time when my son is awake and home. I will save couponing and blog post writing for his naps and after bedtime. I will try to do as much as I can during weekdays so that they don’t take me away from my family on nights and weekends. I will try to measure this goal NOT in my own guilt, but in open communication with my husband and son.
  • Be efficient with my new job. I’m not paid for hours worked anymore. Some of my job involves doing work for guests that may never book a trip with me. I want to do my best work in an efficient manner so as to maximize my ROI (return on investment). I need to stop overthinking emails. I need to develop and implement time-saving processes and routines that will help me fit more in when I get busier.
  • Attack one to-do list item per day or X number per week. I’ve had my own digital to-do list for a few years now and it seems to grow more than shrink. I supposedly have more time now (though it doesn’t feel like it) and it would make me feel more productive and accomplished if I could check some items off regularly. Every day may be too ambitious, but a few a week would be great. I need to be intentional about which items I’m attacking and just do them!
  • Write at least one Money with MerNe blog post per week. You know this one! It’s why I’m burning the 10pm oil on a Sunday night because I know an email is going out to subscribers at 6am tomorrow!
  • Walk on the treadmill at least 3 weekday mornings before settling in for work. I’m proud to say I did this all 5 days last week! I had a physical with my doctor on Monday and was reminded once again that I need to prioritize exercise. Since I already knew I liked walking while watching Netflix, I just needed to prioritize the exercise and DO it. I knew it had to be in the morning before things got crazy. The good thing is with my new schedule, morning can be 9am, not 5am! It works for me. Wish me luck on Week 2!
  • Multitask wisely and effectively. I feel like the going advice these days is that multitasking is not effective at all, and I mostly agree. I know I need to focus on focusing! In some cases, multitasking can help me though. In my new job, I sometimes spend a lot of phone time on hold. There are lots of things I can do while being on hold – computer work and even walking on the treadmill! My rediscovered knitting hobby is a great way to multitask while watching TV or sitting for long periods in group settings. I can still pay attention while keeping my fidgety hands busy. While I don’t have a regular daily commute anymore, I need to continue listening to podcasts and audiobooks while I’m in the car or even just getting ready in the morning.

Now Make It Personal

Enough about me! Are you ready to make this an effective goal-driven year? What is your vision for YOUR life? Are you moving in the direction YOU want to go? What simple habits would change your life?

If you made progress in your financial life, would it help you achieve broader life goals? If you need help with any specific financial goals, check out Personal Finance 101 to jumpstart your journey. Most financial goals start with creating and living by a budget. If you don’t have one of these, I highly recommend making this your goal and new habit this year!

If you’re an obliger, make sure to declare your goals in the comments below for external accountability!

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