Anyone can say they plan to save more money, or travel around the world, or lose 30 pounds. But how can you go from talking about those goals to actually turning them into reality? In addition to hard work, a few tested strategies and innovative new websites can help.
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Brainstorm outside the box. The first step is to pick the best goals for you. What would you want to do if you had all the time and money in the world? Freeing your mind of normal restrictions can help shake loose latent dreams. Make a coffee date with a friend to brainstorm together; maybe he’ll point out that you’ve mentioned your desire to learn to snowboard a lot. Perhaps it’s time to schedule lessons.
Share your goals with friends—and strangers. Gretchen Rubin at the Happiness Project says that by telling other people about your resolutions, you increase the chances that you'll stick to them. Verbalizing what your goals are to others can also help you get specific, another one of her recommendations. She writes on her blog, "Don't resolve to 'Make more friends' or 'Strengthen friendships'; that's too vague. To make more friends as part of my happiness project, I have several very concrete resolutions like: 'Start a group,' 'Remember birthdays,' 'Say hello,' 'Make plans,' 'Show up,' and 'No gossip.' "
You don't necessarily have to share your goals with people you know. At 43things.com, strangers list goals, such as "save 20 percent of what I earn" or "identify 100 things that make me happy (besides money)." Explore the "money and wealth" section to pick up ideas for your own list, and get encouragement by cheering people on and having them cheer you on. The website MyLifeList.org can also help; after you make a list of your goals, you can share them with others and give and receive encouragement.
Dare yourself. In Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness, economists Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein write that people often need help executing their goals, even when they have the best intentions. In other words, they need a "nudge."
One solution Thaler and Sunstein identify is the concept behind the website Stickk.com, which was created by fellow economists. It lets people back up their goals with financial or nonfinancial incentives. For example, if you want to stop wasting money on happy-hour martinis, you can put up $100. If you achieve the goal, you keep the money. If you don't, then you pay it, either to a charity or to another recipient of your choice.
[For more money-saving tips, visit the U.S. News Alpha Consumer blog.]
Take time to reflect. Part of moving forward requires a year-end review of your finances, says Gail Cunningham of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. She recommends writing down everything you spend for 30 days so you notice patterns of expenditures that might be slipping through your fingers unnoticed. Some credit card companies provide this service free; just log in and look for a tool that analyzes prior spending.
Get out your pen. Writing down your goals and posting them where you’ll see them every day can help remind you to set aside time for them, even amidst the hubbub of daily life.
Do a little every day. Take small steps towards your big goals every day, even if it means spending 60 seconds checking out a relevant website before bed. If you want to launch a small business, for example, small steps can include purchasing your website name, interviewing web designers, and reading a book or two on being an entrepreneur.
Kimberly Palmer is the author of the new book Generation Earn: The Young Professional’s Guide to Spending, Investing, and Giving Back.