START TRACKING YOUR SPEND
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Let's stop pretending that being good at money means you need to be good at math. Instead, let's listen to our body and our mind.
My favourite book I read in 2021 was undoubtedly Atomic Habits by James Clear.
I’ve leaned on its contents before in previous posts and at this rate, I might be doing so every other post, but by golly what a masterpiece! Every single one of the concepts in this post has been influenced by concepts from Clear’s book. So while this isn’t a review, it is hopefully a testament to the type of quality content that resides within those pages.
I have taken the concepts from Atomic Habits and infused them into my own life, and wanted to share the ideas with you in hopes that this encourages you to grab a copy and start doing the same.
At age 31, with no direction in my career, a negative net worth, and no idea what I wanted to do next, I realized that something had to change. At that point in my life, the one thing I did have an abundance of was time. So, during this quarter-life crisis of sorts, I reflected a lot about how I ended up where I did.
The answer I came up with was that I tended to veer toward the path of least resistance. To do the easy things and avoid the difficult things.
Instead of setting a goal and working backwards, I’d simply make the best decision as situations presented themselves. I was reactive to my reality rather than the creator of it. Alas, we can’t control everything, and it’s dangerous to think that we can, but there are many things in our lives within our control. So why is it so hard to stick to the things that we already know to be in our own best interests?!
We get back in the gym only to quit days, weeks or months later. We think about writing a book but immediately get deterred by the magnitude of the task. We haven’t proven to ourselves often enough that we can act with the discipline and consistency required to accomplish challenging goals.
As Clear says in his book Atomic Habits, “Every action you take is a vote for the person you wish to become.” And unfortunately, the opposite is also true. The longer we procrastinate the actions we wish we could or know we should be making, the more we perpetuate the story and drive into our identity that we can’t do those things.
Our ambitious dreams are quickly washed away by avoidant behaviour and self-doubt without that belief. Even worse, sometimes we stop dreaming altogether.
The solution to our lack of confidence is a commitment to the behaviours that we know are in our best interest and aligned with our goals. A devotion to do the things that we feel better after doing but don’t do enough of.
Intentionally planning our lives with processes and designing our environments with purpose will give us the best chance at success. The more we can successfully commit to the activities that keep our mind and body in a healthy and happy state of being the more fulfilled we will be.
Before completing even the first half of the book, the first thing I did was start a Habits Scorecard. As you can see, I have linked Clear’s version here, but I prefer to make my spreadsheets from scratch, so mine is slightly different. Nonetheless, it is working! I am now three months into the practice, and I can’t imagine not utilizing this tool.
I only accomplished a 55% success rate in the first two weeks with the ten habits I committed to. Not a great score. Still, I gave myself a break because this was mid-December when I started, so the holiday season had a lot to do with the lack of routine and some extra food and alcohol.
Even still, I committed to the process. I kept tracking, even though I didn’t love the results. But I established a baseline and committed to the process. That was something to be proud of.
I also realized how much lower my success rate would have been without tracking at all. Even with the low daily habit scores, there were still plenty of times I didn’t feel like completing a habit, but I did. Now that I was objectively tracking it, I added an extra layer of accountability. I craved that checkmark on the screen.
I now had a new accountability buddy — my future self. And I knew damn well he would be reviewing this spreadsheet at the end of the month, heavily invested in the outcome. So, knowing he’s a ruthless leader, I thought I better keep him happy.
As Clear puts it, “Does this behaviour help me become the type of person I wish to be? Does this habit cast a vote for my desired identity?”
So what was I tracking? The list below is composed of activities, and when I complete them regularly, I feel very healthy in both mind and body. In brackets are all the minimum thresholds for each habit. Of course, I often go well beyond these metrics, but these are attainable for me on a regular busy day.
Sleep (7 hours)
Exercise (20 minutes)
Stretching (10 minutes)
Water intake (2-litres)
Spending ($20 max)
Reading (10 minutes)
Writing (10 minutes)
Junk Food (Y/N)
Tracking on-time (Y/N)
I attempted a very similar version of this a year before even reading Atomic Habits. However, I made a couple of critical mistakes.
First, I overcomplicated it.
Rather than stick to a binary measure of success with objective thresholds to determine a clear pass or fail for the day, I initially took a more qualitative approach, including a ranking system. So I tried giving myself a score out of ten for each habit. Then I’d add up all the categories and give myself a daily score out of 100. This lasted like three days. Cool. Cool. Cool. I spent too much time wrestling with what score to give myself in each category that I would dread opening it up at all.
I can track my entire day in 30 seconds with the new version and feel very clear about how things went.
I will admit that I get tempted to track more and more habits all the time. I legit have a wishlist for things I want to track in the future, and there are about 20 things on it now! However, I don’t want to fall into the same trap again. So in 2022, I will commit to keeping the total number of habits tracked to ten per month.
Secondly, I was overly ambitious.
I challenged myself to reasonable goals to accomplish on my best of days, not thresholds of success that were appropriate for an average day. When building a habit in our daily life, we must start by committing to just showing up. Start small and simple and grow from there to challenge yourself more.
In a short blog post, I, of course, couldn’t cover all of the topics that I found helpful in the book even though I wish I could! So, as a bit of a teaser on the topic of how our environment affects self-discipline, I am going to leave you with this:
“Disciplined people are better at designing their lives in a way that does not require heroic willpower and self-control. In other words, they spend less time in tempting situations.”
If you do end up grabbing a copy of Atomic Habits and are interested in similar types of material, you should check these out. I have read them all and found them useful in different ways.
Oh no, you missed the live webinar! But, good news: Mixed Up Money is pleased to share a resource for anyone planning for a future child or family.
Mixed Up Money is pleased to share a free resource for anyone looking to cut back on non-essential spending. My most-requested product is these monthly calendars to share on your Instagram story, use as a phone background, or print off to track your spending habits.
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