“When it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don’t adjust the goals, adjust the action steps.” – Confucius
We’ve all read the stories of folks out there who have paid off their debt at breakneck speed. By focusing solely on their goal and living and breathing that goal, they pay off their debt lightening fast. I have great admiration for those that have that ability to weather so many big changes at once.
But what about the rest of us? We try to go all in but after a couple of weeks, focus wanes. We get tired and we have so many other things going on in our lives. For some of us, burnout is inevitable when we put so much energy toward making so many changes all at once.
Paying off debt is akin to going on a diet. We go on a strict diet, totally rule it for a week or two but, eventually, deprivation gets the best of us. We may slip up just once, but then we realize just how deprived we’ve been and we start eating everything we missed, maybe even more than before starting the diet. Yep, been there, done that.
Let’s look at deprivation for a moment. According to the dictionary, deprivation means “the damaging lack of material benefits considered to be basic necessities in a society”, or “the lack or denial of something considered to be a necessity”.
Making drastic changes to our budget affects every other aspect of our lives. Even though our basic needs are still being met, when we suddenly cut expenses excessively, we inevitably start to feel that we are lacking the things we need or desire. The discomfort is so strong that we grow weary and eventually go back to the way things were before because, even though we know it won’t get us to our goal, it’s just plain easier.
Though reaching our goals may take a little longer, a more balanced approach works best for many people (including me!).
Going back to the diet analogy – when I tried fad diets, I didn’t last. Yet, when I made small, gradual changes to my diet over a period of two years, they became routine and part of my lifestyle. To this day, I generally adhere to the nutrition plan I developed slowly several years ago.
Making changes gradually won’t get you to your goal immediately, but balance creates greater likelihood of success.
If you’re anything like me, you are not one of those people that can successfully make huge changes in your life all at once, so slow it down.
1. Set realistic goals
Start with actionable steps toward your goal to make the small wins.
Instead of a setting a goal of paying off $20,000 in 2 months, break it down and vow to save $150 per month toward debt repayment.
2. Do something each day, even if it’s small
What can you do every day to get you one step closer to your goal? Set aside time to do something each day.
Don’t say you don’t have enough time. We’re all busy, but we all get 24 hours a day. People often ask me, “How do you find the time for the work?” And I answer, “I look for it.”, Austin Kleon, lifehacker.
Spend 15 minutes each day implementing a strategy that allows you to set aside $5 toward debt repayment (e.g. sell something on ebay/craigslist, cancel a subscription, take a survey, pack a lunch instead of going out, etc.). $5/day = $150/month.
3. When you fall down, get back up
If you’ve had your goal interrupted by that thing called life, you will be able to get back on track more easily when you have created workable goals. Going back to those small action steps every day shouldn’t seem too overwhelming.
So what if one day you aren’t able to come up with your goal of five bucks? Try again the very next day.
According to James Ulrich of Psychology Today,
If you find yourself backsliding more than a couple times, it might be time to scale back the goal on the timetable for reaching the goal (even though this hurts). Far from admitting defeat, re-assessing is a good strategy for avoiding the sustained frustrations that cause many to abandon hope of success.”
4. Balance your goals with your values
When you are still able to do the things you love and value in life, deprivation and, ultimately, burnout are less likely to occur. Make changes that don’t interfere with the activities or people in life that you hold dear.
Maybe your regular lunch get-together with a friend is too important to stop doing just to save a few bucks. Great, keep having your lunch with your friend. Instead, find a restaurant that is cheaper, cut back on the frequency of the lunches, or just simply find other areas to cut expenses.
Go ahead and spend on the things you love and cut relentlessly in other areas.
If you are patient and approach your goals from a balanced perspective, eventually you will find it easier to pick up the pace and reach them faster. As those small steps become habits, continue to add more actionable goals. Slow and steady really does win the race.