I think that I’m very much in the self-help mindset right now. I actually have some ideas that don’t fall into that category, but when I look at my list of topics, I find the self-helpy stuff is more appealing to write about. Today’s topic: How Nathan and I are screwing up.
It’s really not that bad. Actually, Nathan is doing considerably better than I am about keeping up with things. He certainly will have to watch for the discouragement voice that tends to start whispering to him at times, but so far as yet, he’s been pretty productive since the start if the year. If I have to be honest, I’ve not done too badly either. I tend to be very critical of myself when I have trouble achieving my unrealistic goals. Why? Well, it’s because I believe that they are realistic, but that I haven’t made a true shift in my thinking.
This is going to sound like I’m picking on Nathan. Or at the very least, it may sound like I’m worrying more about where Nathan is failing than where I am failing. I want to tell you right now that neither statement is the case. We sometimes can’t predict where our flashes of insight will come from, and in this case, it was reading an excuse Nathan posted to our newsgroup. I think I should also clarify that “insight” is a little heavy handed. I already knew the insightful bit. I was just conveniently forgetting it for a little bit.
Let’s step either further away from my train of thought before reeling it back in. I’ve read a lot about Stephen King. The man fascinates me to be truthful. One nice self-help nugget is to learn from, and try to emulate, those who have succeeded in endeavors you would like to succeed in. I’ve tried to learn much from Stephen King. The way that Stephen King prioritizes his day never lets him out of his writing obligation. It’s basically the first thing he does each day, and he doesn’t do anything else until he’s done. I’ve never mastered this approach to my life.
Nathan has a financial goal for the year, and I’ve been waiting for it to fail. It’s not because I don’t believe in Nathan. I actually have a lot of respect for him personally and creatively. I also envy his organizational skills a little bit. I still was waiting for this (Hmmm, “Baker Street” just came on the radio… funny) I still was waiting for this goal to fail. One reason is because Nathan is comfortable with his debt. Remember that I believe that sometimes we are comfortable with things that make us uncomfortable because it’s what we know. The other reason is because it wasn’t really Nathan’s goal. It was Nathan’s desire defined by my suggestion. That doesn’t make it my goal, but it also doesn’t make it Nathan’s goal.
The basic problem with accomplishment in life is that it often requires a decision to accomplish, no matter the cost. That’s a scary phrase for us mortals: No matter the cost. We want the new, but we don’t want to be done with the old. Sometimes it doesn’t work that way though. We don’t want to have to sacrifice, but by the very nature of time and resource, we are always sacrificing something.
What I told Nathan to do was to take each paycheck and pay his debt down by a certain amount before he did anything else. The reason I told him this is because he makes more money than his expenses. He won’t starve. He won’t get behind on his bills. What he will have to do is decide what luxuries aren’t necessary. I’ll make an example using random numbers that have nothing to do with Nathan’s situation aside from the income exceeding the outflow.
[I spoke with Nathan about this after I wrote it, and he didn’t realize that I said to pay his debt down first. He thought the goal was to do his best to pay the debt each check, which is what it was, but like I said, he didn’t realize he was to pay it first. Read the rest of this with that in mind please and thank you.]
Let say that I make $100 a month. I have $5,200 in debt. My bills and basic living expenses are $50 a month. $20 of that is going toward the minimums on my debt payments. Each month I start the month with $5,200 in debt and I end the month with $5,200 in debt. I realize that I would have better spending power if I had that $20 that is going to nothing but interest each month. My current standard of living is technically $30 to live on, $20 interest, and I have a $50 a month luxury habit. What if I were to triple the payment each month? I would pay off $480 over the course of the year and my debt total would be $4,720 and rather than paying $20 a month in I’m only paying $18.48. In our example where we can live on $30 a month, an extra buck-fifty would be a lot. In less than eleven years the debt would be gone, and the odd thing is that my luxury spending would slowly go back to $50 a month, and I could save $20 a month rather than paying it in interest. Heck, I could raise my luxury spending to $60 and save $10.
So what’s the problem? Well, in order to do that, I would have to cut my luxury spending back to $10 a month when I’m used to $50. And I can tell you what happens in this case. You start thinking about all those necessities that are technically luxuries, and wonder how you’ll live without them. So you keep sacrificing $20 of your hard earned money each month so you don’t have to sacrifice your current lifestyle. Like I said, you’re always sacrificing something. On paper, the answer is simple. In practice, it’s a bitch.
