Well, it’s that time of the year isn’t it? You’ve finished all the turkey, the tin of sweets is empty and the local bottle bank is overflowing. It’s time to get back to ‘real’ life. And it’s a time when many of us look to make New Year resolutions in the hopes of achieving our dreams. But have you ever considered a Life Goal instead?
Whilst it may just be another day in the calendar, there is undoubtedly something about seeing in a New Year that brings a feeling of hope. Of a chance of a fresh start, the slate wiped clean. A renewed enthusiasm and energy to change for the better. This time for sure.
And that’s the real problem with New Year resolutions. So many fail before February even gets a chance to show its calendar page. But why? And more importantly – what can you do about it?
For me the answer has been simple for a number of years now. I don’t make any. But if you’ve read much about us, you’ll know we’ve done pretty well so far at doing what we set out to do. And the answer to that has been setting Life Goals – not resolutions.
Life Goal Vs New Year Resolution
The first most obvious question is of course – what’s the difference? Whilst (I think?) pretty much everyone understands what is meant by a New Year Resolution – a Life Goal can sound suspiciously like something on those often cringe-inducing motivational posters. Or the latest management initiative launched to inspire its workforce..
But it’s actually pretty simple at heart and something I believe can apply to everyone, whatever their Myers-Brigg type.
A Life Goal is a well-defined aim of something you want to achieve in your life-time.
In other words, a Life Goal is intended to be exactly that – something for life, not just a short-term aim. Sounds obvious, right? I’ll just set my Life Goal as “Happiness” and we’re done! Next! Moving on!
But hang on a minute there – as ever, the devil is in the detail. And if you read it carefully you’ll realise it’s that part about being “well-defined” where the wheels often fall off.
How To Define A Life Goal
One common problem with resolutions is that they tend to focus on something very specific and are far too often restrictive in nature. For example;
- I will give up smoking.
- I will lose weight.
- I will drink less.
All very common New Year resolutions, right? I’ve definitely done the second two in my time! But, like a lot of people, I would succeed for a while before returning to my old ways and repeating the cycle again the following year.
Apparently it wasn’t actually Einstein with this oft-used quote but whoever it was – it fits well here;
“Insanity is repeating the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result”
Life goals work differently to resolutions. They are all about values and behaviours – not just a single desired outcome. Remember, the clue is in the name – they are for life, not just for New Year.
And that’s why it’s so important to really take the time to understand what you really want to achieve.
Understanding 'Why' Before 'What'
To me, this is one of those obvious light-bulb moments things once you sit and think about it for a while.
If you don’t know why you are doing something, you will find it much harder to continue doing it when it becomes difficult.
Resolutions are often expressed as very specific goals. They are usually firmly in the “What” category. Be it to fit into a wedding dress, achieve a life-long dream of running a marathon, buy a house, get a promotion. The list is endless.
Whatever the resolution, you need to understand the goal behind it. Something you believe you want, that you will benefit from. Something worth making the effort.
That’s your “Why” – the proverbial carrot instead of the stick.
Why a carrot? I have no idea – doesn’t seem the most tempting of items to me but hey, I guess they were more exotic back in those days??!
Regardless – you get the idea. Something tempting to you personally. Something you want. And so something worth making an effort for.
But here’s the part where resolutions struggle. Once you have achieved that goal through whatever means, it feels like it’s “done”. And that’s when most people revert to old habits and the whole cycle repeats the following year.
Whereas for a well-defined Life Goal, there is no “done”. Instead it’s a different way of thinking, of being.
It becomes part of you, your nature. It feels more natural than the old behaviour. Something James Clear captures particularly well in his blog, if you want to read more.
Now, about at this point I bet you are thinking, great – but all this waffle about carrots and nonsense is losing me. How does it actually help me achieve anything? Hang in there, it’s coming…
Gladiators - Choose Your Weapons...
Once you understand your true underlying goal, you will start to see that you could actually achieve it in a number of different ways. More ways than one to skin a cat, as they say. Again, why is a mystery as it just seems unnecessarily cruel – and pointless? But getting back to the actual point in hand..
Having options is the secret weapon to succeeding at your goals
Everybody is different – what comes easy to you may be nigh on impossible for me. And vice versa. By playing to your strengths instead of fighting against your weaknesses you give yourself a much better chance of success.
For example, when I sat down and thought about all my previous weight loss attempts, it became obvious to me that actually my underlying driver was to be fit and healthy. With the carrot being to improve my odds of being able to enjoy physical activities well into my later years.
