Use your exercise routine to pay off debt? Who knew that a healthy exercise habit can have a positive impact on your finances?
In reality, it’s not that simple. But the point is, when you are able to make a positive change in one area of your life and stick with it, you are more likely to make other, even unrelated, changes that move you toward achieving your goals.
For me, it wasn’t exercising specifically, but diet and weight loss habits that really provided a springboard for continual positive changes and habits in my life.
When I was pregnant with my second child, I was on bedrest for three months. I soon found myself mothering a colicky baby and a two year old with borderline juvenile rheumatoid arthritis 24/7. The first few months after giving birth represented one of the most challenging times of my life. I dealt with this stress by honing my baking skills and eating the results. On a regular basis. Which resulted in significant weight gain.
Thankfully, after a few months, parenting became easier and, with the support of my husband, I began Weight Watchers and a regular workout routine. Though it took a couple of years, I eventually lost about 50 pounds and incorporated exercise in my life whenever possible. I have maintained a healthy weight since making those changes 13 years ago.
Strange as it may sound, that is the beginning of the time when we started taking control of our finances.
The weight loss and establishment of healthy eating and exercise routines in my life became “keystone habits”. Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, in a post on lifehacker says, “Keystone habits create small wins. So to identify the keystone habits in your life, look for those patterns that give you numerous, small senses of victory; places where momentum can start to build.”
For some, the keystone habits may be exercise, but for others the habits may be related to quitting smoking, running a marathon, starting a business, getting promoted, graduating from college, or paying off debt.
The regular actions, or routines, you use to achieve success create the “small wins” that eventually get you to your goal.
When you reach a goal, you begin to have belief in your ability to do so. Making those “small wins” leads to big wins and that’s when you realize how capable you really are. You look at an accomplishment in one area of your life and carry it over to make positive changes in other areas as well.
Let’s say I want to lose weight and I start running to accomplish this goal. I go from running 1 mile to 5 miles and, eventually, a marathon. Ultimately, I realize how far I’ve come and love the multitude of good results. I feel and look better. Since I have a boost in self-esteem, I am less likely to spend on shopping to make myself feel better. I also have more focus and experience joy from my running routine, which means I am less likely to look for things to spend money on out of sheer boredom.
When you realize you have developed these positive habits and triumphed in replacing bad habits, you can carry that over into your financial life. Use it as momentum to keep going with positive changes in your life.
Establishing habits that allow you to reach a large goal means you have had to overcome some huge obstacles along the way. Starting from nothing to reaching such a big goal leads you to realize your ability to get through the tough times. Your inner voice changes from “I can’t” to “I can’t yet, but eventually I will”.
According to Charles Duhigg, visualization is a big part of developing and maintaining a keystone habit. The visualization technique is a sort of mental rehearsal where you go through the process of succeeding in your mind. You see every step as it is carried out and imagine a positive outcome. Although this may sound a bit hokey, many successful people use this technique to ensure that they perform their best and attain their goal.
Many elite athletes use the visualization technique for success. According to Psychology Today, “Seasoned athletes use vivid, highly detailed internal images and run-throughs of the entire performance, engaging all their senses in their mental rehearsal, and they combine their knowledge of the sports venue with mental rehearsal. World Champion Golfer, Jack Nicklaus has said: “I never hit a shot, not even in practice, without having a very sharp in-focus picture of it in my head”.
If you have a goal of paying off your debt, work on going through the process of paying off that debt in your mind, loan by loan, payment by payment, with a zero balance as the end result. What steps did you take to get there? How exactly you are going to attack that debt? What will you do when obstacles stand in your way?
Take the visualization a step further to increase your chances of success. Dominican University of California psychology professor Gail Matthews conducted research showing that people who wrote down their goals, told a friend about their goals, and sent regular updates to that friend were 33% more likely to accomplish their goals than others who simply devised and thought about the goals.
Use those keystone habits that you have developed in your life to propel you forward to make additional positive changes. Look at the achievements in your life and the goals you reached. Reflect on how you persevered through the tough times. Use this success as momentum to move forward and strive for financial stability and freedom from debt.