This year, I’ve chosen to take on a number of personal challenges. I’m trying to lose weight, with a goal of achieving the same weight I had the day I graduated from high school. I’m trying to slowly read and study a set of very challenging books. I’m taking a series of online classes, too. I’m also working on a YouTube channel and a book manuscript. Whew!
In the past, I’ve addressed a lot of personal challenges, some with success and some without. This site is the result of my own successes at achieving personal finance objectives, but I’ve not always had success at other things. I’ve succeeded and I’ve failed in my life many, many times.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned about success in the various areas of my life, it’s this: Your success isn’t determined by the big audacious goals, but by how hard you hammer away at that goal today. Nothing else really matters besides today.
If you have big financial dreams, but today you’re choosing to spend money needlessly and without a plan, you’re very likely not going to achieve those big dreams.
If you have big career goals, but today you’re goofing off at work and not doing anything to further your ambitions, you’re very likely not going to achieve those big career goals.
If you have visions of losing a lot of weight, but today you’re eating two giant meals and not planning at all for it, you’re almost assuredly not going to achieve those weight loss visions.
It’s the journey that really matters, not the destination. Yes, it’s fun to visualize that destination and think about what your life will be like when you achieve something big like that, but it’s nothing more than a little motivation. Your actual success and failure is determined by your actions today – whether or not you are actively, day in and day out, like clockwork, putting in personal effort to achieve that goal.
The catch? That repetitive daily challenge is hard.
When I first started turning my financial life around, making more frugal decisions each day was hard.
When I started building The Simple Dollar as a business, it was hard to make myself sit down each and every day and put my nose to the grindstone and get it done.
In other areas, I simply didn’t – or couldn’t – make myself do it every day. I tried many times to lose weight – it always failed. I tried launching many businesses – they almost universally failed. I’ve tried with countless failed projects over the years.
So, is the secret just focusing day in and day out on what needs to be done today to advance the project? That’s the core of it, yes, but it’s not the real secret.
The real secret is figuring out how to find the joy in the journey.
When I was struggling on my personal finance journey, I found a lot of joy in watching my net worth rise. I calculated it constantly. I also found joy in finding new ways to cut down on spending, so I was constantly trying new low-cost and free strategies. I still do this, in fact, many years after my initial turnaround. It became something of a game for me, and it’s still a game. I discovered that I really enjoyed meal planning and strategizing my grocery shopping, too.
I found something in the experience of financial recovery that I enjoyed, and I maximized that joy.
When I was struggling to build the readership for The Simple Dollar, I found a lot of joy in trying to find new ways to build up links to the site. Each day, I made it a challenge to find new ways to get people to link to the site and to get as many links to it as possible. I would actually count links and I made it into a daily goal, a game of sorts, to get the most links I possibly could. It was fun to discover new places online to share content, write articles that directly answered questions for people, and then share that article on there with them. It was fun to find other like-minded bloggers with similar or smaller audiences and then swap links with them.
I found something in the experience of building an online business that I enjoyed, and I maximized that joy.
Right now, I’m finding a lot of joy in figuring out what the calorie counts are in various foods and figuring out how meals and snacks fit together. I’m figuring out what low calorie foods I actually enjoy. I’m trying new foods all the time, too. My goal is to find sustainable dietary practices at a lower calorie count.
Thus far, I’m enjoying this journey. I enjoy trying new foods. I enjoy figuring out which foods are a good “nutritional bargain.” This is the part that’s fun for me, so I’m maximizing it.
In each one of those cases, the goal isn’t to just break things down into what I can focus on today, but to find specific elements of the journey that I really enjoy and maximize them in my life.
So let’s turn the tables on you. If you’re reading this article, it’s very likely that you’re on some kind of financial journey.
The first question is what are you doing today to bring you closer to success on that journey? Focus on things you can be doing today to help you spend less or to improve your career options or to pay down debt. What are those consistent things that you need to be doing?
Many of them are likely to be frugally minded, like finding ways to spend less. Others might be oriented toward improving your career options, perhaps through taking a class or learning about a topic or working on an independent project of some kind. You might get really into calculations and spreadsheets, like calculating your net worth regularly.
Whatever it is, find that element that really clicks with you (or at least the one that seems the most tolerable) and maximize the value you get from that.
I can’t say what it is that might really click with you, but as I mentioned above, I really enjoy finding ways to squeeze a few more dollars out of an ordinary routine without making that routine unpleasant. For me personally, that’s something I enjoy, so I actually spend more time on frugality than I probably need to. It’s a fun personal challenge to find a novel way to spend a little less on household supplies, for example.
At the same time, minimize the elements that you don’t enjoy about the routine. If there are elements that are difficult or less enjoyable for you, find ways to devote minimal time and effort and direct that time and effort to other tasks.
For example, what I find rather dull is investments. I don’t really like investment research much at all. I can do it, but if I did that every day, I’d quickly begin to loathe it. Even though I could probably earn a little more money by being very attentive about investing, I’ve instead chosen a very passive “set it and forget it” approach to investing. I set up automatic investment contributions and just let them go and do their own thing. I rarely look at them or even think about them, honestly, other than being aware that they’re present and they’re growing.
So, what was my blueprint for financial success?
I focused on frugality at first. I really enjoyed discovering new strategies for cutting a little more from my normal everyday spending, and I still do. This became – and still is – a daily focus for me.
I discovered that I enjoyed building side gigs more than I enjoyed trying to bolster my main career. One of those side gigs grew into The Simple Dollar.
I found that I really enjoyed calculating my net worth regularly and watching my upward progress over time. Not only did I find it enlightening, I found it incredibly motivating, too.
I didn’t enjoy thinking about investment strategy, so I studied investments enough to discover passive strategies that offered solid results and went with that. I buy broad-based index funds automatically in my retirement account and elsewhere and rarely even look at them. It’s enough to know that they’re there. I’d rather find a little more money to invest in other avenues of my life than spend time and effort “perfecting” my investment strategy.
I did these things every single day, and I focused on the parts that really clicked for me: discovering new frugal strategies, focusing on the positive progress of my net worth, and building a side gig to earn more money. I backed off of elements I didn’t enjoy as much, such as studying investments and building my main career at the time.
The end result was incredible financial success. I found a day-to-day pattern of positive activities that I was excited about or could at least tolerate. It did not feel like misery to me at all, and because of that, I was able to find success.
That’s my advice to you. If you want a big change in your life, you’ve got to focus on it every day, but if every day your efforts are miserable, you’re going to eventually quit. Instead, look at your daily actions and try to find ways that make it as enjoyable as possible for you while still producing positive results. Doing so will make it much easier to stick with the change over the long haul and eventually give you the results you want, even if it’s not the “perfect” path for getting there.
Remember, perfect is the enemy of the good, so don’t be afraid to skip the “perfect” path and choose the “good” path if it makes sticking with your changes much easier and even enjoyable.