Goal Planning for Real Life

Goal planning can be tricky. I think most of us set goals based on past experience. But the most inspirational goals come from envisioning a better future that looks and feels different than our past.

Stephen Covey explained this concept in his book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” with Habit 2: Begin With the End in Mind. He states that this habit is based on “the ability to envision in your mind what you cannot at present see with your eyes. It is based on the principle that all things are created twice. There is a mental (first) creation, and a physical (second) creation.” So, as we embark on another new year, now is a great time to envision what your life will look like a year from now. Hopefully, this post can guide you as you do your goal planning for the coming year!

The first step in goal planning is to develop a crystal-clear image about what you want. Envision yourself in the future having already achieved your goals. What does your life look like? Who do you have to become to have what you want? Once you have a clear picture of your goal and who you need to be, work backward to the present moment to determine your first step. Here is an example:

Let’s say my goal is to have a $10,000 balance in my emergency savings account by the end of the year. I then calculate $10,000 divided by 12 to get $833.33/month. I might then say, “whoa, I can’t do that!” and give up before I start. Or I could work backward to determine if there is a way I can achieve this goal in a non-linear way. Here is how I would go about that:

  • Maybe I feel confident that I can save $1,000/month in October, November, and December plus an additional $1,000 because I usually get a holiday bonus at the end of the year. So now I only need to have $6,000 by September 30th.
  • I then decide that I can make some adjustments to my spending that would allow me to save $750/month by April so that I could save $750/month in April, May, June, July, August, and September for a total of $4,500. So now I only need to have $1,500 by March 31st because I can save $4,500 from April – September and $4,000 from October – December ($10,000 – $4,500 – $4,000 = $1,500).
  • This brings my savings amount to a more reasonable $500/month for January, February, and March. I might still have to modify my spending during the first part of the year to make this happen, but I feel much better about this amount than the $833.33/month that I initially calculated.

Once you have a clear picture of what you want and have designed a roadmap of how to get there, create a visual reminder of your goal so that you can see it daily or weekly. Maybe you can create a picture of your savings account with your goal amount already in it. If you are saving for a house, you could print a photo of your dream house and put it up on your refrigerator. In addition, you could create a monthly tracker that represents your progress (maybe something like a fundraising goal thermometer). The key takeaway here is that your goal should be front and center to help you stay focused when the inevitable distractions / shiny objects come along (oh, they will show up!). If your habits have been preventing you from achieving your goals in the past, then you need to constantly be reminded of your goal. This will help prevent you from satisfying a fleeting desire that derails you from your progress toward your goal.

A final step you could take to set yourself up for success is to make your goal achievement as automatic as possible (if this is an option for your goal). In our example, you could have the required savings amount go directly from your paycheck to your emergency savings account so that you never see the money in your checking account. Of course, you will have to create a realistic spending plan to ensure you aren’t automatically saving more than is possible for your situation. If you need help creating a spending plan, you can always schedule a complimentary consultation with a money coach to determine if a personalized spending plan is right for you.

I hope this post is helpful as you do your goal planning for the new year. If you have any insights, questions, or comments, please let us know in the comments section below. I hope you achieve your goals in the coming year!