A new year is here, and with it, a new decade. That means it's high season for making resolutions and charting ways to make improvements, achieve new things, and move toward a better future. Unfortunately, following through on those ambitions tends to be much more difficult than many people expect.
Research by U.S. News & World Report suggests that a shocking 80% of New Year's resolutions fail by February, and a study from the University of Scranton found that 92% of all resolutions are left unfulfilled. Some studies have found better success rates, but the overwhelming body of research on the subject shows that most people have trouble holding to their New Year's resolutions.
Making big changes and hitting substantial milestones isn't easy, but smart planning and the right approach will help you achieve your resolutions for 2020. Read on to learn about three strategies that will help you make good on your financial goals and get the decade off to a great start.
1. Make your financial resolutions both inspiring and realistic
The great industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie once said, "If you want to be happy, set a goal that commands your thoughts, liberates your energy, and inspires your hopes." The best financial resolutions will motivate and captivate you, but you also want to make sure your ambitions are feasibly within reach.
Not only will choosing realistic goals put you in a better position to achieve them, but it will also help prevent you from taking on unnecessary risks. For example, a goal to have the stocks you buy in 2020 double by the end of the year could very easily lead to taking on more risk than is prudent. Setting a goal that's too difficult or unrealistic to achieve can actually wind up setting you back.
In some aspects of life, there's truth to The Power of Positive Thinking author Norman Vincent Peale's maxim: "Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss you will wind up among the stars." This approach can yield great results when it comes to things like saving money or paying off debt, but it can also be dangerous if improperly applied to investing.
Goals should be challenging and give you something to strive for. They should also be realistic and chosen so as to not expose you to unnecessary, dangerous levels of risk. Concentrating on a limited number of rewarding (but achievable) financial goals will put you in the best position for success.
2. Break down your big goals into achievable increments
Whether you're looking to save a certain amount of money before 2020 is over, hit a contribution target for your retirement fund, or pay off debts, it's often best to tackle these big objectives with an incremental approach. Breaking your goals for the year up into daily, weekly, or monthly milestones will make them more manageable and provide you with positive feedback as you move toward tackling big resolutions.
Having a sense of satisfaction and achievement and being able to track your progress will help keep you motivated. Some people find it helpful to have these smaller goals written down on a list or planned out on a calendar. Whether you choose to reward yourself after completing each small milestone on your path to achieving your bigger goals, or simply take satisfaction in knowing that you've completed another step, having an incremental approach to your financial resolutions sets up a dynamic of positive reinforcement that will make it easier to stay motivated.
Behavioral psychologist B.F. Skinner is perhaps the most famous expert to study and document this dynamic, and he once wrote, "Properly used, positive reinforcement is extremely powerful." It's easier to stick to goals if you're able to measure your progress along the way and get positive feedback and a sense of progression as you move toward the overall resolution. Make your large financial resolutions more manageable by breaking them down into smaller goals, and tap into the power of positive reinforcement to help keep you moving forward.
3. Understand your habits and work to form new, positive ones
American writer Edgar S. Burroughs is best known for his Tarzan and John Carter of Mars novels, but he also bestowed upon us some valuable wisdom about the role that habit plays in success and failure. Burroughs wrote:
We are, all of us, creatures of habit, and when the seeming necessity for schooling ourselves in new ways ceases to exist, we fall naturally and easily into the manner and customs which long usage has implanted ineradicably within us.
To paraphrase, it's human nature to fall into past habits if we're not making a conscious attempt to move into new directions and establish more beneficial practices.
Being conscious of habits that have caused you to fall short of previous goals and being cognizant of going through the steps needed to form new habits will help you reach your goals this year. Failing to make good on otherwise achievable financial resolutions will typically come down to not establishing the right new habits.
Looking further back in the Western canon, Aristotle is often sourced for this bit of wisdom: "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit." In order to best achieve your resolutions this year, set goals that are both reasonable and inspiring, break them down into manageable increments, and then concentrate on establishing habits that put you on the path to excellence.