It’s all very exciting when we lay out our goals for the year and one of them is to get our money situation in order. We imagine having extra money to do the things we want to do, not to have to stress every time the month lasts longer than the money and not to feel the guilt of knowing we are not doing financially what we are “meant” to do. We have elaborate plans to stick to our goal but then a day, a week, a month into our plans the fizz subsidies and our vigour and enthusiasm fades and we are left back where we started pre goal.
So what happened? Why is it so hard to make these plans stick?
The “live for the moment” effect.
We have been conditioned by the world we live in, where everything can virtually be sourced in an instant, to succumb to instant gratification. We find the pleasures of the moment far outweigh any benefits of delaying our desires to achieve our long term future goals.
We see this to be a sign of a lack of self control when it is in fact a rational response to the uncertainty of the future and the likelihood of it being attained.
We have all heard about the marshmallow experiment with the kids and how those with the ability to delay gratification did better later in life. A second separate experiment was run where half of those who had delayed gratification received the promised treat at the later stage and half did not. The experiment was rerun and those who had not been rewarded were unable or unwilling to delay gratification again.
Your ability to save now for the future is not only about your self control it is also about the level of trust you can put into that future outcome being achieved. To build this trust you will need to create certainty around the outcome. This means setting a definitive date for when the “reward” will be yours, tracking the progress towards that date and that goal by using visual daily reminders and being realistic in your assumptions. When pursuing a goal, like losing weight, we tend to set unattainable targets and when it is evident that we will fail to reach them within the set timeline, we use this as an excuse to give up. Instead of giving yourself an excuse to quit create an incentive not to! Set easily attainable mini goals which move you toward the big one and celebrate as each milestone is achieved.
The boredom effect
The path to achieving a goal becomes pretty boring after all the initial enthusiasm and excitement of envisioning the goal wears off and we are faced with the challenges and detractors that daily life brings.
James Clear, the author of the book “Atomic Habits” suggests that when setting goals we are all about the excitement and vision of achievement when in fact the true question we should be asking ourselves is how much we are willing to sacrifice to get to our ideal outcome.
Goal setting is a dual process of visioning the outcome as well as the hurdles that will be faced to achieve it.
Set exciting goals but create a realistic vision of the steps you are going to be taking every day to reach them. These are the small habit changes that can be implemented to support the journey. For example preparing lunches for work and depositing the amount you would have spent into a “daily lunch piggy bank”, systemising tracking your expenses by linking all your accounts to an App. and any other small but doable daily changes to address the challenges you envisioned in reaching your goal.
The “ reality of the quantum of the goal” effect
The struggle to stick to the plan of reaching our goals really sets in when we are a short way into our journey and realise how far we have to go. Despondency sets in and we open ourselves to falling back into our old easy habit of procrastination and avoidance.
Our willpower falters in the shadow of the mountain that seems to be the journey to our goal. It is simply too overwhelming. And rightly so.
It’s time to implement the “moving a mountain” strategy. How do you move a mountain? One stone at a time. Break the big goal down in yearly goals, monthly goals and daily goals. Review the daily goal, have you set yourself one doable easy task for the day. Is it attainable ?
If not, it’s time to revisit the overall goal.
Reconsider the question of what you are willing to sacrifice daily to reach your goal. Rewrite the plan to be consistent with what you can and want to realistically achieve every day.
Once you have your daily steps, measure them, revaluate them each evening to assess your success in achieving them and refine and rework where necessary. As I mentioned before, celebrate each achievement you make and keep looking back to see how far you have come!
The “life happens” effect
Invariably as soon as we start to see that little progress in our financial situation, be it getting a new job, finally feeling committed to getting our financial life in order or simply paying off a credit card, life will happen. The car will break down, the plumbing will break, to the more extreme relationship break up. All of which can seriously derail your well planned path.
When this does happen, and it will happen, plan to be in a position to cope with it.
Start by creating your emergency fund, get it funded to £1,000 at least. While this may not cover a serious life change it is generally sufficient to cover smaller financial emergencies which tend to creep up on us more frequently.
Be mentally prepared. I have frequently referred to the practise of gratitude being a fundamental aspect of wealth building as it speaks to our mindset. When we operate from a place of abundance i.e. consciously recognising the good things we already have in life, we arm ourselves psychologically to deal with challenges, as we are able to approach them from a positive, creative and expansive mind set as opposed to a contractionary, victim mentality which limits our ability to be open to solutions.
Many life coaches also recommend approaching the problem from a place of “what is this doing for me” as opposed to “doing to me”. I like this concept but frankly have felt it very difficult to put into practice in the thick of an issue. Honestly I also battle to stick with my gratitude practice when I feel like everything is going wrong for me, but as soon as I consciously sit down and start to write a list of what is good in my life, and I acknowledge at this point I find it very challenging to list things, the focus brings clarity.
I start to feel a conscious change from the victim, “why is this happening to me” beliefs to a sense of relief and certainty that it will be alright. Amazingly from this place I feel I am better placed to come up with alternatives and solutions that ultimately have helped me move out of the situations.
The key takeaway from this is that in order to counteract the likelihood of your financial goals being derailed, you not only have to focus on the goal but also on what you may have to sacrifice and what you may have to face to get there. Accepting that speed bumps and challenges are going to be part of the journey and visioning them from the outset sets you up with the tools to keep pushing forward.