I’m lucky when it comes to personal finance. By virtue of writing for The Simple Dollar virtually every single day for the last several years, my mind is strongly attuned to my own financial situation and how much impact my moves can have on it.
While I do make mistakes on occasion, I see them pretty quickly and am able to fix the situation before anything disastrous happens. That’s the real key to staying on the road to success.
It’s much harder to do that in other aspects of my life. Parenting. Eating a great diet. Getting enough exercise. Being a good husband. Building good relationships in the community. All of these things require me to focus on making strong choices in my life.
When things aren’t going well, I’m strongly motivated to make some changes. The flaws in my life shine like beacons in the night for me. I’m on fire with a desire to fix things and improve my way of living.
Naturally, things begin to improve. I see the kinds of successes that I want to see on a regular basis, and it’s because of that intense focus.
The problem is that, as the successes build, it becomes easier and easier to stop focusing on it. I’ll see other things in my life that I need to focus on or I’ll become distracted by something less important.
I’ll think about the change I want less and less and I’ll think about other things more and more.
As that focus goes away, it becomes easier to not notice mistakes. It becomes easier to stop making the harder choices. It becomes easier to not pay attention to the fact that you’re no longer climbing like you once were, that you’ve leveled off, that you’ve even begun to regress.
I’ve found that a few things really help me to keep this from happening. They don’t stop it entirely, mind you, but these tactics usually keep my mind and my heart from slipping entirely away from an important goal.
First, I keep a daily checklist. Every evening, I prepare a checklist of things to do the next day. On that checklist, I try to keep at least one item devoted to every ongoing goal I have in my life. This usually means that I have a pretty full checklist each day, but I know that getting through that checklist means I am absolutely improving my life.
The big thing for me is that I am really proud when I empty out that daily checklist. I usually feel like rewarding myself in some fashion, which usually takes the form of an hour or so of personal time doing something I enjoy in the evening – usually reading.
Second, I spend some time each weekend reflecting on all of those ongoing goals. I usually do it during “quiet time,” which is when the kids all take a quiet break in the middle of the day around what used to be their naptime. During that time, I think about why I’m working toward this goal and also whether or not it’s something I really want. I usually end up feeling at least somewhat reinvigorated toward each goal (and if I’m not, I know there’s a problem I need to address).
Finally, when I get the sense that I’m slipping on a goal, I talk to my wife about it. I’ll tell her I’m trying to work on this particular aspect of my life and I’d really appreciate if she’d push me a little bit on that aspect. She does it with grace. Usually, she’ll just ask me during the day whether I did anything about that goal.
I find this works particularly well on things that are hard to put on a checklist, like controlling my daily calorie intake or avoiding needless spending. A little reminder or two during the day really helps the ol’ focus.
When my thoughts start to drift away from my goal, these little steps help me to keep moving forward anyway. Together, they work to pull my mind back to where it needs to be and keep me headed in the right direction.