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To Go Big, Think Small

Goal setting is all the rage this time of year. Unfortunately, so is bashing the practice. Some have become tired of the whole New Year’s resolutions routine. It seems trite to them, unproductive.

It’s cool to be anti-goal. I’m okay with being uncool.

I love the start of a New Year. It always feels like a chance to begin again, to wipe the slate clean if things haven’t gone well in the previous year or to build on what has gone well.

But one thing has changed in my approach to goal setting. My goals list has become smaller. A lot smaller.

I recently saw a headline for an article promising “50 Ways to Improve Your Finances.” Just reading the headline made my head hurt. I couldn’t bear to read the article.

I don’t want 50 things to do. I want to focus on a much smaller number of things that’ll make the biggest difference in my life.

Curly’s secret to success

In the movie City Slickers, three urban-dwelling, middle-aged guys going through a mid-life crisis decide to go on a cattle drive. There they meet a tough, grizzled cowboy played by Jack Palance with the unlikely name of Curly who teaches them how to rope a cow, and in one memorable scene, an important life lesson:

Curly: “Do you know what the secret of life is?  This (holding up one finger).”

Mitch (played by Billy Crystal): “Your finger?”

Curly: “One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and the rest don’t mean anything.” (okay, he actually used a more colorful word at the end)

Mitch: “But what is the one thing?”

Curly: “That’s what you have to find out.”

Think about your finances. What one thing – what single change – would make the biggest difference in your life in 2017?

It isn’t rocket science

When it comes right down to it, accomplishing a goal, even a big one, isn’t really that difficult.

Seth Godin recently revised and repackaged Zig Ziglar’s “legendary” goals program Pick Four.

It consists of four simple spiral bound books in which you write down all the goals you can think of.  Then you whittle the list down to just four, preferably with some balance across various aspects of your life – career, family, etc.

Most of the rest of the books are diary pages where you keep track of what you did each day to pursue your goals.

The idea couldn’t be simpler.  Focus on a small number of goals, take meaningful action toward their accomplishment each day, and you stand a very good chance of accomplishing those goals.

You just do the work. Every day.

Taking your financial life from good to great

In his business classic Good to Great, Jim Collins says companies that achieve remarkable success take the same route. They steadily pursue their vision day by day over a long period of time.

He calls it “turning the flywheel.”

When I took on the task of paying off $20,000 of credit card debt, it seemed overwhelming at first. There were many days when I was deeply discouraged. Progress came slowly. I wanted to quit. But I kept going, kept pushing.

Every month I worked as hard as I could to make as much money as I could, and then I sent a big portion of what I earned to my creditors.

It was a heavy, heavy flywheel. It took time to build momentum. It took consistency. Hard work every day.  Big checks sent to creditors every month. Then one day – four and a half years after starting – all of the debt was gone. That was an amazing day.

What is it for you? If you could accomplish just one financial goal this year – one goal that would radically improve your life – what would you choose?

Are you willing to go after it? Are you willing to do the work? Even when it doesn’t feel good? Even when you can’t see any progress? Every single day?

Scripting the critical moves

In Chip and Dan Heath’s book, Switch, which is about what it takes to make a lasting change in our lives, they talk about the importance of breaking goals down to smaller goals.

I use that process when I run. If I think about how far I plan to run, it can seem overwhelming and discouraging (and I don’t even run very far!). But if I just focus on sub-goals along the way — the next street light, for example — I find it a lot easier to keep going. As long as I hit each sub-goal, eventually I’ll run the full distance I intended to run.

So, as you think about your most important financial goal for 2017, break it down into more manageable sub-goals. Where do you need to be at the end of January, the end of February? And what daily habits will help you get there?

What is it for you?

What’s your one thing?  Be bold and go public with your single most important financial goal for the New Year by leaving a comment. I’d love to cheer you on. My intention for this blog is for it to be a safe place where we can have scary conversations about changing our lives. Radically. One day at a time. Starting now.

Who else should read this article? Why not send them a link? And if someone forwarded this post to you, I’d love for you to become part of this community by signing up for a free subscription.

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2 Responses to To Go Big, Think Small

  1. Thomas December 27, 2016 at 1:53 PM #

    Strong work Matt! Thanks for sharing, Thomas.

    • Matt Bell December 27, 2016 at 8:36 PM #

      You’re very welcome, Thomas. Thanks for the feedback.

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