How to stick with your financial goals

“It is in your moments of decision that your destiny is shaped.” – Tony Robbins

One of the hardest things about goal setting is getting started on the path to your goal. One of the next hardest things is sticking to the path. Logically, it’s the goals that stretch you which are the ones with the potential to have the biggest impact on your life. But stretching yourself out beyond the limits of what you know often means a lot of change, and change is not something that the human brain likes to embrace, regardless of whether or not that change is for the better.

It’s said that when the going gets tough, the tough get going. While there may be a small percentage of people who possess an inner fire that propels them through every obstacle that life throws at them; I’m willing to bet that for most people, when the going gets tough, their resolve starts to falter and there’s a definite temptation to run right back to the safety of the old and familiar.

This is the joy and the pain of goal setting: the satisfaction that comes from breaking new ground and achieving something you weren’t sure you could, combined with the frustration of finding yourself circling back to where you started, over and over again. So what is it that makes the difference between success and stalling? In my experience, it tends to come down to three things.

Knowing What You Want

KarateIt sounds obvious but you’d be surprised how many people embark on a journey with only a vague idea of where they’re going and how they plan to get there. If you’re tired of your status quo and ready for something different then you need to get crystal clear on exactly what it is that you want and why. There’s a reason why experts advocate setting SMART goals: because when you define what you want in a Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic way and set a time frame for when you’re going to achieve it, you put yourself far ahead of people who are simply wishing that life would get better and something would change. If you don’t know what you want, you can’t create a plan to get there or communicate to others how they can help and support you in achieving your goal. If you don’t know why you want something, it’s hard to find the motivation you need when things get tough and you want to give up. Just having a goal isn’t enough; it’s your ‘why’ that drives you to start and keeps you going when things get tough.

Chasing Your Fears

Our brains perceive the unknown as a threat to our safety; a possible source of danger that should be avoided at all costs. This is a good thing when the unknown is a hot stove, a poisonous plant or a wild tiger but not so helpful when it’s taking on a new role at work or assuming responsibility for handling your growing investment account.

I believe that we know on an instinctive level what’s truly bad for us and what’s just intimidating/scary as heck. I’ve spent a lot of time over the past few years deliberately confronting and overcoming fears that I knew weren’t helping me to build the life I wanted for myself. What I’ve learned is that, while chasing your fear doesn’t make it go away, facing it and walking through it can lead to some incredible breakthroughs, as well as opportunities you might never have imagined.

Five years ago I was deep in debt, terrified of speaking in public and scared to share my writing with anyone in case they didn’t like it. Today, I’m almost debt-free, speaking in front of groups of people several times a month and writing for a number of different outlets. Nothing magical happened that allowed me to conquer my fears, I just got tired of being constantly afraid of all the things that could go wrong and so I decided to try to get excited about the things that could go right instead. What I learned along the way is that nothing beats the feeling when things go right and even when things go sideways, there’s always a lesson learned and the chance to do something different the next time.

Building a Tribe

Human beings are designed to function best in communities. Whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert doesn’t matter, we all need the physical, mental and emotional support that comes from our relationships with others. When we’re deprived of those close relationships it often becomes harder to maintain a positive outlook and high levels of motivation. When I first started goal setting in 2002, I was incredibly lucky to have a number of people in my life who were either walking a similar path or willing to mentor me as I created mine. Building a life in a new country, far from family and friends brings its own unique challenges and rewards and finding people you can trust and rely on takes time. Over the past three years, I’ve been gifted some amazing opportunities that required relocating away from my circle of friends and mentors. Each time has been hard but it’s also been a good reminder of how important it is to connect regularly with friends and surround myself with like-minded people in order to feel happy and keep myself on track.

No matter how big your dreams, how specific your goals and how meaningful your why, if you don’t have people around you who know your history, understand your journey and support your crazy, impossible (but totally achievable) vision for your life it can be incredibly difficult to maintain the momentum you need to get you where you want to go. Your tribe doesn’t have to be huge but every member needs to be someone whose energy fuels your dreams rather than diminishes them; people who you can inspire as much as they inspire you. Distance can make things harder but it can also remind you of what’s important and force you to push a little harder for what you want.

Life is a journey. Our goals help us define the path we want to take but simply setting a goal doesn’t guarantee that we’ll get there. We have to drive ourselves to start and motivate ourselves to continue, no matter what shows up along the way. Having a clear vision of what we’re walking towards, knowing why we want to get there, walking through our fears of the unknown and seeking out the help and support of a good ‘tribe’ all help fuel that inner fire that will drive us forward when things are good and keep us moving when times get tough. I firmly believe that we can each achieve whatever we set our minds to, if we’re willing to work hard enough to get it. To quote Einstein: “if we did all that we are capable of, we would literally astound ourselves.” Why not give it a shot: step out of your comfort zone, set a goal and astound yourself?

Written by Sarah Milton

Sarah Milton is currently stretching her professional wings in Edmonton, Alberta in a role that allows her to combine her talent for writing and speaking with her training in the financial services industry. She is passionate about inspiring people to get excited about their money and empowering them to take control of their financial future. You can follow Sarah on Twitter @5arahMilton

3 Responses to How to stick with your financial goals

  1. Sarah,

    Fear is a great motivator. Often it is targeted: retirees like me, and many that I know in my situation, as well people in their 40s realizing that their retirement turn will come.

    Will I have enough money to retire? Will my money outlast me?

    A better question to qualify/identify the fear is: “Will I have enough income when I retire?”

    Safety nets like the CPP, OAS and GIS will never suffice. All of these government plans are based on income generated from capital. We need to learn to do the same for our Personal Retirement Fund.

    The personal plan then becomes: “How much income will I need?” “How much capital does that represent?”

    The critical question, the last one, is: “How much Yield can I achieve and how?”

    Capital appreciation, which has been the cornerstone of most financial plans (proposed by most financial advisors) is useful when building a personal retirement fund. Most of us can’t become Day Traders or other gurus who know when to buy low and sell high

    Relying on financial advisors is a hit or (and?) miss proposition when most of us at one time just didn’t understand what our participation should be. It’s like going to a restaurant where the waiter recommends “Doodad with a thick liquid” and we blindly accept.

    We need to educate ourselves at a much younger age – high school and university. We need to continue to learn about financial products all our lives; consider 30 or 60 minutes a week from TV or the Internet.

    Then learn about free tools like stock screeners. See? That’s how much Yield is available out there.

    As to belonging to a tribe… It’s very difficult as most people see money as a secret emotion or illness; they don’t talk about it in specifics.

  2. Claude has a great point. Refusing to believe that we need to start to be prepared for retirement at an early age is a constant mindset of our younger selves. It is something that must change. You don’t need a professional to walk you through saving your money. Setting Financial Goals are necessary and vital for our vision of success. Keeping with the path can be tough, but the step-by-step process will be worth it.

    • David,

      “vision of success” is so much sexier than “setting financial goals”. Wish I’d thought of that.

      Something I omitted in my original post… There are free and very easy to use Canadian stock screeners with multiple parameters in TMXMONEY and Google/Finance. Focus on Yield.

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