Using Social Media to Motivate Personal Finance Goals

When I first started The Simple Dollar, I mostly intended it as a place to log my own personal financial progress and also note any interesting thoughts or findings I discovered related to personal finance and other related topics. My primary goal was to make myself write every day and also to motivate myself to keep going forward with my financial turnaround – and maybe tease out some of the root causes of it.

While it’s grown beyond that original plan, it certainly has fulfilled the motivational part of the goal. I’m motivated every day to keep my finances in line, to the point that it’s become an integrated part of my life. It may have happened without The Simple Dollar, but the motivational factor of putting my situation out so publicly was an enormous motivator.

The best part is such public motivation can be done by anyone and can be applied to any goal. Here’s how.

Define Your Goal

The first step in achieving something is to clearly state what you’re trying to achieve. What are you aiming for?

1. Figure out what you want to change

Most of us already have this part figured out. We know what we want – we want better health, a better figure, a greater financial life, a better job, a business of our own. The problem is that goals are often nebulous and thus are easy to pass through – just like a cloud. So, once you know the change you want to implement…

2. Define exactly what it means to achieve that change

If you want to lose weight, figure out your target weight. If you want to improve your financial state, figure out a target debt level or target net worth. Want a better job? Define exactly what that job is. Know exactly what your goal is and exactly how you can determine if you’ve made it.

3. Devise a plan to take you to that exact goal

Now that you have a specific goal, what steps do you need to take to get there? Let’s say your goal is a specific net worth. That means you need to reduce spending, increase your income, or both. What’s your plan of attack? What about a target weight or BMI? That will likely involve dietary changes and an exercise regimen. What’s your plan of attack?

Define Daily (or Near-Daily) Metrics for that Goal

Once you’ve got your goal specified and have a plan in place to reach that goal, you also need to define very specific microgoals along the way. Losing fifty pounds is not something you can grab ahold of today, but losing one pound is. Exercising for thirty minutes every day isn’t something you can grab ahold of, but exercising just today for thirty minutes is something you can do.

Look at your specific goal and your plan to get there. What sort of regular, repetitive steps will you have to take to get there? If you need to eat better, your regular, repetitive step comes with each meal. If you need to exercise, your regular, repetitive step is a daily (or near-daily) exercise session. If you need to start saving, a spending log is perfect. If you need to start building up your resume or just learn something new, learning something each day and documenting it is a great way to go. A musical instrument? Daily practice is perfect.

The point is to define those tiny steps you need to take each day. Make them small enough so that you actually can take those steps each day and you’ll find yourself walking right toward your goal.

Announce Your Progress with those Metrics to the World

One big problem, though, is motivation. How can you keep motivated to take those small steps? Some people have that internal motivation, but others are often driven to be motivated by others, and that’s when online tools can help.

Twitter is a great way to publicly log your progress

Twitter lets you publicly post quick reports that are 140 characters in length – perfectly long to note spending, eating, a daily weight check, learning, your daily practice, and so on. If you’d like to write longer entries, starting a free blog like the one at WordPress is a great way to go. Putting it out there publicly means that some strangers might visit, but you can cover that up by being fairly anonymous – using just your first name, for example. Even better, strangers often provide great motivation in the little comments that they make.

This daily logging routine is a way to provide a check against yourself. Did you do what you were supposed to do today? Did you take that little step towards your big goal?

Let your friends and family see it

This is the real motivator. When you start, send out that URL to supportive family and friends and ask them to take a look and keep tabs on it. Almost any caring family member or friend will happily do so and probably send you supportive notes along the way. It takes some personal courage to share things in this fashion, but the rewards are great – you’ll find yourself with a support network that’s intimately familiar with your progress, knows what your goal is, and best of all knows you well and cares about you. These people can be the best motivators of all.

How I’m Doing It

I’m actually using Twitter myself for this very thing. Recently, my wife and I made a strong commitment to get into better shape, and I elected to track my progress publicly on Twitter. I set up a fresh new Twitter account and am posting brief updates each day on how I’m doing. To up the pressure on myself, I shared the link with friends.

And now I’m going to up the pressure even higher.

http://twitter.com/trenthealth

That’s my health log in Twitter form. That’s right, I’m revealing my daily BMI, diet, and exercise progress to 50,000 readers. If you’re interested in following along, bookmark it. I estimate it’ll have 5-10 quick blips a day.

My goal with it is to use Wii Fit, the lifetime fitness ladder, and a better diet (basically following Michael Pollan’s guidance from In Defense of Food) to push myself to two goals: a BMI of 22 (which my doctor recommended as a good long-term target for my body build – I’m 6’6″ and have the shoulder width of an NFL linebacker) and to consider riding a leg of RAGBRAI next year. I anticipate both goals taking a year or more, actually.

We’ll see where I get, but I can certainly say this: the idea that there are many friends and readers watching is both an exhilarating rush and also makes me a bit nervous. Having that many eyeballs on my progress is one big motivator.

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