How to Avoid Putting Reward Before Work

by Kevin on September 2, 2010

If you’ve been reading this blog for any amount of time you know I’m a huge fan of creating and sticking to goals. Financial goals, workout goals, writing goals… it’s all goals all the time in my book.

I definitely think goals should have some sort of reward aspect to them. The carrot on the stick, if you will. Yes, financial freedom, dropping weight, and personal¬†enlightenment¬†are all well and good, but you and I both know that a little extra motivation (“Oooo, a milkshake!”) can go a long way. Sad, but true.

But goals are hard. They are challenging. Sometimes we set goals so far above where we’re currently at they seem impossible to reach. These are our stretch goals. They force us to grow. Force us to get better.

Some of those stretch goals we will never achieve. They are impossible.¬†That’s okay — we’ll end up better off just by seeking those higher expectations.

But sometimes there are goals that are achievable that we give up on. We get lazy. We get tired. We get distracted by the other things in our lives.

Even though we officially fail on reaching the goal we still end up giving ourselves the proverbial milkshake.

Avoid Setting Yourself Up for Failure

Shame on us. We’re putting reward before work. We shouldn’t do that, and I’m here to show you how. This definitely applies to your personal finance issues, but I’m sure you’ll find other uses for it as well.

Set Up SMART Goals

No, that’s isn’t a typo.

SMART is an acronym I’ve written about before (Don’t Let Your Goals Be Dumb). Each letter represents something that every single goal you set should have.

Goals should be…

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Realistic
  • Time-Bound

Goals like “achieve personal enlightenment” or “achieve financial freedom” are actually terrible goals. How do you measure enlightenment? How do you measure financial freedom? Does it matter when you achieve the goal?

Asking yourself those type of questions will guide you in making your goals better, stronger, and in the end… more attainable.

Track Your Goals

You have to have some sort of system to track your progress toward your goals.

I’m a huge fan of using Excel (or OpenOffice) spreadsheets. They are dynamic and customizable to your individual tastes.

Others prefer automated systems that will gather data for you and display it with shiny graphics like

At the end of the day it doesn’t matter what I or anyone else says you should use.

Use a system you are comfortable with. If you try to force yourself into a system that you’re really not comfortable with the odds are pretty good that you’ll get frustrated, stop tracking your goals, not achieve those goals, and give up.

Reward Yourself After Success

This is a critical piece missing from the SMART acronym. (Maybe it should be SMARTR!)

Attaining goals is hard, right? It usually requires some sort of sacrifice. When you’re setting up your goal and tracking system, why not also go ahead and dangle that carrot in front of your face?

If I…

  • lose 20 pounds I’ll buy that new cellphone I’ve been jonesing for
  • get to 12 months of savings in my emergency fund I’ll take my wife out for a nice dinner
  • read 12 books this year I’ll buy that new computer game

The incentive of the reward in front of my face definitely keeps my motivated to continue on during the rough times.

What strategies do you use to stay focused on your goals?

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