For many people, “personal finance” becomes a separate and distinct area in their lives, completely blocked off from how they choose to spend their time and energy. It becomes little more than a register of dollars and cents and an overarching rule that you just need to watch out when you spend money.
The truth is that financial success comes not just from how you spend your money, but also how you spend your time and energy. The most obvious example of this is in your employment, which is where your money comes from, but it also comes down to how you use those hours at work as well as how you use your free time.
In short, are you using your free time to improve yourself?
Personal growth and improvement simply boils down to using your time and energy smartly to improve the quality and quantity of time remaining in your life. When you do that, you naturally increase your ability to earn a stronger income (by becoming someone who is a more effective worker) as well as improving the quality of your personal time as well (by improving some aspect of your life upon which your personal time rests).
Here are 10 areas of personal growth that you can incorporate into your own life, along with clear explanations of how they can improve your finances.
Spending some time each day to ensure that your body is in tip-top shape (or at least in a little better shape than it was the day before) is actually pretty easy. It doesn’t have to involve hours at the gym. It doesn’t have to involve feeling miserable when you get home and feeling incredibly sore the next morning.
You can take a giant step just by walking a little more. Make a conscious choice to move around a little bit and do a few exercises. Make a conscious choice to go on a walk after dinner, or to park on the far end of the parking lot at work so you have to walk a little more to get into your workplace.
Every step you take, whether it’s just walking around the block and touching your toes ten times or doing 100 squats and doing a big bench press, is going to be a step that improves your health.
How does this help my finances? The healthier you are, the lower your health care costs are going to be. The healthier you are, the more energy you’re going to have to tackle all of the challenges in your life, which means you can ramp up your productivity at work or take on another big project like working toward a masters degree or finally starting that side gig you’ve been thinking about.
Having confidence in yourself gives you the ability to do things like speak up at meetings, volunteer to do a presentation, or take on other workplace challenges that will make you stand out and bolster your resume. The lower your self-confidence, the less likely you are to raise your hand in those moments of opportunity and instead they just slide by, never to return.
Again, self confidence isn’t that hard to build. It mostly just requires taking a lot of little actions to improve your self image over time.
There are many, many actions you can take to build your self-confidence. Groom yourself. Dress nicely. Intentionally think positive thoughts about yourself. Visualize future conversations and give those visualizations positive outcomes. Squash negative thoughts when they pop up. Intentionally be kind and generous. Prepare in advance for meetings. Set small goals and achieve them, like walking 5,000 steps today. When you start taking those actions, your internal confidence meter slowly starts to rise.
How does this help my finances? The more confident you are in yourself, the more likely you are to step up to a challenge at work, and it is through willingness to step up to challenges and succeed at them that people build stronger resumes, get raises, and get promotions. The more cash you have flowing into your life, the better. Improved confidence also helps with building personal and professional relationships, the value of which we’ll discuss a bit more later on.
Learning a New Language
Learning a new language opens up a door of communication that wasn’t open to you earlier. A person with the ability to speak a second (or third or fourth) language now has the capacity to communicate easily with more people than ever before.
This makes travel easier. It makes many workplace situations easier. It makes reaching out to others easier. It makes understanding others easier. The simple ability to speak to someone in a common language or in their native language helps build relationships and makes the exchange of ideas so much simpler.
Not only that, learning a new language has been repeatedly shown to help in other cognitive areas. There are few things you can do with your mind that are more powerful than the thinking that goes into learning a new language.
My favorite method for easily learning a new language is to simply download the Duolingo app to your phone. Duolingo is completely free and turns language learning into a pretty fun game with a ton of levels that tracks your language learning progress quite well.
How does this help my finances? To put it simply, if you learn a new language, you drastically improve your employment prospects. Someone who can speak Spanish or Chinese or Japanese or French is suddenly eligible for quite a few high-paying jobs that they weren’t previously eligible for. Beyond that, there are the secondary benefits – opportunities for communication with people that you didn’t have before which can open up all kinds of social and professional benefits, for one, and the added cognitive benefits that come from building your brain as you learn a new language.
Putting in the work to build up your ability to connect with people, build new relationships, and maintain them in both the personal and professional spheres is challenging, especially for introverted people like myself, but it can be incredibly rewarding.
