Monday, October 13, 2008

Bootstrapping: Motivating yourself towards your goals

Many years ago I heard this during a conversation "You just can't maintain status-quo, you either make progress and improve yourself, or you go backwards and downgrade yourself, you just can't remain the way you are.The catch is that making progress requires a lot of effort but going down doesn't. If you don't do anything to make progress you will fall, it may be a slow process( if you're lucky) but it happens for sure." I don't remember anything of the conversation that led to this, but these words remain etched in mind because they are so true and profound. And therefore, I always strive to become better than what I'm today. I keep trying to develop better habits, to maintain a positive attitude.

This year I had made the following changes:

1. Trying to stay fit( read lose weight)
2. Saving for our home down-payment
3. Eliminating plastic bags from our life
4. Work on generating some extra income
5. Maintain a small container garden with some flowers and herbs.
6. Live on a budget

I believe all these things will improve our life slowly but surely. And I'm already seeing the changes, in our financial position, in our outlook, in our priorities, basically everywhere. Some have a smaller impact and some bigger, but the impact will be positive. It wasn't easy to do all these along with a full-time job and all the household work. Here are a few things that worked for me while developing new habits and achieving my goals.

Set microgoals
Losing 30 pounds would seem like a huge undertaking, but working out everyday may not. I broke the goals into tiny microgoals and tried to achieve them instead of trying to achieve that big goal all at once. It has worked well and while I eventually saw myself moving towards the bigger goal, the smaller successes in micro-goals kept me motivated.

Work out a routine
Try to make a routine of whatever you need to do to achieve your goal. Try to save a little bit everyday, try to workout everyday, carry the reusable shopping bag in the car even if you think you're not going to use it. Even if you've little time, try to devote just one minute to actually doing something towards the goal you've been trying to achieve. Do at least a little bit everyday or as frequently as possible. While trying to insert exercise in my busy schedule I promised myself that I'll exercise everyday, while I kept at it most of the days by biking down the trail or working out in my office gym there are days when it is simply not feasible. So I bought a skipping rope and now on busy days, I just workout for five minutes in my home by skipping. It may not be burning all those calories, but what it does is it helps me keep up the good habit. It encourages me to go to the gym next day.

Write down / track progress
This is a big morale booster, don't ignore its power. Keep a close tab on what you've achieved (or not achieved) so far. Tracking my weight almost daily, looking at the plants in my garden and clicking snaps in their various stages, tracking my bank account for any increase in my net-worth, give me some sort of high and leave me more motivated than ever to follow through. With the web2.0 applications available today, this goal tracking has been easier than ever. Here are a few things that I do :
Write a blog : I write about my monthly goals and how did I do with respect to those goals on my blog. This makes me accountable and keeps my spending in check.
don't break the chain : This is a nifty website, which makes tracking the goals super-easy. The concept is very simple, if you're trying to do something everyday ( or weekday, or once a week), it tells you whether you broke the chain this time around. For every time you completed your effort, it lets you mark with color. So you'll know in a single glance how many times you dropped the ball. It will take at most 15 seconds to make an entry in it. I have been using it for 8 months for tracking my exercise, "no-expense days" and my skin-care regime.
zoho sheets : These are simple worksheets like MS-excel, but they store your docs on internet so you can access them anywhere. There are many such services, but zoho is the one that I have used most. I use them to write down my daily weight, store my grocery list etc. Once benefit of tracking my weight with them was that I became aware what was stopping me from losing weight. I used to exercise well during the weekdays, but on weekends I worked out very little and usually ate a lot. So my weight was consistently shooting up on Mondays. Once I became aware of this fact, I joined a nearby gym, and now I sweat it out on the weekends as well, and I'm seeing some improvement in just 2 weeks.
So I would recommend tracking your progress, even if there's none. Just don't fuss over it too much. Its ok if you can't log it for a day or two, or you don't track it using the niftiest tools available. Doing it in an old notebook will have the same effect as doing it in the fanciest of the organizing gadgets.

Don't worry too much about the results
I know, easier said than done. I'm a strong believer in Karma, I believe that if the efforts are in right direction the result will be right. Of course, it may happen that the results may not be in the form that we had expected originally, but the hard-work has a habit of paying for itself miraculously. You have to try it to believe it

Don't worry too much about setbacks: Minor or major

Life happens and with all that I have said above, there are still those crazy days when I can't work out, there's a pebble that hits the car's windshield and wipes down the savings for the month. While its easy to get disheartened with these events and lose sight of your goals, you can choose to do otherwise. There's always tomorrow to work double as hard, there's always next month to save even more, look forward to that. And then there's the other side of the things to see, what could have happened if we weren't saving already, instead of wiping our savings that pebble could have thrown us down the path of debt. If I compared those two, saving money and paying from the savings for emergency definitely looked good. It's been eight months since I have started working out, and I haven't lost any's very easy to get discouraged and think that exercise just doesn't work for me, but I choose to think the opposite, if it hadn't been for my workout routine I would have become really fat by now.

