"I think we can pay off our mortgage in 3 years."
I announced this to my rather stunned husband just 9 months after we were married.
"Are you sure?"
Fair question. With my No. 1 strength being Ideation, I do get some wild ideas sometimes. But this time I had an amortization chart and a proposed budget to back it up. (We tend to be nerds and geek out about amortization charts-so I knew that would peak his interest).
At the time we were only a year and a half into paying back the note on the property my husband, Salem, had purchased to be our first home.
It had all begun the week after we were engaged, when Salem announced we were going to go house shopping. He had been saving up a 20% down payment and he wanted me to help pick out our future home. The plan was that he would live in it, fix it up if needed, until we were married and then I would move in after our honeymoon.
But there was a catch.
He didn't want to buy a single family home like many of our friends - he wanted to purchase a duplex.
I still remember the look on the realtor’s face when she asked Salem what we were looking for in a home.
"We’d like a duplex."
"You do know that means you have to buy BOTH sides?"
We decided to switch realtors after that conversation.
Salem's vision was pretty straight-forward. He wanted a place for us to live and he wanted an investment property. So to him the duplex was the perfect fit. We would live in one side of the property and rent out the other. Doing so would allow us to make the typical mortgage payments (like we would on a single family home) and then take all of the rent that came in and throw it towards the principal. (And as an added bonus, we would only have to pay property taxes on one property.) We would live in the duplex until we paid it off, and then we would keep it as a rental property to help us pay off a home for us (and our future children) to live in.
Oh, and he wanted to pay it off in our first 10 years of marriage. (No pressure).
So that was our original goal. Pay the mortgage off in 10 years.
That is why my proposal sounded so ridiculous at first. It sounded impossible.
But after we looked over the amortization chart and proposed budget we decided we had nothing to lose, so we went for it.
I made a pay-off chart and we colored it in each month as we made the designated payment. It was painful to see all of that money leaving our bank account, but we knew the sacrifice would be worth it one day.
And it was.
It totally was.
So, what’s the moral of the story?
Luckily it's not that you need to be a nerd who loves amortization charts.
But it's that you need to be strategic, and maybe a bit daring in your goal-setting, in order to get you to where you want to go.
Here are three proven strategies you can use to help you accomplish more:
1. Be SMART or better yet, SMARTER about your goals
In a November 1981 publication of Management Review George T. Doran introduced the idea of S.M.A.R.T. goals.
In his original article, Doran said goals must be Specific, Measurable, Assignable, Realistic, and Time-Bound.
Since its conception, experts have offered their own variations of this method. One of the most popular is to replace Assignable with Actionable. But there are many more.
Project Smart captured several of these variations:
“The acronym SMART has several slightly different variations, which can be used to provide a more comprehensive definition of goal setting:
S - specific, significant, stretching
M - measurable, meaningful, motivational
A - agreed upon, attainable, achievable, acceptable, action-oriented
R - realistic, relevant, reasonable, rewarding, results-oriented
T - time-based, time-bound, timely, tangible, trackable”
With so many versions available, it will be helpful to focus on a method recommended by a productivity expert like Michael Hyatt.
Hyatt recommends this SMART model:
Specific goals are well defined and can be clear to outsiders. It is important if you are working in a team that every member can easily understand exactly what the goal’s expectations are.
When we were working towards paying off our duplex, we had our target monthly payments calculated down to the penny. It helped us to stay focused and know exactly what we needed to accomplish each month.
Not sure if your goal is specific enough? You can ask yourself these questions:
What exactly do you want to accomplish?
Why is the goal important to you or to your team?
Who might need to be involved in helping you?
When is it feasible to expect that you can accomplish your goal?
Where might you have to go for help or assistance in fulfilling your goal?
How do you envision making the goal come to fruition? Will you need any special accommodations to make it happen?
It is important to be able to track your progress during long term goals. My homemade pay off chart enabled us to track 36 monthly payments-and that was enough to keep us motivated, but you can decide what increments of measurement work best for you and your goal.
The main thing is that you find a way to track your progress. At any given time you need to know where you are and where you are going. You also need to be able to identify when you finally accomplish your goal.
Hyatt recommends starting each goal with an action item. He says “each goal should start with an action verb (e.g., “quit,” “run,” “finish,” “eliminate,” etc.) rather than a to-be verb (e.g., “am,’ “be,” “have,” etc.)."
There is something powerful about attaching an action to our goals. It communicates to our brain that we need to jump into action today, instead of waiting for a later date.
This is probably the hardest part of goal setting. If you do not make your goal challenging enough, you will get bored with it. If you make it too challenging, your will overwhelm yourself. You need to take stock of your level of motivation, your resources, your energy and any potential obstacles to help you determine where that sweet spot is.
