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  • Writer's pictureKate Bradshaw

Staying the Course

Did you make any New Years Resolutions?-If you did, how are they going?

If you’ve already slipped up (or thought about it), you’re not alone. About 80% of resolution-makers trade enthusiasm for disappointment by early February and 30% don’t even make it that far, ditching their resolutions before they reach the two-week mark.

Before you wallow in self-defeat, take some inspiration from John Norcross, professor of psychology at the University of Scranton and an expert in behaviour change and resolutions. Norcross is a firm believer that early slips do not predict failure. In fact, many people believe that the early slips strengthen their resolutions. The key to success is coming back from those slips stronger than ever, and course-correcting to get yourself on the right path.

Course-correcting applies to many aspects of our lives, from health, career and family to business and finances, among others. Think about the countless hours elite athletes spend working out the kinks in their game or rehabbing after an injury to get back on track to peak performance. Businesses do the same. Whether they’re making small tweaks to a business plan or preparing to undergo a major restructuring.

No matter which area of your life or business requires course correcting, there’s no question that it takes some work and resolve to get things back on track. Yet, it might not be as difficult as you think. Next time you experience a set-back, don’t waste precious time beating yourself up. Instead, use the following checklist to help you get back on track toward your goals as soon as possible. This approach works as well for your finances as it does for your diet, exercise, family or career goals.

Begin by documenting your goals. This is an approach financial planners embrace throughout the wealth management process. Documenting your goals not only makes them “real” but creates a greater sense of motivation and accountability for pursuing your goals. In fact, according to a recent study, those with a written financial plan, where goals and strategies are documented, are also more likely to have a budget, a rainy day fund, and a monthly savings goal.

That’s because positive steps in one direction tend to encourage other positive behaviours. It makes sense. Once you develop a budget, it’s easier to identify opportunities to cut spending and save more. Similarly, once you begin an exercise program you may be more prepared to clean up your diet, so you don’t sabotage your hard work at the gym.

Reflect on the importance of your goals. Remind yourself why each goal is important to you. In other words, why is it deserving of your time, attention and hard work? Is it an end in itself (such as saving to pay for a wedding) or a building block to the life you want to live (a healthier, stronger you). Once you’ve established the meaning and importance of each goal, it’s time to develop a strategy to pursue it.

Develop a strategy. Without a strategy in place to pursue your goals, your chances of falling short increase exponentially, whether it’s weight loss, saving for retirement or planning more date nights with your spouse. Keep in mind that your strategy doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, the simpler you make it, the more successful you may be in achieving it.

Let’s take date night for example – mostly because it’s a lot more fun to think about than losing weight. Once a month, get out the calendar, sit down with your spouse and circle the dates that work for both of your busy schedules. Regularly trade off responsibilities for making dinner reservations, arranging for a babysitter or buying tickets for movies or special events, so one spouse is not disproportionately burdened with planning duties.

Establish a reasonable time frame. Let’s say you resolve to pay off all of your outstanding debt in the coming year. While paying off debt is a positive goal, sometimes even the most noble goals can be overly restrictive, setting you up for disappointment or failure. First, consider how realistic your time frame may be. How will paying off all of your debt in a 12-month period impact your current cash flow or ability to meet other financial goals and obligations, such as building up emergency or retirement savings?

If it doesn’t derail your other goals, or limit cash flow for essential living expenses (food, housing, clothing, medical care), go for it! However, if paying off debt becomes so restrictive that it adversely impacts your lifestyle, you may want to re-frame your goal. Maybe you extend the number of months you intend to pay down debt from 12 to 18 or 24 months to keep you motivated and continue the momentum without removing all enjoyment from your lifestyle.

Acknowledge your progress along the way. If your goal is to lose 10 kilograms this year, you might get frustrated if you lose 3 kilograms the first month, but only 1 kilogram the second month on the same exercise and nutrition program. Instead of focusing solely on how far you still have to go to meet your ultimate goal, take time to acknowledge your progress along the way. Do you feel healthier? Do your clothes fit better? Then analyse what’s working and what’s not and don’t be afraid to make changes and adjustments along the way.

Most of all, remain flexible. Life is not a simple, straight line and neither is the path to success. Stuff happens, we all encounter twists and turns along the way which require course corrections to get back on track. You haven’t failed until you quit trying. So stop giving yourself a hard time and continue your journey toward accomplishing your goals.

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