But I’ve learned the hard way over the years that it makes no sense to set dramatic, sweeping, overly generalized goals all at once that I am unlikely to meet. That’s a recipe for failure and feelings of guilt and personal inadequacy that nobody needs.
And that applies to goals you set at any time of the year, and not just New Year's.
I've discovered that I have greater success with meeting any goals I set when I make them measurable, attainable and specific, and then break them down into small, doable steps that move me incrementally towards the bigger objective.
Here’s an example of what I mean. Many people want to lose weight, but few people succeed at it. For starters, the target number for the scale is often unrealistic or even extreme, which sets them up for failure.
But just as often, they set about it by drastically eliminating foods and calories, which leads to a sense of deprivation that is simply not sustainable beyond the short term.
I recommend instead trying to ADD things to your routine or diet so that it doesn't seem like it's so much of an ordeal or hardship. Start with specific, small, daily changes and activities that you can maintain over the long haul that will help you accomplish the desired weight loss.
With that approach, you might make a to-do list on your first day that would include even just a couple of the following ideas:
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator at work or the store today.
- Park as far from the store as possible when I go shopping today.
- Work out with light weights for 10 minutes today (I personally recommend Jorge Cruise’s book, 8 Minutes in the Morning as a great way to get started.)
- Make and eat a salad with dinner today.
- Add 1 serving of fruit or vegetable to my daily diet today.
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And if you’re a paper list-maker like me, you have the added satisfaction of taking pen or pencil in hand and putting a line through the items on your list as you finish them.
It really is a good feeling. And as we all know, success breeds success and tends to make us want to keep on going.
The Same Strategies Work in Other Areas of our Lives, Too
The same practical and doable strategy applies when getting started on a household budget or trying to be more organized and mindful in your household meal planning.
Don’t set yourself up for defeat by aiming for overly lofty, vague goals. It’s best to be realistic about what you can achieve and begin with small, achievable daily actions that move you in the direction of eating better and saving money as well.
Incorporate those mini-steps into your life until they are part of the routine, and only then consider taking on more ambitious steps.
So here are some suggestions for things you might include in your daily list to start:
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- Pack and bring lunch to school or work today
- Make and carry my own coffee today
- Pack a fruit snack for work today
- Use cash only today
- **Stop at the grocery store to get ingredients for dinner (see note below)
- Cook dinner today
- Make a salad to have with dinner today
- Put leftovers away for another dinner/lunch today
- **Plan dinner for tomorrow (see note below)
- Make grocery list for tomorrow
…And so on.
**Let me say that the ultimate goal is to be able to plan menus at least a week in advance, and grocery shop no more than once a week. But if you’re new to the concept of cooking at home or creating menus ahead of time, it might initially involve short-term, day-to-day dinner planning and frequent trips to the grocery store, as well as the use of lots of prepared foods.
That’s perfectly okay as you learn the ropes. The idea is to create steps that are truly achievable and as painless as possible.
So, if making several short forays a week to the grocery store and using things like pre-cut vegetables and/or pre-washed salad makes it easier for the newbie – or anyone else - to cook at home and avoid the budget busting (and often unhealthy) habit of eating out or doing take-out so much, then that’s a step I would definitely encourage as one that's moving you in the right direction.
As time progresses, you'll find meal planning easier and easier - particularly if you follow the method I outline in this blog here and here. - and your trips to the store will become less frequent. Eventually, you'll become a pro at meal planning and getting everything you need for the week in one go.
Make Daily To-Do and Goal Lists a Habit in Many Areas of Your Life
One important thing in this goal setting list is that each item on it can be checked or crossed off when completed. This can be done in many areas of our lives beyond food and exercise, and can include things like school and studying, general budgeting, and job searches, etc.
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And as you see the positive results and gain confidence, your daily list might change once a week to include such things as, say, weekly menu planning and weekly grocery shopping sessions instead of daily ones.
With just a bit of practice, you're now ready for that extra effort and organization and the greater savings it can mean. Menu planning templates, like the one below, can help.
And over time, your comfort level and skills will increase, until you're ready and able to take on more and more planning and cost-savings, in more and more areas of your life.
But starting one day at a time with small steps and specific goals is a far less overwhelming goal to begin with. I encourage you to give it a try. It's a proven technique that experts have known about for years.
I hope it works for you, too.