A Daily Commitment to Excellence

When I woke up this morning, I sat up in bed and told myself, “I’m not going to spend any money today at all. I’m going to fill my day with fulfilling things that don’t involve spending a dime!”

I put a reminder in my phone to remind me of this commitment to excellence. It’ll go off four or five times today, reminding me of what I’m shooting for.

Today, I’ll be going to a bookstore and a food co-op and walking around a downtown area of a nice Midwestern town with some real spending temptations. Having that commitment to financial excellence is going to be a real challenge.

Can I do it?

I’ve been using this daily commitment to excellence strategy a lot lately. It usually involves setting some sort of daily goal for myself that pushes me well beyond my normal boundaries.

One day, I woke up and my commitment was to walk or jog at least 25,000 steps. That’s about half of a marathon with my stride length.

Another day, I woke up and my commitment was to spend three hours in distraction-free study of a topic I’m trying to master.

On another day, I woke up and committed myself to getting our financial papers completely in order and negotiating a few bills.

Another day, my commitment was to have great face-to-face conversations with at least 25 people, which is pretty tough for me as I have a pretty strong introverted streak.

On another day, I committed to planning out and making two weeks of meals in advance for my family, with each meal in duplicate. In effect, I was making a month’s worth of dinners at once.

On yet another day, my personal challenge was to spend several hours truly cleaning a part of our house that I had neglected and was dreading.

A final excellence commitment challenge: one day recently, I woke up committed to writing 10,000 words and editing an equivalent amount.

I’ve learned some really valuable things from these kinds of personal daily commitments to excellence.

First, an audacious but not quite impossible challenge really pushes you to tackle it with relish. The best challenges are the ones where it feels like you can barely pull it off in a day, but you can do it if you really focus on it and put your mind to it.

Second, you feel absolutely great at the end of a day where you stick to that commitment to excellence. When you make a strong commitment to excellence at the start of the day and actually pull it off during the day, the feeling at the end of the day when you reflect on it is pure gold. You feel successful because you are successful. You took on a challenge and you nailed it.

Third, focus on your goal is absolutely essential – you have to get rid of distractions to pull off a good goal. A cell phone is a distraction most of the time. A tablet is a distraction most of the time. A web browser is definitely a distraction. A telephone is a distraction. Cut out things that distract you and focus on the thing you want to excel at.

Fourth, doing these things with excellence – in other words, doing them the “right” way without taking shortcuts – is virtually always the best approach. I could get to 10,000 words quite easily by writing “blah blah blah” over and over again, but that would be the opposite of a quality result. I could get to 25,000 steps on my Fitbit by sitting it on the washing machine while it was running. I could prepare a bunch of minimal effort meals that no one would really enjoy. In each of those cases, I met the “letter” of my commitment but didn’t achieve the spirit of the commitment. Shoot for the spirit of the commitment, every time.

Finally, consistent reminders throughout the day is vital for commitments that aren’t “active.” Many commitments to excellence revolve around sustaining a particular behavior throughout the day rather than just completing a project. Constant reminders are the key to success for this. I use the “Reminders” app on my cell phone to send me reminders throughout the day of the commitment to excellence I’ve made that day. “Remember to keep your spending under control!” “Remember to keep your calorie count low!” “Are you talking to people? You can do it!” My phone delivers notifications like that throughout the day, to keep me focused.

Making Your Own Daily Commitment to Excellence

This idea has really been a game changer for me as of late. Simply focusing on one area of excellence in a given day has really helped me to buckle down and achieve some things that I’ve let slide in recent years, and it’s been incredibly gratifying.

So, how do you apply this idea in your own life?

The first step is to come up with areas you want to improve in your life. What are you wanting to improve? We’re not talking about specific tasks, just areas of life where you’re not satisfied. Perhaps you’re unhappy with your finances. Maybe you’re unhappy with your health. Maybe you’re unhappy with your career. Perhaps you’re unhappy with your social life, or your spirituality.

Figure out what big areas of your life is really bothering you and holding you back. Try to stick to just two or three areas; the more you dilute your focus, the less success you’ll see.

For example, my main areas of focus these days are on learning and skill-building, personal health, and good daily financial habits.

Once you’ve identified areas where you wish to see improvement, come up with a handful of specific things you can do within each area to improve. For example, some of the things I came up with when considering my financial habits is a stronger mastery over impulse purchases, renegotiation of my bills, and better organization of my financial documents. Those are areas where I feel weakest right now and I would really like to see improvement. I have similar lists in the other areas I’ve noted.

Each night, before bed, select one of those specific ideas where you would like to see excellence in your life. Your commitment tomorrow will be to really hit a home run with that specific task.

For example, my commitment for tomorrow happens to involve reading and taking notes on several chapters of a very challenging book related to an area of personal finance that I don’t understand well but wish to cover in the future on this site. I might commit, as I did a few days ago, to having a no-spending day when I might be tempted to spend, or to have a day where I organize a huge box of financial documents and scan and shred them. The key is to have a challenging task related to that area of interest that I can complete in one day if I really push myself and commit to excellence and focus.

The next morning, upon waking, immediately reflect on that commitment. Think about what you’re going to achieve today and tell yourself that you can do this. Visualize yourself carrying off that challenge, what you’ll be doing today when you’re really nailing that goal, and how you’ll feel at the end of the day when you succeed.

Set your phone to remind you of the commitment regularly throughout the day. As noted above, this is especially true with commitments that don’t involve an active project but instead focus on consistent behavioral change throughout the day, but it works well with any commitment you make. The goal is to keep your mind on that commitment to excellence that you’ve made in that area of your life.

As you take on the commitment, do it with excellence – commit yourself wholly to making the best results you can for your commitment. Don’t just take the easy route through today’s goal. Instead, approach it with strength and courage and a commitment to excellence. You are going to do this – and you are going to do this well. No shortcuts.

Life will sometimes intervene and you won’t live up to a day’s commitment. The key for those days is to give it all you can regardless of life’s interference. Go to bed knowing that you truly gave it your best shot regardless of the obstacles, then wake up tomorrow with a new commitment.

Some Final Thoughts

When you start off the day by committing to excellence in some specific area of your life, a lot of good things happen.

Often, you really do achieve excellence in that particular area, for starters.

For another, you start to take the first steps of building a pattern of consistent excellence in that area.

You’re also beginning to establish an overall standard of excellence for yourself in all areas. If you actually pull off a daily commitment to excellence many times, you begin to expect that of yourself, and that expectation benefits you in almost every avenue of life.

What will you commit to today?

Trent Hamm

Founder & Columnist

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 and still writes a daily column on personal finance. He’s the author of three books published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press, has contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and his financial advice has been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.