Checking in with Your Goals this New Year
By Krishna Dholakia, MS, RD, CDE, CDN and Anna Molin, CFP®
For many of us, the New Year is a time filled with inspiration and hope. We often think about making personal changes and setting goals for the months ahead. But having success isn’t always easy.
A great strategy for setting new goals is to follow the SMART goals approach. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. The smarter the goals you set, the more achievable they will be.
Let’s get started:
Specific — You are more likely to achieve your goal if you keep it specific. The more general or vague it is, the more likely it is to be overwhelming. Making your goal specific allows the goal to become tangible and realistic. For example, “I plan to start exercising this year” compared to “I plan to go for a walk 3 days a week for 20 minutes for the next 3 months.” In order to make your goal specific, it is helpful to address the following questions:
- What goal do you want to accomplish? What tools will you need to succeed?
- What is your time frame for achieving your goal? What milestones will you set for yourself along the way?
- How can you motivate yourself to stay on track towards your goal for the long run?
- Who will support your efforts and who might not? Who can you look to for encouragement, and who might be best to avoid?
Measurable — Evaluating your progress as you work toward your goal can be very motivating. Starting to see success can go a long way. Tracking your efforts and results can also offer guidance as to where you need to improve. Measuring progress helps you stay on track, reach your target dates, and experience the fulfillment of achieving milestones. Think about a goal you’ve made. How can you create milestones and measure your progress?
Achievable — When you pick a goal, you want to make sure it is achievable. Setting goals that sound good but are unrealistic can often lead to disappointing results. Ask yourself, “On a scale of 0–10, how confident am I that I can achieve my goal?” You don’t have to give up a challenging goal; just pick an aspect of it that is more realistic for you to achieve.
Relevant — It’s important that your goal be meaningful and relevant to you personally. When you feel connected to your goal, your motivation and passion will push you to do what’s needed to achieve it.
Time-Bound — Creating deadlines for your goal will help you stay accountable to the action of the goal. It also allows you to look back and assess all the progress you have made towards that goal. Deadlines are helpful to measure success.
Let’s say your goal is to save more for retirement.
If you are eligible for a retirement plan through your employer, think about what percentage of your salary you are contributing to your plan now, and what percentage could improve your retirement security.
To make it a SMART goal, think about when you might be able to reach that goal, and build towards it throughout the year — or set a schedule of gradual increases over time. If applicable, make sure you are taking advantage of any employer match.
If you want to begin saving into your employer’s sponsored retirement plan consider setting aside a fixed percentage from each pay period. Try to set aside enough money to ensure you are taking full advantage of your employer’s match. By doing so you can assure yourself you are maximizing on your retirement savings.
The rule of thumb is to set aside and save 10-15% of your gross income. Keep in mind, up to IRS limits, the money you save through these retirement plans will be deducted from your paycheck and can be on a pre-tax basis (before taxes are deducted from your paycheck), an advantage that saves you on taxes both upfront and on a yearly basis as your money will grow tax-deferred.
Whatever percentage you decide on, ask yourself if this is an attainable goal. You may need to look at your budget and review your fixed household and discretionary expenses to know what a realistic savings goal might be.
By making your resolutions SMART and ensuring that your goals are realistic, you will be more likely to achieve them. Remember, what matters most is not the size of the goal you set, but simply recognizing a lifestyle change you need to make and continuing to work toward achieving it. Celebrate your successes along the way. It’s not only fun but strengthens your motivation to continue.
Whether you set for yourself a financial or health related goal, the rewards you reap by working towards it and achieving it will truly compound for you over time — and could benefit you for the rest of your life.
A SMART approach can move you beyond just setting goals — it can move you toward fully reaching them. If you set a realistic goal, create a thoughtful plan for its achievement, and put in a sustained effort, you will find that you will achieve something truly meaningful.
Learn more by taking our SMART Goals course on our eLearning Library.
Krishna Dholakia serves as the Senior Health Education Specialist in the Education & Wellness department at CPG. She is a registered dietitian and a 500-hour certified yoga instructor.
Anna Molin, CFP®, joined CPG in 2016 as a Financial Education Client Specialist. She is a Certified Financial Planner and has over 20 years experience in the financial services industry.