There’s something about the week before the New Year that makes us reflect on what we want out of life. For a few days, we’re kind of like the Olympic downhill skier waiting at the starting gate before a Gold medal race. The brief moment between the end of the holiday festivities and the return to our normal routines provides us with a much-needed pause where we can envision how we want our next year to unfold.
Before we know it, the gate will open and we’ll be speeding downhill again, doing our best to navigate whatever bumps and hairpin turns 2012 has in store for us. Which is probably why we so often choose this week to make our New Year’s resolutions: trying to change our habits in the midst of a normal week is hard, but this week grants us the fleeting luxury of having time to make a plan. With that in mind, here are a few pieces of advice as you decide on your New Year’s resolutions for 2012:
1. Make specific goals (not vague ones)
You’ll find it much easier to stay motivated if you have a concrete goal that demands your attention instead of something abstract. For example, resolving to pay 10% more toward your credit card balance each month is better than resolving to get out of debt. The former is much more specific and will therefore keep you focused on what you need to do. Another example of a concrete goal would be to stop using your credit card, except in emergencies – which is obviously difficult, but represents a very specific action that would help you get out of debt.
2. Give yourself a timeline
Just as the goal itself should be clear and actionable, the amount of time you’re giving yourself should also be precise. Having a deadline will keep you motivated. Taking the examples above a step further, you would want to challenge yourself to pay 10% more toward your debt for three months and/or stop using credit cards for three months. With a timeline that specific, you won’t be able to put off your goals – you’ll be forced to reckon with them, and that’s a good thing!
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3. Be realistic with yourself
One of the biggest mistakes people make is getting carried away with the scope of their resolution. Your resolution needs to be feasible, or else you’ll just get discouraged and be likely to give up. That’s why paying off 10% more of your debt each month is a good goal – it’s manageable. Resolving to double your debt payments each month isn’t a good idea for most people because, unless you have a lot of extra income, it is not going to be feasible. So make sure your resolution is something that you can realistically achieve.
4. Always stay positive
The other major hurdle to achieving your New Year’s resolution is that you will almost always have a few days when you ‘fall off the wagon.’ No matter what the nature of your resolution is – you will occasionally slip up. Maybe you’ll swipe your credit card at the mall when you’ve committed to using it only in emergencies, or your plan of eating healthier will take a step backward when you go through the McDonalds drive-thru. If this happens, you have to stay in a positive frame of mind so you don’t lose hope. Instead of being frustrated and abandoning the resolution all together, focus on the benefits of accomplishing your goal and how far you’ve come along. Think about how good you will feel if you keep taking the necessary steps to reduce your credit card debt or eat healthier for three months? Having the positives at the forefront of your mind will be much more motivating than berating yourself for an occasional slip up.
5. Share your goal with the world
If no one knows about your plan, it will be all too easy to quietly shelve it when things get tough. On the other hand, if all your friends and family know about your goal and what you’ve committed to do, then during those times when you want to wave the white flag, they’ll encourage you and give you the support and advice you need to stick with it. So share your New Year’s resolution with the world – or at least the people in your life who you trust.
6. (Bonus) Use the momentum to keep it going
Depending on the nature of your resolution, if you’re able to follow the timeline you’ve set out for yourself and are successful in achieving your goals, celebrate! Then, see if you can use the momentum you’ve built up over the past few months to make lasting changes. If you’re starting to enjoy exercising three days a week instead of dreading it or if you like how paying down your debt faster is taking a huge weight off your shoulders, there’s no reason you should stop doing these things. You can continue to maintain the good lifestyle choices, or set more ambitious goals for yourself and follow the same guidelines outlined in this article. You don’t need New Year’s resolutions to set goals in your life– you can do it anytime you’d like!
Do you have any other tips for keeping a New Year’s resolution? If so, let us know below. And be on the lookout next week for something special we’ve been working on to help you with your financial New Year’s resolutions in 2012. Or, if you want to get in on it early, join ReadyForZero and see if you can find it within our product!
Image credit: gabriel amadeus