The Inspiration and the Motivation

Virtually every time I accomplish something significant in my life, it’s been guided by two separate forces, one pushing from behind and one pulling me ahead. The inspiration and the motivation.

The inspiration is the big vision you see in front of you. What is it that fills your heart with passion? What is that big, beautiful future you see ahead of you? For me, my inspiration is my family – building a bright future for my kids and a lifetime of memories with my wonderful wife. I’m inspired by that vision – a greater place than I’m at today.

The motivation is what kicks you on the behind to get into gear. The memories of the terrible situation you once were in can be a great motivator, as can an intense coach or a “buddy” who helps you along. For me, my best motivator for personal finance success is visions of what it felt like to hit bottom financially.

Let me use an analogy with high school sports. That student athlete standing out there on the court is inspired by visions of greatness, of making that key play and hitting that big shot to win the game. That same student athlete, though, is often motivated by his coach, shouting loudly and being intimidating and demanding more. When those two pieces fall into sync, magic happens.

You don’t need them both, but they certainly make accomplishing things a lot easier. You can get there with just the carrot or just the stick, but having both makes it a lot easier to keep that donkey going until you cross the finish line. Here are some tactics to help you find both in your own life, for any big goal you may want to accomplish.

Five Ways to Find Inspiration

Imagine, in great detail, where you want to be at the end of your journey. I envision a house in the country, large enough that my children and grandchildren can all stay comfortably and also featuring a large kitchen. I want a sizable amount of land, including room for a large garden, grape vines, and some fruit trees. I imagine children who have gone on to whatever career they dream of and have built the families they want in their heart. Each time I think about it, I add a few more details to the picture – and it comes closer and closer to the touch.

Keep constant reminders of that vision. My reminder is a picture of my children that I keep with me. They inspire me in so many ways – they keep me on a good financial path, push me to always try to be a better parent and a better husband, and show me that sometimes it’s good to look at things completely differently.

Reflect on the positives that your goal will bring to the lives of the people you care about the most. When I see the picture, I think of the future I’m trying to build for them – one in which they have the tools to do whatever they dream of, plus the closeness of family that will make them feel safe and relaxed when they visit us (much like my wife and I do when we visit our parents).

Set microgoals – and enjoy the success when you accomplish them. I usually have a set of small goals to accomplish each week, and within them, three to five significant tasks I aim to accomplish each day. Whenever I complete these things, I feel a rush of success – and I also get a sense of another piece put in place for the bigger goals I have.

Read stories of others who have succeeded along similar paths. I tend to enjoy reading biographies of people who accomplished great things starting from very little. These stories resonate deeply with me and inspire me onwards. One great example of this is Titan by Ron Chernow, which inspired me greatly when I was in college.

Five Ways to Find Motivation

Write out, in painful detail, all that you can remember about your worst moment, where you were furthest from your dream. I did this myself about a year ago, writing out what it felt like to hit bottom. Even writing about that experience was painful – it really seared into me the feelings of that time and reinforced my idea that I never want to go back there.

Get a coach. Find someone who will push you to do better with your goal. If it’s a personal finance goal, find a personal finance writer who can serve as your coach – Dave Ramsey and Larry Winget are good choices, or you might even find me to be a worthwhile coach.

Get a “buddy.” Similarly, find someone moving through this same journey and link up with them. The internet makes this easy, but you can also find people in your own life to jog with, talk about money with, or share about any goal you’re both aspiring to.

Immerse yourself in your big goal, so that it becomes a constant presence and reminder. To a degree, that’s how I started The Simple Dollar – I needed a way to really focus in on personal finances. Making myself write a handful of original articles on the topic each day forced me to stay focused on my money – and it really paid off. Now, sensible spending and putting my money in reasonable places feels completely natural to me – an accomplished goal in itself.

Make a step towards that goal a part of your normal routine, likely pushing out a negative action along the way. Let’s say you stop at the coffee shop each day to buy a coffee, and that’s keeping you from saving money or undoing the benefits of exercise. Twist things around and make that place your motivator. Associate that place with all of the negatives you feel about your “bottom.” Take a picture of you at your heaviest and paste a Starbucks logo on it, for example, and put it somewhere where you see it regularly.

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