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 saw a headline recently 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 with the unlikely name of Curly who teaches them how to rope a cow, and in one memorable scene, an important life lesson:

Curly (played by Jack Palance): “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 the new year?

It isn’t rocket science

When it comes right down to it, accomplishing a goal, even a big one, isn’t a mysterious process.

A few years back, Seth Godin 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 – faith, family, health, career, 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 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 greatly 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 do cardio. If I think about how long I plan to go, it can seem overwhelming and discouraging. But if I just focus on sub-goals along the way — the next five minutes, for example — I find it a lot easier to keep going. Accomplishing each goal feels good and adds to my momentum. As long as I hit each sub-goal, eventually I’ll stay with it as long as I intended to.

So, as you think about your most important financial goal for 2023, break it down into more manageable sub-goals. What daily habits will help you get there?

What is it for you? What’s your one thing—your most important financial goal for the new year?

Take it to heart: “The plans of the diligent lead to profit as surely as haste leads to poverty.” – Proverbs 21:5

Take action: There’s nothing like the accountability and encouragement of a good friend to keep us on track toward a goal. Tell someone about your most important financial goal for this year and invite them to ask you about your progress from time to time.

Read more: Seeing Your Goals Through

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