Simply having lots of relationships and friendships makes your social life vastly richer, for starters. You always have conversational partners, people to bounce ideas off of, and people with which to hang out with.
If you’re an introvert like me and find that working on social communication and network building is really hard, I highly recommend two books. First, How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie (see my detailed review of this book) is kind of a step-by-step how-to book on being social for introverts. Second, Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi and Tahl Raz (see my extremely detailed review of this book) is an amazing book on how to build personal routines that make keeping relationships, building relationships, and utilizing relationships pretty easy, particularly for introverts.
How does this help my finances? The greater the number and the richer your personal and professional relationships are, the more likely you are to be given opportunities and have connections in place that will help you get promotions and to rebound when you’re down on your luck. They’ll also enrich your social life and make it easier to not simply spend money as a way to “grease the skids” for social interaction – things like dinner parties and other low-cost social events will seem much easier and much more enjoyable.
Being smart about how you use your time, particularly in terms of cutting out the little spots of “wasted time” throughout your day so that you can turn them into a big block of useful time later on, is incredibly valuable for all aspects of your life. It gives you more time to take on challenges at work, more time to enjoy the things you truly want to enjoy at home, and leaves you feeling much less stressed about the things on your life’s plate.
For me, the best benefit of smart time management is that I don’t have to think or worry about what I have to do next. I can just focus on the task at hand. My time management system has all of the things I need to do remembered for me.
I highly recommend that you take a look at David Allen’s book Getting Things Done (here’s my very detailed review of it) for a great foundation in time management and a pretty good system for keeping track of all of the stuff you need to do (and want to do). I personally use several tools for time management – Google Calendar for all of my events, OmniFocus for task management (though Todoist is a great free alternative), and Evernote and a trusty pocket notebook for jotting down thoughts and ideas on the fly (to later process into those other places).
How does this help my finances? The more efficient you are with your time, the easier it becomes to find time for other areas of self improvement that this article discusses and then reap the rewards of their benefits. Plus, being more efficient with one’s time makes it easier to take on new challenges at work, which can open the door to raises and promotions.
Better Eating Habits
Better eating habits really just boil down to making better choices about each food item and beverage that you put into your body. The healthier the fuel you put into your body, the better your system will run.
It’s really easy. Just choose to put one less scoop of the unhealthy stuff on your dinner plate tonight, and maybe one more scoop of vegetables instead. Pass on a donut when they’re available at work. Pack a sandwich to take with you instead of hitting a drive-thru. Make a healthy meal you like, then make extra batches at the same time and freeze them so they’re easy to pull out.
Eating better doesn’t mean sacrificing all of the foods you like to eat. It just means spreading them out a little more and not gorging on them.
How does this help my finances? The better you eat, the more likely it is that your weight will stay under control and the lower the likelihood you have for things like diabetes and heart disease and high blood pressure. Those ailments are incredibly expensive to treat and are life threatening. Beyond that, having a better diet can bolster your personal energy levels, making it easier to perform better in work and in everyday life, which can improve your workplace standing and open the door to raises and other financial benefits.
Learning how to have meaningful discussions with people that don’t devolve into negativity and criticism is a powerful skill, indeed. Knowing how to provide a good mix of positive and negative feedback not only helps out the other person, it can boost their confidence and make them perform better and they’re going to want to return the favor.
Mostly, this skill is about focusing on finding truly positive things to say in almost every situation paired up with making sure that you buttress negative comments with positive language and other positive elements.
There are a lot of ways of doing that. I personally like finding at least two very positive things I can say about anyone’s performance and both starting and ending with that. If there are things to criticize, I don’t just blurt them out – I think of a way to state them that isn’t an attack. I also try to clearly identify ways to improve those things, and I usually offer to help with those improvements in a way that doesn’t involve me simply taking on the task myself (“I’ll happily look at it when you’ve made those changes!”). I’ve never had this practice go poorly.
How does this help my finances? It is a great way to build stronger relationships with people by simultaneously making them feel good and helping them find real ways to improve their outcomes. It also opens them up to providing you with the same kind of feedback, which can do nothing but improve your own outcomes in life. It can improve your presentations, your work performance, and your opportunity for promotions and raises.
The value of self-directed learning doesn’t just come from the subjects that you learn about, though that in itself is valuable. If you spend some of your spare time learning about a topic that’s relevant to your career, like a programming language or new teaching paradigms or anything else, the knowledge itself can be incredibly value.
