Did you know that in experiments with lab rats, scientists found that when rats are running towards food, they run faster as they get closer to the food? Source: 'Brainfluence' by Roger Dooley.
What does this mean for you?
If you give yourself short-term goals and rewards, you will work towards them with more zeal and enthusiasm than longer term goals.
For your goals to be meaningful you need to make sure they are SMART:
"I will start writing a book" is not a specific goal.
"I will start writing a book on saving and I will finish it within 6 months" is a specific goal. You can make it even more specific by stating how many words or chapters you will write per week, e.g. 2,000 words per week.
What is your specific goal?
Measurability is all about being able to account for whether or not you have made progress. Continuing with the example of writing a book, if a month later you have only written 4,000 words then you can say you are running two weeks behind schedule.
How are you going to measure your goal or goals?
If you set a goal that is very hard to achieve you'll probably give up. For example, "I will go to the gym every day," is probably not an attainable goal if you work 5 days a week. "I will write 1,000 words every day," is also not attainable if you have a full-time job. It is very hard to write 1,000 good quality words in one evening after a hard day at work.
Is your goal overambitious? Can you achieve it without feeling like you are suffering or giving up too much?
In my opinion this is the least important criteria in the SMART schema.
Relevance is about focus. A goal should fit within a bigger picture objective. For example, if your goal is to be a world class writer then having the goal to play 5 games of chess a week for a year may be Specific, Measurable, Attainable and Time-specific but it probably isn't relevant to being a writer. It might be relevant to your relaxation goals but it certainly isn't relevant to writing.
Are your financial goals relevant?
A goal means nothing if it doesn't come with a deadline. Deadlines are crucial when it comes to achievement. Due to circumstances you might have to adjust your deadline but not having a deadline to begin with is pure folly.
Are your personal financial goals SMART?
Your financial goals do not have to directly involve “making money” right now. Just make sure you incorporate the SMART format. Financial goals can include:
As you create your goals think through the following:
“Goals are dreams with deadlines." Diana Scharf
Some people think New Year’s Resolutions are pointless. What's the point in waiting until the 31st of December to make a change that you can make sooner; I don't entirely agree.
You should be dynamically adjusting your life and your finances to take account of new circumstances. That said, you need to stop at some point and take stock of the last six or twelve months to see if your plans are working. You can't do that every day; you're probably too busy. So what goes into your New Year's Resolutions? Everything: your finances, your career, your love life and everything in between. I would encourage everyone to affirm their resolutions by writing them down.
Did I do or achieve everything I set out to do in 2012, no, but writing it down helped me get closer. Don’t make your plans too complicated. Have one or two big goals for 2013 and several small goals. Get a pen and paper out and write a draft of your New Year’s Resolutions based on these questions:
Start off with your home: are there things you could have done to be a better girlfriend, wife or mother?
Financially, would you like to exercise better control over your spending habits in 2013? How do you plan on doing that?
Do you want to get a promotion at work? How are you going to let your boss know that you are worthy of the promotion? Don’t get ahead by pushing others down; that sort of success is empty.
Do you want a pay rise? How do you plan on telling your boss? How will you justify your request? High inflation is probably not a good enough justification.
Do you have a business? What are your business goals for 2013? Will you sell the same products or expand your offering? What are your sales goals? What is your plan for attracting new customers?
Do you want to start a business in 2013? Have you written a list of the things you will need to get the business going? Are your funds sorted?
Would you like to learn a new sport or improve your health? How do you plan on doing that? If you want to lose weight, exactly how much do you want to lose? How do you plan on changing bad eating habits? It’s easier to achieve financial success if you yourself are healthy.
Don’t aim to achieve too many things for you will end up achieving nothing. When things aren’t going the way you want, be patient.
The financial success one can achieve as an employee is limited and that may be good enough for you. If you want to boost your income start a business: the upside is unlimited, the downside limited. You don’t need to resign to start. Labour is quite cheap in Malawi so set your plan and get someone to work for you. You could get a relative to work for you for free but keep in mind that relatives can pilfer your money just as easily as a neutral party if not more so. When things take off you can start running your business on a full-time basis.
“The majority of men meet with failure because of their lack of persistence in creating new plans to take the place of those which fail.” Napoleon Hill
For 2 years until early 2014 I wrote a weekly personal finance and business column for Malawi's leading media house, The Times Group. The target is middle-class, working African women.
This is a reproduction of the articles that appeared in the weekend edition of Malawi News.