Evaluate your goals periodically for relevance

Some of your goals may need to change over time. You may exceed the goal in lesser time than you initially allocated, and you may need to think about the next step. For us it happened in the house down payment category, because of the falling real-estate market we had to re-evaluate our goal and decide to leave the money aside for next year, instead of buying a house this year. It could also be in the form of a change in priorities, for example having a child may cause generation of alternate income to take a backseat. Nobody can make that decision for you except yourself. But a periodic evaluation of your goals will save you a lot of frustration and disappointment in the long run.

Bring your spouse/children on-board
I can't emphasize this point enough. Talk to your children and spouse and other family members about what you're planning to achieve. More often than not, you'll find out how supportive they are of your ideas and how helpful they can prove to be. I used to fret upon saving money until I talked about it with my husband, together we worked out a plan and once he was on board our savings went upwards very quickly, he worked on reducing our insurance premiums, our phone bills and that made a big difference to our bottom-line.
Even if you're met with an initial indifference or resentment, be patient and try to show by example. My husband never believed in coupons, that is, until he saw them in action. Now he asks for them for his toiletries and jokes that if I pay anything more then zero for any of our toiletries we're not getting a good deal. He even came up with the idea of no-expense days to save money.

Be with like minded people
If you're trying to go frugal, it wont help if you go out everyday with a friend who believes in retail-therapy. Either you'll end up resenting her for spending callously or you'll feel inferior for not having that much extra money. Neither is a very pleasant place to be. Same is true for anything you're trying to achieve. Being with like minded people helps you stay focused on your goal and encourages you to go that extra mile. As bonus you also get to share a lot of tips and tricks and meet interesting people and potential friends. If you find it difficult to meet such people personally, you can always do it in the virtual world. Join a community of bloggers, become a part of mailing aliases. I have learned a lot from "Frugal Hackers" community of bloggers and you can too.

Try to make things as convenient as possible for you to achieve your goal
Making yourself better doesn't mean that you've to fight with yourself, you deserve rest, happiness, leisure, me-time as much as anybody else. While you try to work on your goals be on the lookout for things that are making you miserable and things that can make your life convenient. When I first started working-out I tried to do it in the morning and my already busy mornings became nightmare. After a lot of tinkering with the schedule, I found that evening workouts work best for me and thats what I'm sticking with now. I was always forgetting to water the plants in my container garden, until my husband bought a timer based watering system. Another thing was constantly forgetting to bring my reusable bags to the car, and ending up getting plastic bags. So I bought 2 more of those reusable bags and kept them in the car always.
Get creative to make yourself comfortable, you're trying to enrich yourself, not harassing yourself.

Celebrate success (but dont break the bank)
Achieving your micro-goals is a step towards your bigger goal and a just cause for celebration, make most of it. Even if an elaborate celebration is not in order, just prepare your favorite dinner, go on a picnic, fly a kite. Do something different from the routine and let the feeling of achievement sink in.

Cut yourself(as well as others) some slack
Don't feel guilty or resent yourself for falling behind on one of your goals, take a look at your past achievements and other goals that you've achieved and reassure yourself that you'll achieve this one too. Also keep in mind that the other people in world may have different goals and values than you and that doesn't necessarily make them any inferior. Don't try to judge people on the basis of your achievements, thats a sure way of losing friends (quickly). Celebrate your achievements and try to be supportive of what the others trying to achieve in their respective lives.

I guess you would like to know what is my status on my goals, here is the breakdown:

1. Trying to stay fit( read lose weight) - Worked out 75% of the days since last December. Lost the holiday weight that I put on during my trip to India in May. Other than that the loss in weight has been...err...slim ;-) But I feel more fit than ever.
2. Saving for our home down-payment - Have about 7% of the down payment in savings right now. This is besides the property we bought in India recently, including which it would become about 20%.
3. Eliminating plastic bags from our life - Done. :-)
4. Work on generating some extra income - Generated about 100$ in surveys and using mypoints. My blog is also climbing up in popularity slowly.
5. Maintain a small container garden with some flowers and herbs - Its a work in progress, but I was finally able to see some plants in the arid soil in our tiny yard. The flowers (calendula, mums, poppy) and herbs (mint, basil, fenugreek) in my container are doing well.
6. Live on a budget - Made (and broke) budget in June. And we look all set to hit our targeted budget this month.

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