THE BLOG
01/17/2012 05:08 pm ET Updated Mar 18, 2012

The "5 P's" of Successful Goal Setting

If you're one of the millions of people who set financial New Year's resolutions only to lapse a few days, weeks, or months later, now is a perfect time to reboot.

The process of setting and reaching financial goals should be something we practice year-round, not just at the beginning of each year. Yet in our busy lives, it takes determination and focus to take time out to think about our ambitions and how we're pursuing them. Perhaps that's why so many people plan and set goals only at the beginning of a new year -- because the holiday season offers more downtime to think about the big picture and our life's direction.

When it comes to planning, the time you spend can pay big dividends. It could become your down payment on a first-class ticket to greater financial security, better health, closer personal relationships, a more satisfying work life -- and even (for those of us pressed for time now) greater chunks of leisure time.

Students learning a foreign language must learn, forget, and relearn words three to six times before they permanently commit the translation to memory. Setting financial goals is much the same. Most people set a goal, fail to reach it, and somewhere down the road try again. Success is most likely to come after a series of false starts.

Why does that happen? We all learn from our past disappointments, so we come better prepared to succeed with each new assault on the goal. Timing also plays a part. The Buddhist proverb, "When the pupil is ready, the master will appear," seems to apply here. There are simply times in our lives when we are better prepared to incorporate our past experiences and ongoing motivation into a winning formula for success.

Have your financial goals been derailed because you were blindsided by the stock and real estate market crashes? When picking yourself up after missing a goal, there are five basic tools -- the "5 P's" -- you'll want to use to improve the odds of victory on your next attempt:

1. Passion -- You've got to want the goal badly enough that you won't allow yourself to become discouraged when the finish line proves hard to reach.

2. Persistence -- Cliché as it may sound, if at first you don't succeed, you have to keep trying. Any goal worth attaining is worth pursuing even through repeated setbacks.

3. Planning -- If the road to defeat is paved with good intentions, the road to success is smoothed with actual planning. Successful businesses begin with a well-thought business plan. Successful goal setters likewise require a carefully considered plan to reach their goals.

Each plan should include:

  • Ways to break the main goal into smaller, easier-to-accomplish parts
  • A realistic timetable
  • Strategies and resources (including mentors) you can utilize
  • A system for tracking your progress
  • Fallback positions for when you encounter potholes and detours

4. People -- The Boston Marathon attracts 25,000 participants and roughly half a million spectators each year. The number of qualified entrants and the large, cheering audience handing out cups of cold water do not make the 26.2-mile race any shorter. But the support and enthusiasm of the crowd and the momentum of the pack do provide most runners an extra boost on their journey to the finish line.

Family, friends, and coworkers can likewise give you the extra boost you require to reach your goal. Whether they are running alongside you, cheering you on from the sidelines, or handing you advice based upon their own scrapes and triumphs, enlisting the help of others dramatically increases your chances of success.

5. Positivity -- Mental attitude can carry you forward even when circumstances aren't breaking your way. Is reaching for a goal a burden, a responsibility, a sacrifice, even a punishment? It can be, if you decide to think of it that way. But you can also picture your path as an adventure, an opportunity, a competition, and a growth experience. The task is the same regardless of how you view it. The outcome, however, is far more likely to be positive if you remain upbeat and optimistic at each step along the way.

As a consultant to financial advisers, Pamela Yellen investigated more than 450 savings and retirement planning strategies seeking an alternative to the risk and volatility of stocks and other investments. Her research led her to a time-tested, predictable method of growing and protecting savings now used by more than 400,000 Americans. Pamela's book, Bank On Yourself: The Life-Changing Secret to Growing and Protecting Your Financial Future is a New York Times Bestseller. Learn more at www.BankOnYourself.com.