Chuck Jaffe: Skip resolutions and set goals instead
BY CHARLES JAFFE Market Watch
Wednesday, January 02, 2013
1/02/13 at 2:37 AM
Most new year's resolutions fail because the minute someone takes a single misstep on the path toward their goal, their resolve is shot.
Ask anyone you know who makes resolutions how often they actually reach them - or if they can even remember what they resolved to do beyond the most obvious weight and quit-bad-habits pledges - and you'll see it's true.
That's why I gave up on resolutions back in the 1980s and instead started setting annual goals.
I didn't want a single mistake to sideswipe a long-term pledge, so I started drawing up a wide-ranging list of personal targets covering everything from the family to the financial. I would write down my goals, put them in a sealed envelope and send them back to me, with the envelope tacked unopened on my office bulletin board as a subtle-but-constant reminder that I had promises to keep.
That quirky system worked pretty well for me until 2010. That's the year I lost my brother to a rare disease and suffered my own heart attack in the fall. When December rolled around, for the first time in all those years of goal-setting I had no clue of what was on the paper in the envelope. It was practically like opening a note from a stranger.
Now there are no more sealed envelopes, no more forgotten promises. If the goals were important enough for me to make them a priority, I wanted them visible front and center, where I might revisit them on any given day and where my family or anyone in my office could see them and comment on them, pushing and cajoling me to get them done.
Years of setting goals has taught me that my targets should not be too easy, or too vague. You can "save more" by setting aside an extra dollar, but you can't really impact your life that way. I'd rather strive for something big - like increasing my retirement set-asides by a few percentage points - and take steps toward it than be falsely proud about clearing low hurdles.
I wholly encourage you to come up with your own targets. But if you want to share in my priorities for the coming year, you might include the following on your list of goals:
Handle the financial chores: This isn't about making money, so much as protecting what you've got.
You don't need to update your will/estate plan, your insurance needs/coverage, or your financial plan every year, but if you can't remember the last time you did it, you're way overdue. You also want to make sure that all of your beneficiary designations are current.
Take care of yourself first: Cardiac rehab taught me just how tough it is for most people to balance their own well-being with family and work obligations. In trying to do right by the various forces pulling me in different directions, I didn't do what was good for me.
Reduce financial stress: Sure, it sounds vague, but it's virtually impossible to live in the modern economy without some measure of financial stress. Maybe it's poor returns on the stock market, bills coming due or the threat of a problem in the job market.
Reducing stress often is about the little things. It's saving more here or there to reduce debt or fund an emergency plan, finding a way to sell something you don't need any more, changing some expensive telephone or Internet plan, canceling some subscription you no longer read, or not looking at how your portfolio did on a day when the headlines are bad.
What's neat about this is that it is an easy goal to work toward on any given day. By focusing and always moving toward it, it's remarkable that the big financial worries don't loom quite as large.
Original Print Headline: Skip resolutions and set goals instead this year
Chuck Jaffe, senior columnist for MarketWatch, can be reached at email@example.com or at Box 70, Cohasset, MA 02025-0070.