African-American man looking up and to his right with hand on his face, looks like he's thinking. He's wearing a light blue button-up shirt. The wall behind him is white with random grey question marks on it.

Setting Goals: What's Your "Why"?

We’ve all been there: it’s 11:59pm and you’re counting down to midnight on New Year’s Eve. You clink your glass with friends and family, then suddenly declare, “This year, I’m going to save more money!” or “This year, I’m going to finally reach my goal weight!” You count carbs and pennies for the first two weeks in January, then you decide it’s too much effort and give up. Perhaps you’ve already given up for 2023.

What went wrong, and why do so many of us repeat this insanity every year? We didn’t think about WHY we chose these resolutions, WHY they are important to us – or even IF they are important to us.

Here are some tips to help you set goals that are achievable because they are meaningful to you:

  • It’s time to rethink how we create our goals. Instead of blindly making declarations to ourselves at the beginning of every year, we need to create a plan based on our personal values and dreams. What's important to you about that goal, or what makes you want it? How does it connect to one or more of your most important values. "Our feelings tend to lead us to our values, and they're useful for getting into action and staying engaged."1
    • Why do you want to beef up your emergency fund? Sure, you want to have that cushion in case your income suddenly drops. But is there more to it than that? If you grew up without a lot of financial security, you may want to ensure your family can avoid the same problems.

  • Don't set a goal you think you "should" because others do. What is truly important to you? What are your values, and how can they be reflected in your goals? Your most meaningful goals will meet resistance. Connecting emotionally to your goals will help you keep going during those days and weeks of procrastination. Don't forget what first motivated you to pursue these goals.
    • Your friends are all saving three months’ expenses for emergencies, but their family is smaller than yours. Setting the same goal as them may not be enough if someone loses income, so you decide to save six months’ expenses because it better fits your family’s needs.

  • Where do you see yourself in five or 10 years? This isn’t the time to get into the details but thinking about where you want to be in the long term will help you set meaningful goals for the shorter term.
    • If you want to be financially independent in 10 years, what do you need to start working on to accomplish that? Do you need to pay more on your monthly credit card bills, put away more in savings? How will you accomplish that? Can you get a job that pays more, perhaps stop dining out as much? Break down those goals so you can see what you need to do on a monthly, weekly, even daily basis.

      corkboard covered with notes of various colors and sizes. In the center is a large yellow note that has "Make things happen" written on it in black capital letters.

  • Record those feelings. This can be a few written sentences or paragraphs on your productivity planner, a vision board, an audible recording – whatever works best for you. How did you feel when you set your goals? Keep this information where you can easily access it when the going gets tough. There will be times you need to remind yourself why you chose those goals in the first place.
    • Perhaps you have struggled with financial security all your life. Do you spend money like crazy to make up for not having it as a child? Are you addicted to retail therapy?

  • Generally speaking, your goals should be specific and measurable. However, remember to reward yourself for progress and creating new habits. Even if you didn’t reach that goal, you created better habits and accomplished much more than if you never tried. It can also help you determine your next set of goals. It’s cliché, but the journey is as important as the destination.
    • Your goal was to save six months’ expenses (not salary) in your emergency fund, but you only saved four. Instead of berating yourself for not reaching your end goal, celebrate that you now have enough in savings to cover your family expenses for four months. That is a HUGE accomplishment!

  • Don’t set too many goals. This can be tough. It’s easy to get excited when you first set your goals and think you can do everything. Remember to be realistic about your time and energy. You may not have the same situation as your friends and colleagues, so check-in with yourself – are your goals important to you, or are you trying to reach them to compete with others? Determine the top two or three (or one) goals that are the most important to you and focus mostly on those or break into monthly or yearly goals.
    • Only one of your goals is finance related. You also have a weight-loss goal, a career goal, a travel goal, and more. Does that travel goal conflict with your financial goal? You may want to ditch that travel goal for now so you can focus on your finances if that is your top goal.

  • Don’t be afraid to update your goals. If you decide that a particular goal no longer works for you due to changes in your circumstances (loss of a loved one, loss of a job, etc.), it's perfectly fine to change it or completely delete it to work on something now more relevant. Your goals are not set in stone. Remember, you are doing this for you, not anyone else.
    • Were you hitting that financial goal of saving six months’ expenses, then you had a family emergency? That financial goal will probably take a hit if you are spending money to travel or help other family members during a time of crisis. You may need to rethink your goals to deal with life’s surprises.

Until you identify your “whys”, it will be difficult to determine your specific goals and how to accomplish them. Don’t forget to keep your goals where you can easily see and check in with them. If you use a planner, keep them there. Some planners are designed specifically to help you determine your goals and track them. If you don't use a planner, keep them somewhere you will see them often - a sticky note on your desk, hanging on the front of the fridge, on the corner of your mirror. If you prefer auditory notes, keep your recording nearby. Achieving your most important goals is a challenge but you can do it!

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1 Lisa Rogoff. "The Best Goals Start With 'Why'". The Shine. 8/22/21. Accessed 12/27/22.