Why You Might Need to Set Smaller Goals in 2014

January 27, 2014

goalsThis is the season of resolutions, as in New Year’s resolutions. But resolution is mostly just a fancy word for goals that we trot out at the beginning of each year as a way of raising our commitments to achieve them.

If you’re like most people however, you have more than a little bit of difficulty in translating your resolutions – goals – into reality. If that’s the case, it may be that you need to set smaller goals in 2014. Smaller goals are simply more achievable, and it’s only when you can achieve small goals that you’re ready to take on the bigger ones.

Here are some examples of smaller goals that might put you on a path to achieve larger ones as the new year unfolds:

1. Pay off one debt.

Paying off debt is a pretty typical goal for just about anyone who has debt. We tell ourselves this will be the year that I will become debt free so that I can get on with my life. But becoming debt-free may be too tall a proposition to accomplish in a single year. A better approach may be to set a smaller goals, like paying off just one debt.

Pick any debt you like – the largest, the smallest, or the one with the largest monthly payment – and make a goal to pay it off this year. It may seem like a relatively small act, but it is a form of the divide-and-conquer strategy, in which you breakdown a large task into smaller parts. You may not be able to pay off all of your debts this year, but you can almost certainly pay off one.

2. Don’t join a gym – yet.

Getting in shape is another typical goal for a lot of people, and the onset of a new year is often a catalyst. Unfortunately, many plans to get in shape end up being abandoned, and fairly early in the year.

What makes it worse is that this resolution is often accompanied by a gym membership. And since those typically come with a contract that runs anywhere from one to two years – complete with monthly payments – you could be wasting a lot of money if you sign up and stop using it after few months.

This may be a classic example of setting a goal that’s too high. If your past track record on getting in shape is kind of spotty, you might be better off setting a more achievable goal. Rather than taking out a gym membership, thinking that it will motivate you, you may be better off starting with some low-impact workouts.

Walking or jogging are good starts. Biking and in-line skating can take it up a notch. Start with a light exercise program that won’t cost you any money. The idea is to prove to yourself that you’re committed to getting in shape, and only adding a gym membership once that becomes the obvious next step.

3. Increase your retirement or savings contributions by just $20 per week.

If you haven’t been on top of this up to this point, there may be a desire to go-for-broke to try to make up for lost time. But retirement contributions are a drain on your budget, which may be a large part of the reason why you haven’t been so conscientious with this in the past.

It might be better to set the more doable goal, such as increasing your retirement savings by an affordable amount, such as $20 per week. With just that small contribution, you can add an additional $1,000 per year to your retirement savings. That won’t bring overnight retirement success, but it will get you moving in the right direction. Next year, and the year after that, you can make similar increases.

4. Read one new book.

Books can truly be life transforming – if you’ve ever read Tim Ferris’s The Four Hour Workweek then you know what I’m talking about. There may be several such books that you would like to read, but simply don’t find the time to get to.

Rather than having a list of books, pick just one new book to read this year – even on a limited schedule you can probably get that much done. Just make sure that whatever the book is, it’s one that has the potential to make a real difference in your life. Just one influential book read each year for 10 years could help put you on a different course in life.

5. Improve one relationship.

Conflict seems to be a built-in part of the human condition, and most of us have one or more troubled relationships in our lives. It could be with parents, siblings, aunts or uncles, cousins, long-term friends, or even with your spouse or adult children.

While it may be noble think you can improve all of your relationships this year, that could also be overwhelming. But pick one troubled relationship – one that’s particularly important – and resolve to improve it this year no matter what. The upshot is that if you can improve one relationship, you’ll probably feel empowered to fix a couple more.

6. Pick the dirtiest, most dreaded task you have and get it done it now.

Okay, I’ll admit this probably is not a goal on most people’s New Year’s resolutions list. At the same time, most of us have a project or task – one that’s particularly intimidating – that we’ve been putting off for as long as we can remember. Decide to get that task completed and behind you this year. Now will be even better!

Here’s the point: The dirtiest, most dreaded task that confronts you is probably interfering with other areas of your life. For example, let’s say that you need to make a job change. You know it, and you’ve actually known it for a long time – maybe for a year or longer. But you’ve been putting it off because the job hunting process makes you feel uncomfortable. However, while putting it off you’ve been accepting an undo level of stress that’s affecting everything else that’s going on in your life.

While it won’t be pleasant, make that your first goal to be accomplished this year. By putting it behind you, you will free up your mind and your emotions, and that will make it easier to do just about anything else that you want to do from now on.

Do you have large goals for 2014 that you are worried about accomplishing? Do you see how breaking them down into smaller parts can be an advantage? Leave a comment with your thoughts!


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Kevin Mercadante is professional personal finance blogger, and the owner of his own personal finance blog, OutOfYourRut.com. He has backgrounds in both accounting and the mortgage industry. He lives in Atlanta with his wife and two teenage kids and can be followed on Twitter at @OutOfYourRut.

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2 Responses to Why You Might Need to Set Smaller Goals in 2014

  • Fig @ Figuring Money Out

    Great post! I really like the idea of focusing on one smaller goal at a time because I think it’s easier to achieve something that way.

    • Kevin Mercadante

      It’s a matter of divide and conquer, and starting with a small, doable goal sets you up to tackle the next one, which may not be so small.