Friday, June 6, 2008

Ego Over Matter 2008, Volume 1.2, Relationship of Physical and Financial Fitness

This isn’t exactly an Ego Over Matter blog, but it is tangentially associated, so I’m going to include it as one anyway. Plus, it gives me yet another chance to spout my dime store philosophy (LOL!).

Losing weight, fitness and finance often seem to come hand in hand. Last year, I made a concerted effort to do something about my physical fitness up to my set goal. In the current year, I have also been putting a lot of focus on what I consider to be my financial fitness. I wanted to see if I could apply parallels between them and see if any of them could help me impact the others.

The blog asked the same question on June 5th. Instead of rehashing their points, which looks at the parallels of physical fitness as it relates to financial fitness, I wanted to see how my own approach to physical fitness paralleled my approach to financial fitness, and vice versa. Many of fivecentnickel's points are reflected in my observations, so I want to give credit where credit is due.

The first and most obvious thing that jumped out to me was that I have to eat less and do more to lose weight. When I look at that just in the light of dealing with the day to day cravings and realities, it can be a bit of a drag (yes, I said it, self denial isn’t real fun. Necessary at times, but rarely fun). However, there’s a neat little hidden bonus to this approach; using tight portion controls actually helps me save money. By looking at the actual serving size recommended, and committing to eating just that serving size of each item, I am able to make sure that the items I buy last longer, and thus either I buy less overall, or the items I do buy have a longer shelf life. Net result, I lose weight and I spend less :).

Second is the idea of the turning point. As I mentioned in my previous blog, we all have those "I’VE HAD IT!" moments, and those are when we finally decide we are ready for a change. Activity level will increase, food consumption will decrease, deficit spending will decrease or cease and enforcing a savings regimen will only happen when I am finally sick and tired of being sick and tired. When I make that commitment to myself, in the right mind and spirit, then I am prepared to make the changes that are necessary, and make those changes stick. In both cases, I made some broad decisions and chose to stick to them. On the fitness sphere, it was to live pain free (if possible) and to be in shape to enjoy the activities that I do. On the finance side, remaining 100% debt free and increasing my saving for the future are the key elements that drive me.

Third is the need for a big win quickly, but the ability to temper that with the idea that true success takes time and happens gradually. Financially, a big win for me is to sacrifice intensely for a brief period and make a major spending habit change, then take that saved money and either put it towards something important or save it for later. On the weight and fitness front, a commitment to drop that first five pounds in two weeks is key. Whatever it takes, I have found that that first *big win* is vital to continued success. If I made a goal to save for my kids college educations, and only focused on the potential expense in total, I might get discouraged about the sheer amount required; that’s a hard thing to sustain enthusiasm for, especially when you have a lot of other things that need to be dealt with. Likewise, walking into a gym for the first time, setting up a goal for a 300 pound bench press, 400 pound squat and a 500 pound deadlift, and going gangbusters to get there is also going to be hard to deal with over the long haul. Setting up a quick "big win" is smaller in scope, but can be just as gratifying. Be very specific. Work towards that goal, celebrate and mark the achievement, and then keep going.

Keeping track of what I do, both physically and financially, helps me gauge my actual progress and keeps me focused. In most cases, it’s not the lack of enthusiasm, but the lack of focus and clarity that causes me to spin my wheels. When it comes to food intake, writing down what I actually eat is very telling; it lets me know exactly what I am doing at that moment and gives me immediate feedback. Later, I can see what I ate, what made sense, and whether or not I want to trade off better health and a lower weight for the pleasures of a candy bar. When it comes to money, writing down everything I spend, or plan to spend, is also telling. This puts the things that I spend money on very up front and obvious, and I can separate needs from wants, and decide what I am willing to put off or do away with to get ahead.

nickel talked about making this into agame, and that's very much my approach as well. People who are passionate about a sport or an activity already have a big advantage over everyday people who just want to get back in shape a bit. When you have a passion, that passion tends to drive you and you respond to meet it. If you love playing soccer and play every chance you get, chances are you are probably already in the top 5% of physical fitness. If you are an avid rock climber and regularly climb, the same could be said. My decision was to find something physically demanding that I love, and center my activities around those. At this stage in my life, much of my energies are dedicated towards Native American dance, hiking and snowboarding. Those are the three things I enjoy doing the most. By focusing my energies on activities that help me maximize on all three, I can keep my mind focused and my interest high. When it comes to money, my "game" is to see if I can do better month after month and bring down my spending footprint so that I can save more towards something I really want. I treat it like a game because, if I can get further ahead each month, it’s like an accumulating game score, and it allows me to see progress (and yes, I actually find that to be fun :) ).

