I wrote yesterday about why I don’t like making New Year’s resolutions.
In that post, I wrote that not making resolutions doesn’t mean that I didn’t take advantage of the holidays and the new year as an opportunity for introspection, nor does it mean that I have no aspirations for self-improvement in 2014 — far from it, in fact.
But rather than resolutions, the vehicle that I’ll use to arrive at those changes for the better are properly written, intermediate goals
Definition of intermediate goals, and why they’re important
I have posted about them previously, but it’s still very important to start with a solid definition of what exactly an intermediate term goal is.
First off, it’s something that I will work to achieve in a time frame of more than one month, up to one year.
More importantly, the intermediacy (real word) of the goal implies two things:
- That I’ll have to set and achieve short-term goals to have any hope of reaching the intermediate goal and
- That there is a long-term, life goal that this intermediate goal works toward
Why they’re important
And here’s why, even with long- and short-term goals, I still need those intermediate goals: Take a long-term goal that’s obviously important like living a long, healthy life. Think how difficult it would be for a young person to make the psychological link between taking a half-hour walk tomorrow morning and having a healthier heart decades from now. Intermediate goals bridge that gap.
You can see already why setting intermediate goals is more involved than making a normal resolution, but I hope you can also see why it’s likely to be more effective.
Characteristics of a good intermediate goal
Of course, a poorly written intermediate goal can be just as bad as a poorly written resolution. So how do we go about writing a good one?
In some human resources circles, they tell managers to work with employees to set goals using the SMART principle; a mnemonic to remind us that goals should be:
- Realistic, and
This is a good starting point. I expand upon this by making sure that my intermediate goals include each of the following:
- A subject – Who will achieve the goal?
- A desired outcome – What is the goal?
- Measurable criteria – How will I know the goal has been reached?
- An action plan made up of short-term goals – Set a baseline for how you will work toward the goal; this also ensures that the goal you picked is actionable
- Constraints – What are the limits that you have to work within?
- Ties to a long-term goal – This ensures that the intermediate goal is less arbitrary and more in line with a broader life philosophy
I’ll explain each part using an example.
First, here’s a bad intermediate goal for 2014: Save more.
Here’s a better intermediate goal: I will contribute $3,000 to my retirement account by December 31, 2014, by saving $250 every month — or 15% of my take-home pay — to work toward my goal of $500,000 for retirement.
- A subject – The subject is “I;” This is obvious, but doing this reminds me to take ownership of the goal
- A desired outcome – Contributing to my retirement account
- Measurable criteria – An amount of $5,500, a no-later-than date of December 31, 2014
- An action plan made up of short-term goals – Monthly short-term goals of saving $460
- Constraints – The implied constraints are that I can’t save more than 100% of my income; and that I have to also pay rent and eat
- Ties to a long-term goal – The long-term goal is putting enough away to live comfortably in retirement
Use your progress and the help of other people to stay motivated
While putting together those goals and actually getting started is the hardest and most important step, it’s important to stay motivated too.
If, for example, you set a goal to run a 5k, you might get motivated early on by a great video about a famous runner or by the impending swimsuit season. Maybe you even stick a picture of a very fit person on the front of your refrigerator — inspiration for what you might hope to look like by year’s end.
But after two months, if you’re still 4k from that distance and the same weight, you might be tempted to give up on the small tasks necessary to accomplish your goal. The worst way to look at a goal is as a constant reminder that you’re not where you want to be just yet.
Rather than compare yourself to your desired end state, track your progress. And if you’re going to stick anything on your refrigerator, post a chart of your improvements that focuses on that progress, rather than how much farther you need to go.
Use other people to help
Bring along other people to help!
I’ve found that letting other people know about the progress I want to make is a great way to hold myself accountable.
Sure, lots of folks couldn’t care less that I made another credit card payment, but telling myself that I’ll have to give another status update at the end of each month has been great for avoiding impulses and holding myself accountable. And if you do find a couple people that genuinely care, it feels amazing to have a cheerleader 🙂
Using others to hold yourself accountable is the first half of creating an environment that helps you along, rather than tempts you to cheat.
The second half of creating this environment is finding like-minded folks to urge you along and share their own experiences with you. If, for example, you’re trying to get into lifting weights, don’t ever make the excuse that people in the gym will laugh at you. Everyone started from somewhere and it’s inspiring to see someone else catching the bug. The honest truth is that anyone who does laugh at you for working hard to better yourself is a total jerk; and no one else at the gym likes that guy anyway.
When you’ve put together that environment, motivation stops being something you have, and starts becoming something already built into your day.
Thanks for reading. I hope you have a great year and wish you good luck with whatever your 2014 goals are.