Turning Short-Term Intensity Into Long-Term Intensity

“Eric” writes in with a question/suggestion:

We all want to attack our debt, but can we be “gazelle intense” for the next 10 years (or more, depending on your income)?? Even if we could, is that a life really even worth living? If not, then what progressive, yet normalized, steps can we take so that we feel we are making a difference in our battle, yet still allowing ourselves a normal life (and not feeling guilty for it!)?

Intensity by BrianScott on Flickr!Eric’s question, at its core, is: how can a person turn short term intensity (the kind that helps us polish off a week-long or a month-long goal) into long term intensity (the kind that will help us get rid of an enormous goal)?

For me, at least, the transition was fairly straightforward. When I first began my financial turnaround, my goals were very short term. I was primarily focused on reading as many personal finance books as I could stand, cutting all my spending, and trying to at least reach a point where I could pay my bills. Beyond that, at least at first, I had no goals.

Over the first few months, though, I realized that if I stuck with such short-term goals, I would eventually just wind up back where I started. So I began to look at things in a different fashion. My goal was no longer the simple “get my financial footing” – it was “get myself in a position where my own small weaknesses won’t cause a grand failure in my life.”

I’m still working on it.

7 Tactics to Help Your Transition from Short-Term to Long-Term Intensity

1. Think beyond your immediate crisis

It’s easy to get caught up in the fact that you don’t have enough money to pay your bills right now. Obviously, you do need to solve the short term problem, but the short term problem is usually just a symptom of a bigger problem. Often, that bigger problem is pretty straightforward – you’re living beyond your means – but correcting it can be a real challenge.

2. Place your goals in a personally important context

As I’ve mentioned before, my infant son was the inspiration for my turnaround. I knew that if I didn’t make better financial choices over the long haul, I would merely be ensuring that he missed out on tons of great opportunities as he grew up. I didn’t want to ever have to tell him that we couldn’t afford to pay for his instrument for band or that he couldn’t go on an educational trip because we had wasted the money.

Since then, I try to put every financial move I make – every purchase, every bill paid, everything – in the context of my children. Is this a good move for them? I’m responsible for their well-being in every way.

Other angles that may work for you: personal beliefs (such as faith), a personal cause that you find important, a desire for true independence, or another person in your life that makes you strive for great things.

3. Focus on making behavior changes rather than focusing on results

While it’s tempting to just throw everything at the wall to fix the short term problem, doing that rarely results in long-term intensity about change. It’s similar to the reason why a person who diets and exercises carefully for two weeks and sees a twelve pound change on the scale often celebrates with unhealthy foods – they’re too focused on immediate actions that produce short term results but fail over the long term.

While it’s fine to do things that help you reach your short term goal (like selling old video games or DVDs, for example), don’t let those actions be the center of your plans. Instead, look for changes you can institute in your own behavior and focus on changing those behaviors. For example, if you drive by a coffee shop every day and you’re always tempted to stop in, instead of just saying “I’m not going to stop there today,” say “I’m not going to stop there any more.” Seek long-term changes in your behavior that will allow you to keep moving towards your goals.

4. Set a big, long-term goal – then break it down into smaller pieces

It’s easy to set a short-term goal and reach it. “I want to catch up on all of my bills.” “I want to get rid of this credit card debt.” Those are both great short-term goals, ones that you can likely reach in a few months with some intense focus.

But what is your big goal? Is it to retire early? Is it to buy that nice house in the country you’ve always dreamed of? Whatever it is, spend some time piecing it out. Figure out in detail what you need to do to get there. Come up with all of the things you need to do to reach that goal, and break those steps down into tiny pieces – “pay off this bill, then pay off that bill,” and so on. Set monthly goals for how much you need to save.

In short, use that big goal as a big vision, but break it down into little pieces that are tangible for you. Then apply that short-term intensity to each goal.

5. Use a coach, a mentor, or a buddy

Once you’ve got your long-term goals in place, seek out someone who can help motivate you every step of the way. It may be a buddy – someone who is going through the same steps you are – or it may be more of a mentor or a coach – someone who can cheerlead you through the process and offer advice along the way.

Either way, having someone else invested in your success provides additional motivation to you just by their presence. The addition of the factor of cheerleading and encouragement provided by that person just adds to the mix.

6. Become an example to others

As you begin to turn things around (in anything that you do), people will notice. At first, the people noticing will be the people in your inner circle – your family and closest friends. Later, even people you don’t know well will begin to notice changes. You’re less tense about things. You seem more focused on the things you need to do. You’re smarter about how you spend your money. Sometimes, in ways you don’t even expect, you’ll become an inspiration to others. “If she can do it, I can do it,” they’ll think.

The positive changes you make for yourself aren’t just positive for you. They can be positive for everyone around you. Eventually, you’ll begin to see it in little ways – and the idea that your actions are helping others in such a subtle fashion can become a nice additional motivator to stay intense.

7. Share

If you begin to really achieve success, you might find it helpful to actually share your success with others. Perhaps you can volunteer to be involved with a help session in the community, or maybe you can just offer advice to your circle of friends. Maybe you’ll find enough initiative within yourself to actually start something new to share your experience, as I did with The Simple Dollar.

Once you begin to share, letting others know of your failures and your successes and how you managed to turn things around, you’ll find that people will listen – and those very people will convince you to continue to be intense about your choices. They’ll ask questions and you’ll want to answer them. They’ll want you to effectively be their “coach” – and that responsibility will push you to excellence, too.

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