Now I know I am not good at being restricted. Like, really bad. My natural instinct being to fight against it. And yes, the on-going lock-down is a tough one for me. But I am good at putting in the effort and have no problem working above and beyond to achieve my goals.
What I needed was a plan that played to my strengths and would be sustainable over many years.
Making Your Own Plan To Reach Your Life Goal
Once you think about it like this, it becomes obvious that a boom/bust cycle of strict diet followed by diving into piles of buttery bread (I’m no sweet tooth!) was not a long-term solution for me.
Likewise when looking at a lifetime of strictly controlled eating and drinking – I know I may as well just give up now and start saving for the liposuction.
My strength is in working hard – so for me the best answer was taking up exercise seriously for pretty much the first time ever. And coming up with an eating plan that worked for me. No restrictions but balanced.
Is it always easy – no. But I don’t feel like I’m fighting to make it work. I’m working with my strengths and thinking of that carrot. Or perhaps I should make it a hot sausage roll…?
More importantly – does it work – yes. And I’ve been doing it so long now it feels normal.
My habits have changed to support my Life Goal – and that’s what makes me succeed over the long-term.
All well and good and I’m sure you are all thrilled for me. But how does this help you? And how does all this healthy sounding stuff apply to gaining financial freedom, if that’s your goal?
How Does This Work With FIRE As A Life Goal
Well – the simple answer of how this can help with your FIRE goals is…..exactly the same method! When you think about everything we’ve been through above – it all looks something like this;
Who can resist a good flow-chart eh. I knew all of those years with Powerpoint would come in handy at some point..
Starting at the top;
1. What Do You Want?
This one can be pretty illuminating for people when they stop to think about it properly.
There are so many different ways to FIRE as there are to life. What’s happiness to one person can be misery to another.
Working out what you really want can be daunting – and inspiring. Here’s how we approached it if you need some inspiration to start.
What’s the carrot in FIRE for you? Security and freedom are the two most quoted reasons I hear for going after FIRE But is it really that simple?
What is freedom to you? Is it never needing to work again? Or is it being able to do something you love , not just what pays well?
Is security being able to do whatever you want – no worries, no limits? (Spoiler alert – this doesn’t happen, see here )
You get where I am going with this. The better you can express why you really want FIRE – the better your chance of success – and of enjoying it.
3. Define Life Goal
Bringing the two together, you should now be able to better define your FIRE goal as a Life Goal.
FIRE will likely no longer be the end point, a target by itself. An arbitrary number to achieve with no purpose.
Instead – you have a way of life that you are aiming for. Money is now just one of the tools to get there – but it’s not the only way.
4. Strengths & Weaknesses
The FIRE world can often seem full of people declaring their way is best. The only way. ( And would you believe it, an accompanying book for sale…. 😉 )
Whereas the reality is – only you know what your strengths and weaknesses are. And so only you can work out the best way to go after your FIRE goal.
You may be naturally great at saving money, happy to search out bargains and live well below your means. You will do well with strategies that rely strongly on budgeting and delaying gratification.
Alternatively, you might know you are at your best when juggling many balls, good at handling stress. You will likely do well with a strategy focused on multiple side gigs and increasing your income.
The point is the same as before, by recognising your weaknesses and playing to your strengths you increase the chances of your success.
5. Plan & Go!
By the time you get to this point, you now have a well-defined Life Goal which focuses on a long-term sustainable way of living. You know your strengths and weaknesses and have identified tools that fit them well.
Putting them all together is the last step in working out your own personal strategy for achieving your goal.
This is where you can start breaking it down into easier to mange targets, smaller steps. A transition plan. Alternative strategies for when things don’t go as hoped.
Likewise, you will want to get into setting so-called SMART goals (BankerOnFire has done a great job here for his financial goals for 2021).
But that’s a lot of detail to go into – so one for another post I think. For now – if you’ve got this far – trust me, you’re in a lot stronger place than a simple New Years resolution!
Life Is What You Make It - So Make It A Good One
At the end of the day – the whole point of this exercise is about being able to increase our ability to change our lives in a way we believe will improve them.
There’s no certainty on the outcome – that’s part of the joy of learning as we grow. Often what we think we want changes with time – and therefore so will your life goals.
And that’s ok. Because once you achieve your goal once, you know you can do it again. And again. And to be honest – for me, that’s a big part of living a meaningful, fulfilled life.
I hope this has helped to give you the confidence or enthusiasm in going after your own (well-defined!) Life Goals – whatever they may be. Or at least see you get beyond January 😉