Life and Discipline

A while back, I wrote a post outlining everything you needed to know about personal finance on the back of five business cards. In a succinct way, that post laid out the most important pieces of personal finance: spend less than you earn, and do that by living frugally and focusing on increasing your earnings – from there, you’ll achieve financial independence.

The truth is that most of that philosophy applies to any self-motivated goal, from teaching yourself something new to losing weight. To show how useful that general philosophy is, I decided to apply the “five business card” philosophy to two goals I have for myself in the coming year: learning how to play the piano and losing weight.

1. The Most Important Thing

business card 1

Losing weight

The transition of that principle to weight loss is pretty straightforward: consume less than you burn. In other words, the caloric intake in a given day should be less than the calories spent when you’re in weight loss mode.

Learning the piano

But how does that rule apply to learning a new skill? Basically, it’s a motivator to practice – each day you practice, you get better, while each day you don’t bother, you get worse. It’s also a cry to work on the fundamentals, which is also true for any kind of training. Practice more, put it off less is a good way to describe it.

2. Earn More!

business card 2

Losing weight

This basically means burn more – in other words, exercise. My plan is to start walking/jogging each morning as a tool to wake myself up, and I received a pedometer for Christmas to help me set specific numeric goals for this part of the plan.

Learning the piano

For learning the piano, this basically means stop avoiding practice. If I want to actually learn an instrument, I should practice on a consistent schedule instead of every once in a while on a whim. Setting up a clear practice schedule with clear goals (a certain number of sessions a week, for instance) enables me to consistently practice over time.

3. Live Frugal!

business card 3

Losing weight

Here, the idea is to do what you already do in a more efficient fashion. In other words, I should cut some unhealthy elements out of my diet. Part of my plan for the new year is to try a part-time vegetarian diet, mostly in an effort to discover truly appealing healthy dishes – this should help quite a bit with cutting down on the unhealthy food intake.

Learning the piano

This means that when I do practice, the practice should be worthwhile, including working on fundamentals and chords and scales and simple songs that really reinforce these things. Sure, I can try to stretch what I know as well, but completely mastering the fundamentals is what will make me a solid pianist.

4. Manage money!

business card 4

Losing weight

This basically refers to defining larger goals for what I’m doing, because if I both exercise and eat better, I will have the fuel I need to meet my goals. I plan on lowering my BMI by 5 by the end of 2008, and I’ll track that data in Excel throughout the year. Mostly, I want to feel more in shape.

Learning the piano

I want to be able to functionally play a number of Christmas carols by the end of 2008, and be able to piece through many more from the sheet music. In other words, I want to build the consistent practicing and the quality practice into the functionality of being able to play God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.

5. Control your own destiny!

business card 5

Losing weight

The larger goal for losing weight is to get myself into a healthy shape so I can participate in every imaginable activity with my children as they grow up and keep up with them as well (at least until they’re in high school). I want to be able to teach my son how to play basketball in the driveway and play one-on-one with him regularly without worrying about passing out.

Learning the piano

I’d like to be able to tackle most songs of reasonable complexity on the piano without much hesitation. I can piece things out in a very rough fashion now, but I know my skills are not strong and I badly want to change that.

Restating the Five Cards: What They Really Mean

The truth of the matter is that the five business cards apply to any goal you might want to set in life. It really boils down to these five pieces:

1. Make a personal commitment

This means sitting down, defining exactly what you want to do, and figuring out what needs to be done to get there, both in terms of your life right now and any new things you might need to add.

2. Add something you aren’t currently doing

Things like exercising, starting a side business, practicing regularly, reading regularly, and so on.

3. Improve the quality of something you are currently doing

This could anything from spending less money to working on fundamentals, reading more challenging books, spending your evening free time in a more useful fashion, and so on.

4. Set short term goals

These are the smaller things you can directly work towards and constantly see progress towards, like like reaching a small savings goal or reading a handful of books on a challenging topic or even watching your BMI go down by one. They should be very simple and quite reachable – you don’t want to burn out before you reach your first milestone.
5. Set long term goals. Usually, the short term goals are just a piece of what you really want. Spend some time specifying exactly where you want to be in the long run, and each time you meet a short term goal, set a new short term goal with your long term goal always in mind.

Any time you want to accomplish a personal goal, spend some time defining it in this context. You’ll find that once you’ve done it, the goal suddenly seems a lot more tangible and reachable.

Good luck on achieving your dreams.

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