Some New Year's resolutions are made to be broken. In fact, most are -- despite the best of intentions.
Some companies count on that. Broken New Year's resolutions can be big business. A few years back, when I was following companies like diet firm NutriSystem
Diet companies and gyms know they'll see more new members during the first few weeks of the year than at any other time. They also know that most of those new members won't stick around for long, which is why they charge those big initiation fees, push prepaid annual memberships, and generally do everything they can to get as much money up front as possible from those motivated new members. But they don't expand their facilities to accommodate all those new members, because they know that motivation usually fades fast. Why?
The problem with ambitious resolutions
To be fair, making big payments up front can be motivating for some. It's easier to talk yourself into going to the gym when you've already committed big bucks. But the truth is, big, scary resolutions -- like "lose 30 pounds" or "fix my finances" -- are hard to stick with, because the first steps seem enormous. The resolutions that work are the ones that are broken down into steps small enough to seem easy, and that are driven by motivation that comes from inside you -- where it's something you want to do, not something that's being forced on you.
When it comes to resolutions around money and investing, too often people set daunting goals like "get my financial life in order" or "get rid of all debt." For most people who aren't financial planners, confronting that kind of goal leads to instant freak-out: I don't know where to start! They stare numbly at the pile of papers on the desk for a little while, get thoroughly terrified, and run off to seek solace in a jar of cookies. That's a twofer: No financial overhaul -- and no diet, either. Not good.
It doesn't have to be that way.
Small steps to big change
If you're like many folks, the market crash blew a big hole in your retirement savings efforts. And with major employers like Sears
Are you feeling the need to get your retirement house back in order? I hope you are, and if so, that could be your motivation. My fellow Fool Dayana Yochim is spending January offering up great ideas to help you save more, but overhauling your financial life remains a daunting, long-term task. Many who start with strong motivation will hit a wall very quickly, and you know where that leads -- inaction, anxiety, and that cookie jar.
Fortunately, it's possible to get over that wall. In his widely-acclaimed book Getting Things Done, productivity guru David Allen points to two key objectives for confronting a daunting pile of work like this one: Capturing everything that needs to be done in a place "outside of your head and off your mind" so that you don’t have to waste energy stressing over the big picture, and disciplining yourself to make the decisions that keep you going, so that you always know the "next action" -- the next small step you need to take.
Long story short: When you're facing a huge, scary project, it's easy to get overwhelmed, and hard to take any action at all (aside from the thing with the cookies). But when you're facing a single small step, it's easy to take if you have the motivation.
The steps to retirement repair
In the new issue of the Fool's Rule Your Retirement newsletter, available online at 4 p.m. ET today, lead advisor Robert Brokamp unveils a complete set of tools for those looking to follow through on fiscal resolutions. There's a calendar with a small list of bite-sized action items for every month, great advice for getting started and for sustaining your motivation through the year, a monthly "nudge" delivered via email to help keep you on track, and some thoughts on productivity from the aforementioned David Allen himself. The whole package is designed with one goal in mind: To make your financial-fitness resolution as easy to keep as possible.
Not a member of Rule Your Retirement? Put down those cookies -- that's no excuse! You can get access to the complete kit -- and to all of Rule Your Retirement's content and tools -- for 30 days without spending a cent. That's plenty of time to get rolling -- but you'll only get started if you take that first small step now.
Fool contributor John Rosevear's resolutions are to finish revising his book manuscript and to try a new workout regimen, and he's doing a pretty good job -- of stalling on both. He doesn't own any of the stocks mentioned above. Sears Holdings and Starbucks are Motley Fool Inside Value recommendations. Starbucks and FedEx are Motley Fool Stock Advisor picks. The Fool owns shares of Starbucks. Try any of our Foolish newsletters free for 30 days. The Fool's disclosure policy resolves to keep on telling it like it is.