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Setting Goals and Sticking to Them

Six tips to keeping those New Year's resolutions on track.

It’s that time of year again. Time to reflect, time to give thanks and time to set goals for next year. The question is not whether you’ll set goals; it’s whether you’ll actually stick to them.

Strava (the activity-tracking company) analyzed data from over 100 million uploaded exercise activities. They uncovered that New Year’s enthusiasm is not just short-lived, it’s very short-lived. They found that most people give up on their goals by the second Friday in January. “Quitters’ Day,” as it’s affectionately labeled, turns out to be Jan. 10 in 2020.

As you think about what your goals for 2020 might be, let’s think for a moment about maximizing your chances of staying on track. We’ve helped thousands of financial advisors set goals over the years. Some stick to their commitments better than others. Let’s analyze the commonalities among this high-willpower group. (Hint: It’s not sheer will)

Goal Belief

First of all, if you’ve cheated on your goal commitments in prior years, wipe that clean from your mind. Believing in your ability to achieve your goal is critical to achieving it. 

Commitment Contracts

Consider entering into an agreement with yourself to ensure that you follow through with your intentions. On the website, users put down some money (say, $200) and state a goal they want to achieve (such as to lose 10 pounds in a month). They also state what will happen to the money if they don’t stick to their commitments (e.g., it will go to a PAC for the opposing political party). In their research, the stick has proven to be more powerful than the carrot. 

Goal Visibility

If you complete a business plan, then file it away, you’re unlikely to still be thinking about it a few weeks from now. If you create visual representations of your goals, they’ll stay top of mind. Create a sticky note for your monitor or frame a picture of the beach house you’ve dreamed of purchasing. Anything to keep those goals visible.

Goal Size

Big goals can be motivating and are helpful to see the bigger picture, but we’re usually better off starting small. For instance, if your goal is to deepen relationships with clients in 2020, start by taking one client to lunch. Once you’ve started moving in the right direction, it’s easier to keep up the momentum.

Activity Preparation

Preparation is all about avoiding slipups. Instead of trusting the future you to do the right thing, make tough choices easier by preparing now while you’re fully motivated. For instance, if you plan a series of client events now, you’ll be more likely to complete them than if you plan one at a time.  


You know yourself better than anyone. What gets you off course? Does skipping your morning exercise set you behind all day? Does scheduling too many appointments make it hard for you to make your prospecting calls? Take a hard look at your behavior and determine what causes you to fall short on your commitments. 

We know that goal setting is effective. But it’s only as powerful as our commitment to sticking with the plan, even when we’d rather be doing something else. Remember, you first have to believe you can do it. With belief comes perseverance and grit. You can do it. 


Stephen Boswell and Kevin Nichols are partners with The Oechsli Institute, a firm that specializes in research, training and digital marketing services for the financial services industry. @StephenBoswell @KevinANichols

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