Stay The Course

At the beginning of each year there are many people, myself included, who participate in the ritual of making resolutions to change some aspect of their lives.  There is just something irresistible in the start of a new year that focuses our attention on things we may want to improve in our lives or something we have always wanted to start.   It’s two months into 2012 and I ask the question, where are your resolutions?  Have you faithfully been making progress on those fitness goals?  Are you saving more of your take home pay?  Are you still writing everyday like you promised yourself you would?  Did you succeed in quitting smoking, eating less junk food or begin learning that new instrument you’ve always wanted to play?  Just as there are many people who start with good intent at the beginning of the year, many also lose hope that they will achieve their stated goals and simply stop trying.  Today I want to suggest a change in strategy that may increase the odds of meeting whatever goal it is you set for yourself.

If you’re anything like me when you find that you have been slacking on your commitment to your goal you decide that you just lack the will power to stick to it and say to hell with it.  I’ve done this a number of times with a number of different resolutions I’ve set over the years.  However last year when I really decided I needed to change my financial habits I stayed the course.  Sure, there were times when I spent too much and didn’t save enough, but overall I stayed dedicated to my plan and slowly but surely changed my behavior from a spender mentality to a saver.  So how did I do this with my finances and how can you apply it to your own situation to achieve your goals?  The biggest change I’ve been able to identify is this; change your focus from being outcome oriented to process oriented.

When we start out with our resolutions for the new year it is usually with the end result in mind.  Maybe it is how we will look being twenty pounds lighter or how it will feel to run that marathon.  For me it was being out of debt and finally being responsible for my monetary resources.   I imagined how it would feel to be debt fee and not living paycheck to paycheck.  To have the freedom to pursue my interests.  These were the outcomes that I focused on.  Reaching any of those outcomes doesn’t happen overnight, it happens with small everyday choices (behavior) that end up producing a specific result.  Focusing on how we would feel or what life would be like is motivating, but usually not motivating enough to remind us that getting to that outcome requires making different choices on a daily basis.  This is not as exciting as imagining the outcome, in fact it’s down right boring.  We forget that to change our behavior requires a change in our thinking, it is this thinking that begins to change everything.  If you only think of changing your habits until you have achieved your goal then the behavior never becomes a new way of thinking , it remains something you just have to endure and that is no way to affect long-lasting change.

Bringing about this change in thinking and behavior is how you become a better saver, more frugal, in better shape, a writer or any other goal you have set for yourself.  Just remember to do those things that those people mentioned above do.  They use their income to save, they are active and eat healthy, they write daily.  It is the process, filled with the sum of all the little cumulative acts, that bring about the outcome you are looking for.  If you have fallen off the wagon of bringing about the change you had hoped for at the beginning of the year, that is ok.  Dust yourself off and climb back on.  Think of one thing you can do today that will get you to where you want to be.  Follow it up with something else tomorrow and the day after and so on.  Keep yourself focused by surrounding yourself with like-minded people.  Blogs are wonderful for this, because you have an audience who shares the same goals as you and people you can bounce ideas off of.  I read personal finance blogs every day last year and it helped me to stay focused.  It put my financial goals front and center every day.  It will seem tedious and you will get bored with it sometimes.  That is how our minds work.  Just put it aside and continue on.  In time you will be amazed at how much progress you have made .

You have ten months left in this year to make progress on the resolutions you set at the beginning of the year.  No matter how you have done in the first two months,  recommit today, right now and carry on.  I’m looking forward to hearing how you do.

Drop me a line in the comments and let me know how you’re progressing.

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2 thoughts on “Stay The Course

  1. I agree that it can be hard to stay the course when the finish line is so far out of sight. I find it helpful and inspirational to read of success stories and try and imagine what I’d be doing if I wasn’t at work. I just mentally project myself somewhere else at that exact moment, and realize that I’m buying myself that opportunity.

    We’re having a pretty good discussion of this over at the ERE forums, if you haven’t already read:

    http://forum.earlyretirementextreme.com/topic.php?id=2183

    It basically boils down to intrinsic vs extrinsic motivation and enthusiasm and what to do when a void develops.

    This (staying the course, staying motivated, thinking of what I’ll do with all my time when it’s 100% mine) is something I’m working on all the time.

    Best wishes!

    • Very true DM. I think that blogging is probably more beneficial for us than we give it credit. Think about it, in your day to day life how often do you talk about your buy/sell order? When do you discuss savings rates with your family or friends? How many people get excited about your dividend income as do your blog readers? The point is you have a very concentrated group of people who have very similar goals as you do and by sharing common experiences it continues to keep us focused and motivated.

      When you have a goal that is years in the future it is hard to appreciate that the decisions you make today will impact if and when that goal is achieved. Thanks for stopping by!!

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