Instead, a big part of the value of self-directed learning on a regular basis is that you simply have the skill to teach yourself about almost any topic you might want to or need to learn about. If you know how to teach yourself things, then when a new challenge comes up in the workplace, you’re ready for it. You can quickly learn what you need to learn to turn it into a success.
Self-directed learning achieves both of these objectives. There are many, many ways to dig into self-directed learning, from taking classes at Coursera to digging into programming at Code Academy or reading books at the library. Self-directed learning opportunities are everywhere.
How does this help my finances? If you’re a lifelong learner and constantly work to learn new things, you’re going to not only have a large knowledge base, but you’re also going to have the skills you need to gain new knowledge quickly to face challenges at work. That’s going to do nothing but help you in a competitive knowledge-based workplace, no matter what it is that you do. It will put you in line for raises, promotions, and new career paths.
This is literally the most valuable thing I’ve discovered in the past five years. I’m not kidding in the least.
If you’re anything like me, your mind is racing at a hundred miles an hour most of the time. It can be very hard to slow it down and focus on something with any depth. I can focus really well for brief periods, but I know from experience that the most valuable and worthwhile things I do in my life is when I’m so lost in focus that time passes without notice and I produce exceptional work. I call it the “flow state,” and that state is magical.
However, if your mind is racing along from topic to topic all of the time, it is really hard sometimes to get into that flow state. It’s hard to focus on anything. It also makes you feel rather anxious at times.
The solution I’ve found to this is focused meditation, and it’s like some kind of magic balm for this. It has helped me to be able to focus on professional and personal tasks like nothing else. It’s helped reduced my general sense of anxiety and worry. I’ve found it much easier to drop into “flow states” than ever before.
It’s really easy to do. All you have to do is just find a comfortable spot, close your eyes, and focus on nothing but your breathing for five minutes. If your mind ever wanders – and it will wander – just notice that you’re wandering, drop that train of thought, and bring the focus back to your breathing. That’s it. It’s like doing bench press reps for your mind’s “focusing muscle.” It’s absolutely amazing, especially when you do it over time.
(There are more practices than just this one, but if you do this a couple times a day for a few weeks, you’re going to want to dig in deep on your own, and I’ll leave that wonderful journey to you.)
How does this help my finances? The better your ability to focus and manage your personal stress and anxiety, the better you’re going to be at performing your job tasks and taking on new challenges. You’re simply going to perform better at work, and better work performance leads to better pay, better jobs, and better opportunities.
The ability to collect together a set of ideas and turn them into something that will inform and inspire people without drowning them in information over their head is an incredible skill for anyone to have. In many workplaces, this is a skill that you can tap daily.
The thing is, most modern workplaces rely on the exchange of information between people, and part of that involves people presenting information as effectively as possible to others, both by standing up in front of a room and presenting it as well as by sending out documentation. In both cases, the goal of the person presenting is to take a set of ideas or a bunch of pieces of information, organize them sensibly, and then sharing that organized set of ideas in a way so that most of the people in the room are able to follow and be engaged with the ideas and information while learning something. If you can do that, you’re going to do well no matter what your career path is.
There are many books on presenting, but two really stand out to me as being very worthwhile. The first is Scott Berkun’s Confessions of a Public Speaker, which focuses on the nuance of actually standing up in front of a room and verbally sharing your ideas. The other is Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds, which focuses more on taking sets of ideas and organizing them for presenting to others, both in terms of creating sensible order but also finding ways to minimize the rough edges and details while preserving the core of the information you want to share.
How does this help my finances? Knowing how to present ideas and information well, whether in written form or in spoken form, is going to help you show off the work that you’ve done and also become a “face” for the work your team has done. Both of those things put you out in front of people that often have the power to push your career in a very positive direction. I speak from experience here – my first real opportunity for presentation came at a key point in my career and it was that presentation as much as the work I had done that secured long-term employment for me.
Whenever you work to improve yourself, almost no matter what that area of improvement is, you end up providing substantial benefits to your future financial health. You often end up trimming the costs of your life going forward, but more often than that, you open the door to improving your professional standing and earning potential.
Make room for self improvement and personal growth in your life and you’ll be glad you did, not just because of the improvement you see in yourself, but because of the opportunities that are opened up for you in life.