It’s that special time of year again. No, not the impending new year. I mean Stationery Procrastination Time!
For me, it started with the purchase of a new journal.
I begin every year with a new little notebook to keep track of goals (financial as well as health, writing, blogging, and so on), and to make notes, in a very loose ‘bullet journal’ style.
But I always um and ah over which to buy, and then, the price involved.
This year I had my eye on a very nice-looking tropical leaf themed journal with plain lined pages. But I wasn’t sure if it was really ‘the one’. And then, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to spend – wait for it – gasp – $8 on it.
Then, I received a very nice sticker set for Christmas. 300 stickers, specifically for planners, vision boards and so on. (Shockingly, these stickers cost – wait for it – even bigger gasp – $10! That’s a whole $2 more than the journal itself!)
So far, I’ve managed to open the packages… but no action.
Now should be the time of year that I set up my journal. That I think carefully about my goals for the new year (and indeed, the coming three and five years), and get them down on paper. (Rather than throwing something quickly together on the morning of January first!)
But I’ve always been hesitant to start new notebooks. Especially pretty ones. (Memo to self: perhaps try an ugly notebook next year?)
I may be crazy, but I’m sure I can’t be the only one who feels like this.
The perils of perfectionism
Back when I was at high school, as a perfectionist, I used to be really frustrated by imperfections in my writing. If someone bumped me or I made a mistake, it wasn’t enough for me to erase or white-out the error. I’d feel like ripping the page out (and if it was the first one, I usually did). Then there would be that awful jagged line at the edge of the spine, where the first page had joined to the last. So that would have to go too… And then, if the front cover said 56 pages, and it now only have 52, I’d feel annoyed about that.
Fortunately, I’ve trained myself to be much less wasteful now. I use pencil almost all the time, have a good eraser, and sometimes – horror of horrors – simply cross a page out and start again on the reverse, without any page tearing involved.
The paradox of setting big (or small) goals
But I still get a bit paralysed when it comes to the first page of a new journal for a new year.
And I think many of us do, even if it’s not to the same, frankly idiotic, degree I do.
Perhaps that’s because starting a new journal isn’t just about the physical book. It’s also about being honest with ourselves in two very important (and difficult) ways at the same time. It’s about:
- Honestly evaluating our past year, thinking about what we did and didn’t achieve, and how we can be realistic about what we might achieve in the next, while simultaneously
- Honestly evaluating our hopes and dreams for the future, thinking about what we really want out of life, in the new year, and in all the years that stretch beyond that, and how we can best use the new year to set us up for the kind of life we want to lead.
Doing both is hugely important. If we just focus on the shortcomings of the past year and making things more achievable in the new year, we can miss out on achieving our big dreams.
If we focus just on our dreams while ignoring reality, drafting enormous goals with unrealistic measures, we can set ourselves up for disappointment and, paradoxically, failure.
Learning a language, setting money goals
We can learn a lot about the best conditions for learning (and other goal achievement) from language learning theory. Krashen’s i+1 for example, tells us that in order to learn a language, learners must be exposed to content that is just a little beyond their current level. If you’ve ever studied a language, you probably know this to be true. If you keep reading the same beginner level texts over and over, you never get anywhere. You have to go a bit beyond where you are currently comfortable to start encountering new words and grammar you can add to your repertoire.
Vygotsky’s Sociocultural Theory suggests that this is true of any type of learning. We learn when we try to perform just beyond our current level of competence, often with the assistance of scaffolding from someone else, or some tool.
Talk to your journal
You might be lucky enough to have someone you can share your goals with, and who will help keep you accountable. When it comes to financial goals, this can be a little tricky though. Since it’s still taboo to talk about money, discussing your financial goals with friends or family can be awkward at best. (Or damaging at worst). If you earn $200k a year and have no dependents, you might feel bad telling your friend about your goal of having an investment portfolio of a million dollars by the age of 40, if your friend earns $50k and has three children to support. Conversely, if you have a smaller income and more expenses, you might feel depressed or demoralised by a better off friend’s relative ease when it comes to saving or investing.
You don’t need to confide your goals to your friends and family if that doesn’t suit you. You can find a supportive network online. Or you can use tools (like this blog, or your journal) to keep yourself accountable. My ‘How can I maintain my money mojo?‘ post has lots of ideas to keep you on track in the new year.
