Why clear, written goals work

Linda’s client Lebo wants to go overseas next year, which means she’s working towards something very specific. She knows the trip will cost approximately R50 000 and she’s been budgeting every month to set aside some money for this trip. She has managed to cut down on her spending and took on some extra consultancy work at weekends to boost her savings. She has almost reached her financial goal, which means an overseas holiday she’s dreamt about for a few years could become a reality.

According to a Harvard University study, few of us are good at goal-setting. Just 3% of the people interviewed had clear goals that they set down in writing, in graphic detail. Seven percent had written down their goals, but not in great detail. Then a massive 63% had a vague idea of their goals and dreams; they had some idea of where they wanted to end up, but hadn’t planned in any detail how they were going to get there and what steps they were thinking of taking. Finally, 27% of the interviewees had absolutely no idea of where were going.

Unsurprisingly, it was found that the 3% with extremely clear, detailed goals outperformed the remaining 97% of interviewees, in terms of achieving and succeeding.

Amazing, isn’t it?

Why we need to set goals

“In a sense, when we create goals, we also create our future,” says Linda. “We can make very meaningful things happen — whether we’re aiming for an overseas holiday, a degree, starting a business or renovating our homes.”

So why, then, do we find ourselves drifting aimlessly, not sure that we can even set goals for ourselves, never mind achieve them?

Linda believes that many of us lack the belief that it is within our power to make something happen. For this reason, she has her clients perform some simple tasks. First, they need to sit down and think about what they really want. A new car? A career change? A house? They then have to write about what they want in great detail. What will the car look like? What colour should it be?

Linda’s clients then need to go away and create what she calls a ‘dream board’– a collage or a visual record of what clients would like. Are you dreaming of a holiday in Europe? Then cut out pictures of the country of your choice and decorate it with postage stamps or magazine clippings that add to the vividness of the picture.

Why is this necessary?


Let’s look at another client’s story. When Kate was a newly qualified doctor, she knew that she eventually wanted to open a coffee shop with a host of décor and jewellery shops around it. She had a vivid picture of what this little ‘mall’ would look like — so much so that she drew a plan of where the shops would be, where the entrance would be, and so on. She kept the drawing and returned to it often.

Some years later, she sold a property and bought a ramshackle freestanding building that needed massive restoration. Every weekend, she did some work on the building. Somehow, she always got the support she needed — friends helped her to paint, someone donated money and someone else donated furniture. About 10 years after she made that first drawing, Kate opened her coffee shop and opened the other shops around it to tenants. It is now a thriving business.

Do the math

Obviously, it’s one thing to dream and another to finance your dream. Or is it? Not necessarily, says Linda. If you are saving for something very specific, it’s not difficult to attach a figure to that ‘something’. If you know you need R40 000 for a deposit on a house, you can set aside a portion of your monthly salary to go towards that. What usually happens, says Linda, is that when you start to work towards something you often find that money comes in – often unexpectedly. One of Linda’s clients questioned this, saying, “But wheres the money coming from?” Another client promptly chimed in: “It’s coming from wherever it is right now!”

In a nutshell, this illustrates the trust you need to have in the process and the belief you must have that your goal will be met. Yes, you need financial discipline, but you also need to trust that the goal will be met in time.

Think of how fundraisers set goals — “We need R50 000 by the end of the year to build a new wing for the hospital” — and how they track those goals on a regular basis, putting all their energy into achieving something that may seem, at first, to be insurmountable. Most fundraisers manage to reach their targets in the allotted time, don’t they?

Linda’s tips for goal-setting:

  • Have clear, specific, written goals that you can read over.
  • Make a ‘dream board’ so you knew exactly what you’re aiming for. Allow your intuition free rein. If you’ve always dreamt of helping others, perhaps you can start an non-governmental organisation. If your heart tells you to follow a particular path, accept that there may be a good reason for this.
  • Take the action you need. Sometimes, in the beginning, all you need to do is chat to a friend or tell your partner. Just ‘putting it out there’ might be enough — the rest will flow from that.
  • Trust the goal-setting process. At no point let your inner critic say, “Nah — that can’t happen. I’m wasting my time.”
  • Be thankful in advance. Don’t sit and think about all the things you don’t have now and can’t do today. Live with the future you’re creating in mind.
  • Revisit and review your goals. Perhaps you are saving to study further, but your car stops running reliably and you need a new car. Prioritise your goals — you can have short-term and long-term goals simultaneously, but assess which goals are most important right now.
  • Get excited about your goals. If you’re trudging towards a goal, it may not be the best thing to achieve right now. There’s little that’s as exciting as seeing a plan come to fruition. Ask any home-owner who holds the keys to their new townhouse in their hands. Goal-setting should be fun and making financial sacrifices to get something you really want should be part of that excitement.

Read more news, blogs, tips and Q&As in our Smart Money section. Post questions on the site for independent and researched information

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