It’s My Fault So Stop Me Now

One of my biggest problems with maintaining a goal is follow-through.    Three weeks or six months into pursuing a goal, it becomes incredibly easy to rationalize setbacks.    If my back hurts, it’s easy to skip some sit-ups.  If a custom knife maker offers me a good deal, it’s easy to drop a significant part of my discretionary budget on a really nice knife.   The rationalizations come pouring in when I see a good deal on Amazon.   “I need to read that book” or  “I’ve been waiting for the move forever.”  The excuses don’t matter.  As long as they are coming in, I will eventually cave to my inner impulse demon.   How do I avoid that?

I try to make myself accountable to as many people as possible. At the beginning of the year, I posted my 30 Day Projects here, for the world to see.    I post updates on a regular basis.   Admitting my failure with the sit-ups was surprisingly difficult.   I made myself accountable and fell short.  That’s hard.  Thankfully, none of you came around with a sjambok to make me regret my slip-up.   When I was doing push-ups, my wife was more than willing to let me know when I slipped into bad form to try to squeeze out a few more before I collapsed.   I count on that.

I count on my wife to help me stay on the right path.  Eliminating our debt is easily the longest goal either of us have ever set for ourselves.   Mutual support and mutual accountability are our main methods to maintain that goal.   It is, after all, a marathon, not a sprint.   When I want to buy more cookware, she reminds me that we already have something to serve the purpose.    When she wants to buy the kids new jammies, I remind her that they have more than can fit in their dressers already.    Neither of us are afraid to tell the other to return bad purchases to the store if it’s not in our budget.  When we go shopping, we go through everything in the cart before we get to the checkout, to decide if we really need everything we picked up.   We support each other.

If I couldn’t make myself accountable to my wife, my family, my friends, and–last, but certainly not least–the three people reading this, I would fold in the face of my marshaled rationalizations and leave my goals in the oft-regretted gutter.   Thanks for that.

How do you keep yourself on track?

Update:  This post has been included in the Money Hackers Carnival.

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Make Yourself Accountable

Everybody knows the reputation New Year’s resolutions get for being abandoned in under a month.  Following through with your saving and budget goals can be difficult.   There are thousands of strategies for keeping your resolutions, but I’ve found that the best goal-keeping mechanism is to make yourself accountable.    There are several ways to accomplish this.

Make Firm Goals. If your goals are open to interpretation, it’s easy to interpret them in a way that lets you off the hook.  Make the goals concrete and immune to interpretation, and that can’t happen.  “Get up earlier” may mean five minutes, which is technically meeting the goal, but not really.  “Get up at 5am” is clear and concrete.

Get a “Goal Buddy”. When I am out shopping, if I’m struck by the impulse to buy something I probably don’t need, I call my wife.  She’s more than happy to encourage me to put the movie or game back on the shelf.   I have a friend who will call me up if he’s thinking about buying a new gadget so I can talk him down.  Friends don’t let friends mortgage their futures.

Go Public. As you may have noticed, I’m being as open as possible with my goals for the year.   I have laid out clear goals and I provide fairly frequent updates through both this site and twitter.  If I fail, I fail in front of an audience.  That’s strong encouragement to succeed.  Tell your family, friends and coworkers.  Announce your goals on the internet.   Make it as difficult as possible to fail gracefully.

Punish Yourself. I have a line item in my budget called “In the hole“.   If I go over budget one month, the overage is entered as an expense the following month.   This serves the double purpose of getting the budget back on track and forcing me to sacrifice something the next month to make that happen.    Another option may be to write out a check to a charity you hate, and drop it in the mail if you miss your goal.  Anything unpleasant can work as your punishment.

How do you keep your goals?

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