As Hyatt states, “A good goal should stretch you, but you have to add a dose of common sense.” He recommends going right up to the edge of your comfort zone and then taking one step over that.
Sound scary? Hyatt claims if you remain in your comfort zone, you aren't thinking big enough.
When do you plan on finishing your goal? Add that specific date.
Hyatt believes, “A goal without a date is just a dream.”
Adding a completion date allows you to direct your aim and to track your progress. Leaving a goal open ended gives you the excuse to worry about that goal at a later date. The “one day” phenomenon will sabotage you every time, so do yourself a favor and add a completion date.
A recent addition to the SMART model is adding ER to the end. As with the original model, there are different versions of this addition as well.
A version I prefer (because I use it) is:
Determine when you want to evaluate your progress. That might be yearly, quarterly, monthly or daily-depending on your goal.
Much to the dismay of detailed planners, life has a way of being messy. Often ideas on paper, do not work out as well in execution, so preparing in advance to evaluate your progress can allow you to make small (or large) course corrections as needed to ensure you reach the proposed target.
Recognized/Rewarded or Revisited
When you reach a goal you need to take some time to recognize it (I’m looking at you high Achievers!). Plan a reward for yourself and/or your team. Our reward was buying a house that did not share a wall with our renters!! But maybe the reward is not that extreme. It should match the intensity of the goal, so that it encourages you to press on towards another one.
If you fail to reach your goal by the designated date, perhaps it's time to revisit it. Maybe you just need to add a bit more time? Modify the goal to make it more obtainable? Abandon it all together in pursuit of something else?
There is nothing wrong with changing your goals, or adjusting mid-course. The most important thing is that you are focusing on them.
And that brings me to my next point-your goals MUST be written.
2. Write your goals, vividly
Writing our goals gives us an edge in accomplishing them because of two processing methods - external storage and encoding.
External storage, simply put, is that we remember something because it is stored outside of our brain. We see it and are reminded of it. This is why experts will tell you to not only write down your goals, but to post them where you can see them. That visual cue will remind you of those goals.
For example, I posted our pay off chart front and center on our fridge. It was obnoxious and inspiring, all at the same time. But it worked.
Encoding is a process the brain uses to analyze information. It allows our brain to filter the importance of information and to decide if it should be discarded or stored in our long-term memory bank. Writing helps the encoding process, which means you are more likely to store information in your long term memory if you write it down first.
In his Forbes Magazine article, leadership expert Mark Murphy encourages readers to not just write down their goals, but to “vividly describe” them.
He states that a vividly described goal sounds like this: “My goal is so vividly described in written form (including pictures, photos, drawings, etc.) that I could literally show it to other people and they would know exactly what I’m trying to achieve.”
In his own research, Murphy found that goal success is largely associated with vividly describing goals in written form. Murphy found “people who very vividly describe or picture their goals are anywhere from 1.2 to 1.4 times more likely to successfully accomplish their goals”.
But, a vividly written goal is not the only customized advantage you can give yourself. My last suggestion is to incorporate a Strengths-Based Approach to your goal setting routine.
3. Strengthen your Goals
It can be highly effective to incorporate your strengths into your goal setting. Though I saved this point for last in my article, it is most effective when incorporated at the beginning of the goal setting process.
To do so, you can follow these steps identified by the Gallup organization.
Identify what you want or need to accomplish, not how you must accomplish it.
Consider your top strengths and how you can use them to accomplish your goal.
For instance, I have Focus in my Top 5. Having a large goal, such as paying off a mortgage in 15 years, can be a bit daunting to me. However, compressing that goal into just 3 years, even with the high intensity required to be successful, was much more manageable and exciting to me.
This approach not only works when setting your own personal or professional goals, it's also extremely helpful for managers to use when coaching employees on company performance goals. Knowing the individual strengths of your team allows you to assist them in setting goals they are excited about reaching. And as we all know, there are many ways to accomplish the same goal, why not fashion it in such a way that lights up the person in pursuit of that goal?
If you want to learn more about Strength-based Goal setting, you can contact us at ROI.
When we take time to apply our strengths to our goals, use an established method like SMART or SMARTER and write down our goals- the only thing holding us back is our own imaginations.
It has been exactly 8 years from our first escalated payment on the duplex, and 5 years since we made our last payment. I keep the marked out amortization chart as a reminder of where we started. We currently live in a home that is paid off and while I know that has a lot to do with my brilliant husband and his money management skills, it is also due in part to our willingness to take on a goal outside of our comfort zone.
If that's where you find yourself today, standing on the edge of your comfort zone, trying to calculate the risk of that next step, my advice to you is to go for it. You can always step back into that same comfort zone, but with a lot of planning and a little luck, you might be able to extend your comfort zone one goal at a time.
And one day you'll look back and realize you were able to do what you once thought impossible.
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