We tend to overestimate what we can accomplish in the short-term and underestimate what we can accomplish in the long-term. Eating an elephant is a bite at a time. Health, wellness, and financial wellbeing are areas where the elephant often tramples goals. It’s easy to start down a desired path but get derailed. If you use these science-based strategies, you’ll set better goals and be more likely to achieve them.
Focusing on your values can provide clarity on what you want to achieve in your life. Reflect and ask yourself, what is important to you? Why is it important? What interests fill your time when you’re not working? Who are the people you do those things with?
Behavioral scientists have found that achieving goals is less a matter of ability or knowledge but more related to motivation. The more important a goal is to us, the more motivated we are to achieve it. Asking “Why?” can help you align your goals with your values and increase that motivational component:
Why should I save the maximum to my 401k? Because I want to be financially independent.
Why do I want to be financially independent? So I don’t have to worry about money.
Why is not worrying about money important to me? So I can have the freedom to spend more time and be present with my friends and family.
This introspection can become quite deep and may require several sincere attempts to get at the core of your why.
Asking “Why?” helps us move our goal-setting to a higher, value-driven space. Asking “How?” helps us drill down into specific actions we can take to achieve those goals.
“I want to lose weight” is the sort of goal many people set and then abandon. It’s too general.
Ask yourself, “How am I going to lose weight?” An answer like, “I’m going to exercise more” is closer, but still not actionable enough.
How are you going to exercise more? Take a bike ride through your neighborhood every morning? Jog for 30 minutes after work three days every week?
Those are small but solid steps that you can use to develop an action plan. Whatever goal you set, keep score and measure what matters. It could be old-school day planner or using a health app on your phone. (MyNetDiary is one I use and like.) The act of keeping score creates its own momentum and can be like a “pat on the back” for a job well done.
Even a perfectly-set, highly-motivated goal will be challenging. You’ll cheat on your diet or skip a workout. An unexpected home repair might throw off your spending and saving goals. We’re all human. Roll with it that day but then get back to your plan.
All goals and personal improvements require effort. The grit we need to get over those inevitable humps is its own kind of skill that you can cultivate. Try to push yourself beyond your smaller targets. Welcome and accept feedback and criticism that can make you perform better. Prepare yourself to do better tomorrow.
Having an accountability partner, coach, financial advisor, or experienced professional to partner with may allow you to work towards your goals more effectively while having someone hold you to them. Knowing is important. So is doing. Having someone who can help you do both better may be your missing ingredient.
Most importantly, stay positive. Measure backwards to see your progress from where you started to today. This is better than looking ahead and seeing a gap relative to where you want to be. It’s easy to get lost and feel defeatd in the gap.
If your goals truly are aligned with your values, then working towards them will not feel like punishment. When you experience setbacks, try to embrace them as learning opportunities and adjust your action plan accordingly. And when you hit small milestones on your way to big goals, treat yourself.
Science shows all of these can better help you eat your elephant, whatever that goal may be.
This article adapted with permission from Belay Advisor.
Kevin Kroskey, CFP®, MBA | August 2023
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