Setting goals is something I’m stellar at. I picture how great my life would be if I achieved x, y, or z, feel instantly elated at the thought, maybe even write it down and plaster it somewhere visible, and then promptly get distracted by something else.
I said I was great at setting goals – not necessarily at achieving every single one of them.
The thing is, I want that first spark of elation to last all the way to the finish line, but it never does. Goals, after all, take discipline – discipline to adhere to a path lined with alternative choices, distractions, and stumbling blocks.
So what can you do to stay disciplined on the path to reaching your financial goals? Here are a few helpful hints.
Take Away Choices Tied to the Non-Negotiable
My niece used to be a handful – especially when it came to bedtime. We tried prepping her for the dreaded hour, creating a calming routine beforehand, letting her fall asleep on the couch first – it was all pretty awful.
Then, we began giving her choices tied to something besides what wasn’t negotiable (bedtime). It would go like this: “Do you want Mommy or Nana to tuck you in to bed tonight?” or “Would you rather read this book or this book before bed tonight?” Since she felt more in control and the limelight was removed from the thing she had come to dread, that time of night no longer became World War III.
We all like to have choices – the problem is, we give ourselves choices for things that should be non-negotiable. If cutting back on eating out is your goal, the choice at night shouldn’t be eat at home or eat out. The cooking at home is the non-negotiable, instead, the choice can be what you eat at home.
Don’t box yourself in to one meal if there’s a chance it will seem like too much of a challenge to make at the end of a long day. Have plenty of choices on hand so you don’t end up feeling restricted and resentful of your goal – whatever that may be.
Make Sure You Have Deadlines Set
When it comes to setting goals, I tend to leave everything open-ended. I don’t set deadlines because that would mean I’d have to feel guilty if that date passed without any of the progress I promised myself.
There’s a reason why teachers don’t run their classrooms this way – it’s too easy to sit complacently on the sidelines, or get distracted by all of the other, more enjoyable things to do.
Deadlines, especially when shared with others who will keep us accountable, make slip-ups far more serious and less tolerable than if we have some imaginary finish line waiting at some far off point in the future.
Know your deadline and the milestones you need to reach along the way to get there in that time. If you’re committed to that, discipline will come naturally.
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Don’t Needlessly Put Yourself in Tempting Situations
After a recent trip to Europe where the French wine and German beer flowed freely, I decided my body would appreciate a detox. When I was at home during the week, this wasn’t a problem at all. But then, in an effort to catch up with friends, I accepted a few invitations to happy hour, naively thinking I could just get an appetizer instead.
Let’s be honest – I can’t say no to wine when other people are drinking. Instead of putting myself through the torture of testing my willpower, I learned to start changing my environment to fit my goal instead.
Most of us have a very weak willpower muscle. Instead of lifting more weight than it can handle, don’t put yourself in those situations where you’re tempted to spend more or make poor financial decisions.
As much faith as you have in your ability to say no, why test it? The path to the finish line is far smoother when you aren’t throwing obstacles in your own way.
Plan Your Indulgences
Ask any nutritionist and they will tell you that even the strictest diets must have room for some indulgences every once in awhile. In fact, some would say that those indulgences actually help you stick to a healthy eating plan long-term.
Changing your financial habits can be just as trying as changing your diet, so occasional allowances, or planned splurges, can help you feel less restricted and more motivated to keep working towards your goals.
The key here is the word planned – planning means it won’t blow your budget in one fell swoop, leaving you feeling more discouraged and guilty than satisfied. Keep it reasonable and use it to celebrate your progress.
How do you stay disciplined when working towards your financial goals?
Image Credit: Matthew Clark