My solution is do your writing first thing, and don’t do anything else until your done, just like Stephen King. Think about how prolific of a writer the man is. His method works. His madness doesn’t do too badly either. And as an analogy, this means that the first thing you do when you get your paycheck is pay the $20 in interest and the extra $40 as well. This leaves you $40. $30 goes to living expenses and then you have to decide what one-fifth of your luxuries are the most important to you. It doesn’t work the other way. If you try to decide which luxuries you can do without while you still have the money for it, then you won’t cut back as much as you need to cut back, which means that you won’t pay down the debt as much as you need to either.
This is where the shift in thinking comes in. The reason I told Nathan to pay the debt first is because it acts as though he suddenly took a pay cut. And the reason why he is failing this goal is because he didn’t make the blind leap required to do this. I told him that if he was biting off too much, he did have credit cards to fall back on. He was at the retreat. They had him hooked to the support cables. He just didn’t let himself fall.
[As I said earlier, because he didn’t understand that he was supposed to fall. Carry on.]
Let’s go back to my example. I make $100 a month. What if I lost my job and was living on unemployment? What if the unemployment was only $60 a month and I couldn’t find another job? Would I still try to maintain $50 a month of luxury spending or would I eat? Would I try to only live on $20 of luxury spending or would I have electricity and hot water? If I was in my right mind I would pay the $30 of living expenses. Then I would pay the $20 in interest. Then I would have $10 for luxury, if I wasn’t too afraid to spend even that much. It’s interesting what we will do when our hand is forced, but won’t do when it’s not.
It took me roughly 10 seconds to realize this when Nathan wrote on the newsgroup that he didn’t have enough money to pursue the goal. He gave a couple of valid reasons. The problem is that unless we got the math drastically wrong, he should have had enough money.
Let’s say that in my example, I suddenly had $5 taken out of my check for health insurance, and found another expense that was $10 a month that couldn’t be sacrificed. Is it all a loss now? No, because I can do the following. $40 living expenses, $20 interest, $5 insurance, $10 luxury spending, $25 extra on the debt. But that $25 would still have to be paid first, or I’ll be tempted to use it for luxury spending. And this is all I’m saying.
I claimed that this all actually comes back to me, and that my intention was not to pick on Nathan. Again, it was the impetus for my thought.
My goal for the year is eight hours a day spent on project work. Why? I want to complete things this year, and eight hours a day will get me well on my way. I actually think that eight hours a day is too little, but like with my example above, I have time expenses that are not luxuries. I do have to drive to work and work. I do have to sleep. I do have to eat. I do have to maintain a reasonable level of personal hygiene. I do have to turn in my time sheet. I do have to cash my checks. I do have to pay my bills.
The upside is that I can squeeze out some of my work time to do project work. It helps me stay awake and alert, so it’s a win-win. You can see the issue though, can’t you? I’m used to 50% luxury time and now I want to cut back to 10% luxury time to get some project work completed. If I don’t sacrifice the less important uses of my time, then I will sacrifice the completion on my projects. There is always a sacrifice.
Each day I should do the eight hours of work before I do anything else that doesn’t fall under required. I used the example of a pay cut earlier. Well what if I suddenly had to work a second job that took up eight hours a day, in addition to everything else I had to do, including my current job. Right. I would not have had time to go out last Sunday for a birthday celebration. I might have even not got to go see my mom when she came down last Friday. I would probably only get to check in to Facebook once or twice a week.
The problem is that as Nathan didn’t simulate a pay cut to achieve his goal, I’m not simulating another job to achieve mine. And I have the advantage that I can pretend that my two jobs somehow overlap, since I can do some of the project work while I’m at work. So what is wrong with me?
The point I’m trying to make is that there are some goals that just require a little bit of adjustment, but there are goals that require an entire shift in your thinking. You have to imagine that you have taken a pay cut. You have to imagine that you have taken a 56 hour a week job. You may even have to imagine that you are trapped in a cage and your captors literally only let you eat so many calories a day. I’m not saying that all the scenarios will make any real sense, but if they shift your thinking to the good then maybe being teleported to the planet Tobaccoine, where many of the inhabitants look like they’re smoking cigarettes and many of the stores look like they sell cigarettes, but the truth is they don’t actually exist there. Maybe pretending that you’ve been teleported there isn’t such a crazy idea.