For me, the idea of "personal bests" is very important. Comparing myself to another person (like an athlete or some multi-millionaire) is counter productive. As a point of inspiration, I think it’s fine, but getting hung up on the fact that I don’t look like [fill in the blank] or I don’t have the net worth of [fill in the blank], is only going to make me miserable. Instead, I try to look and see what *my* personal bests are, and try to always move them forward. At times those personal bests may just be inching along, and at times, I suffer set-backs where I actually *lose* ground. This is a normal part of life, and I tell myself it’s important to be willing and able to keep them in perspective. I used to agonize over the fact that I could not beat another racer I competed regularly against, until I realized that he had advantages I didn’t have, including living close to a ski area and having the ability to run gates every other day. Because of where I live, I could only ride every couple of weeks at best. Thus, I abandoned the idea of "beating him" and made my races a goal of beating my previous best last time. Truth be told, I always placed better when I took that approach then when I tried to "beat the other guy". My only gold medal win in Giant Slalom was when I decided I ultimately wanted to just beat my best previous time (the "other guy" moved into another division, so no, my personal bests attitude never resulted in my beating that particular racer, but hey, what can you do :) ?).

Like everyone, I mess up from time to time. Messing up does not mean giving up, though. Success is often defined as winning on the twenty-first try when you failed the previous twenty times. If I fail, I try to take stock to find out *why* I failed, and then incorporate that knowledge into my next routine, and have another go. In my mind, failure only really becomes failure if I give up and quit. If I keep at it, I haven’t failed, rather I’ve just discovered another variable that I need to keep track of as I take another shot. Not making weight because of bad weather isn't a failure, just that my routine needed to incorporate other options or adjustments when I can't go out and do what I originally scheduled to do. Blowing a budget doesn’t mean I can’t handle money, it just means I have to look at what I originally planned for, see what items busted it, figure out what area I didn’t account for, incorporate that information, and give it another go.

I believe in celebrating milestones, in whatever way will keep me focused on my goals and targets. When I dropped to 190 pounds last year, I did a before and after picture post. This was a celebration for me, a chance to smile and notate a great achievement. When we paid off our house, it was suggested that we should take a copy of our mortgage paperwork, wrap it around a duraflame log, and have a party as we watched it burn. These are examples of celebrating a milestone, and I have found them to be very helpful to keep my perspective and enjoy the moments when success is reached.

Maintenance is active. The human body is an active organism, just like money is an active organism. If I am passive with either, I know I will lose ground. Both require active focus and active management. When I get to the point where I have met a goal, I have to remember that I now have the knowledge and the skills necessary to “keep on going” if I choose to. Ultimately, though, the most important thing is that I actually choose to do that. Money is a little easier to deal with in this case, because I can choose to auto-invest money from my paycheck or from an account, and make sure it goes where I want it to go. There’s no such thing as auto-exercise or auto-feeding (short of an I-V drip, but really, I have no intention of going there :) ). I have had times where I became so in tune with the things that I was doing that exercise and good eating habits became almost second nature. Still, maintaining that "second-nature" is harder than auto-investing or setting up a direct deposit. No one else can regulate the man in the mirror but me.

Ultimately, I have found that, whatever I choose to do, I make it a point to look to the future, be willing to take a period of readjustment and realization, and accept the fact that I may have to make some changes, ranging from slight to drastic. At the end of the day, it all comes down to me and what I want to accomplish. No one else can do it for me, either in physical health or financial health. There are, ultimately, no quick fixes, no magic pills, or get rich quick formulas. Both take effort, planning, tracking, and work to reap the benefits from, and both require a level of delayed gratification. The only sure thing in both areas, to borrow from and paraphrase Dave Ramsey, is that "if I live like no one else, later, I can live like no one else".

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