Financial journal or bullet journal?
So we know that a financial journal can be a useful tool for keeping you motivated. Writing down your goals leads to greater conviction, and handwriting what you learn helps you to remember it.
You can have a specific financial journal if you want, or, you can do what I currently do, and incorporate your financial goals into your regular journal. (The bullet journaling system has some great ways to keep your pages sorted out). I like this method of treating my financial goals as just one element of my overall life. In my current journal, I have pages for travel goals, blog ideas, daily life and health checklists, writing ideas, new projects, book outlines, lists of birthday gifts, diary pages, and many more.
As you begin the new year– or any day – ask yourself:
- What goals do I want to set? Read this post on how you can make smarter money goals to find out how to set better financial (and other) goals
- What do I need to learn to make this happen? Read these posts on financial resources and finding financial advice to discover how you can find information you can trust
- How can I help others? Check out Enrichmentality’s last new years post on making a new years revolution.
And most importantly…
- What action can I take to achieve these goals?
Making your goals flexible
Something I have learned from browsing bullet journalling posts this past year is that one way to create achievable goals is to build some flexibility into them.
For example, let’s say you have a goal of exercising.
- set a goal of doing 15 minutes of exercise every single day. Or,
- set a goal of doing 30 minutes of exercise three times a week.
As much as we all start the new year with the best of intentions, circumstances often get in our way. If you set yourself goal 1, you might do quite well for the first, say, four days. Then, if you (or your kid) get sick on the fifth, or you have to do overtime at work, or you injure your leg, you might skip a day. Or two. Now you feel like you’ve messed up. In fact, you might feel like you’ve collossally messed up. It’s only day five out of 365, and already, you’ve broken your new years resolution to exercise every day.
It’s just like me with my new exercises book at school. You’ve messed up, broken your perfect streak, and it will never be perfect again. Why try?
If you’d set goal 2, however, it doesn’t matter that you spend the fifth recovering. You’ve already achieved your goal for the week, and you can get straight back into it as soon as you’re better.
It takes time. Be patient with yourself.
Exercise, like learning a language or saving money, is something that you have to do regularly, over time. You can’t just pack 90 or so hours of exercise into the first few days of the year and then expect to remain healthy over the rest of the year. You can’t just do an intensive language course and never work on maintaining what you’ve learned. And most of us don’t get paid our salaries in a lump sum on January first, and can’t pay all of our expenses in advance, either.
So if you have a goal of spending less, why not aim to have a certain number of ‘no spend’ days each month, rather than aiming for the impossible?
Set big goals anyway
None of this means you shouldn’t set massive, pie-in-the-sky incredible, fantastical goals. You absolutely should. One of the most inspiring experiences of my life was coming across a poster on the site Simple Savings who aimed to pay off her entire remaining mortgage in a year. She didn’t (the goal was impossible) but she achieved far, far, more than any of the rest of us could have ever imagined, and inspired dozens of people along the way. We made a similarly pie-in-the-sky goal, based on seeing the headway this incredible poster was making, and ended up paying off our mortgage an entire year faster than we’d originally hoped for.
The trick is to have stretch goals.
Say you want to save money this year. You might want to save, let’s say, a minimum of $10,000 by December 31st. So you could have a minimum goal of banking $833 each month. But then you could have a stretch goal of banking $1000 a month.
Any month in which you save $833 is a good month. Pat yourself on the back! But if you manage to save $1000, that’s absolutely fantastic!
Had you set your goal as saving $1000 every month, and it proved impossible, you might have given up. But if you set it as a stretch goal, you get to feel extra good when you achieve it, and don’t have to feel bad when you don’t.
The same is true of journals. My goal for my journal this year is for it to be useful. I’d rather a functional than a pretty journal. If it helps me achieve my goals, good. (If it happens to be pretty in the process, then that’s a stretch goal, and great!)
Plant the seeds for your future enrichment
Enrichmentality is all about planting the seeds for your future and new growth. No matter what 2018 was like for you, it is possible to turn over a new leaf – and sometimes that starts by beginning the first page in a new chapter – or even a new book – of your life. Don’t forget to set goals for your happiness, not just for money. Ultimately, money goals are there to serve your health, happiness, and that of those around you.
Whatever style you prefer, may the coming year be filled with health, happiness and success for you and your family!