People are notoriously bad at reaching their goals. The root of the problem is not that they set goals for themselves, but that this doesn’t always match up with the ability to see them through. In a perfect world, financial, savings and investment goals would be reached, right on schedule, as planned.
Unfortunately, planning doesn’t always solve the problem.
Ironically, many start to talk about setting new goals for themselves as the New Year approaches, forgetting that this plan didn’t work so well last year. Some cultural traditions call for setting certain types of goals or resolving to start a new habit as every new year begins. Some behavioural scientists even talk about a “fresh start effect” .
Yet resolutions made in this fashion also run the risk of falling victim to what is known in behavioural science as planning fallacy. This involves misjudging exactly how much time and effort will be needed to reach the goal.
According to psychologist Hal Hershfield, the problem with the planner's fallacy is that we believe our plans made in the present are for a future version of ourselves to deal with. It is easier to put off paying into your savings account or investing in the future when you believe it is, as it were, someone else’s responsibility.
And as a result, you may feel free instead to make choices that make you happy immediately, in the moment.
Compounding the problem
We falsely believe that the will power and self-control required to achieve our financial goals will magically appear once the calendar resets, but in reality, we’re the same people on 1 January we were on 31 December.
Shift your lifestyle change from a temporary resolution mindset to a long-term behaviour change, says Garrett Meccariello
Instead, to set and reach financial goals in the coming year, act as soon as possible. If you can, one idea is to actually kick off your savings or investing plan before the “landmark” holiday, perhaps a week or so ahead.
This can actually help shift your lifestyle change from a temporary “resolution” mindset to a long-term behaviour change. For example, by distancing yourself from the over-hyped New Year resolution-setting period, your goals will feel permanent and meaningful. Additionally, easing into reaching your goal will feel less dramatic than diving right in on the first day of the year.
Next year, why not try kick-starting the steps necessary to reach your goal on a random Tuesday towards the end of December, and maintain your progress throughout the following year? This should stop you falling victim to a “New Year’s Resolution” version of the planner's fallacy.
On the money
The brain is already at a disadvantage when it comes to consistently making smarter financial choices. Sometimes we just want to do what feels right in the moment, driven by our hearts’ desires, and not necessarily what is right for our budget. This is especially true when it comes to bringing change to your life that seems foreign or unfamiliar as it pulls you away from your old ways.
Making healthy financial behaviour a daily routine ensures that any changes to your day-to-day lifestyle do not feel drastic or unplanned. Progressing more slowly towards your goals helps you form healthy habits for the long term. Budgeting and saving for the future shouldn’t be calendar-based chores; instead, they should become ingrained and second nature.