While the rest of our group galloped up the mountain in Haiti, I was stuck at a flat area partway up with two other people in our party who just couldn't make it another step: a man who was pushing 80 and another guy who was overweight. I was so frustrated with my lack of stamina and embarrassed at my inability to push my early-30s self any more physically.
Considering that I used to hike and run and exercise, it was very sad. And I resolved, right there on the mountain path, that I would make some changes to my physical health when I got back home. Even worse, the rest of the group returned, exclaiming about the view! the people they met! the goats they saw!
Well, that was three years ago, and I am sorry to say that my solution to the problem was not to exercise, but to avoid all mountains.
And while I haven't been wheezing on a mountain since, I don't consider my solution a successful one.
Perhaps the mountain you face isn't a physical mountain at all. Maybe you face a mountain of debt. Maybe you feel like gasping every month when you try to stretch your paycheck to cover all your obligations.
Whatever your challenge, it is nothing compared to challenging your status quo.
The change starts with you
For the most part, we all know what we should do. We should eat lots of vegetables. We should exercise. We should spend less than we earn. But knowing what we should do is a lot different than doin g it.
Why is it so difficult to change?
- To improve your life, you have to change behaviors and routines. Instead of habitually going out every weekend, start planning meals at home. Instead of opening the laptop before breakfast, I could go up and down a few flights of stairs.
- You have to figure out what improvement looks like. Where are you trying to go? Maybe part of my failure to get more physically fit has something to do with the vagueness of that goal. “Physically fit” is … what exactly? Is it the ability to hike the Grand Canyon? to run two miles?
- This will be just another failure. You have tried to keep your spending in check before, but it never works. Your savings account still looks quite meager. What is going to make this time any different? And since you won't succeed (at least, that's what you're thinking), why even try?
- Your life is comfortable enough as it is. Sure, you may be a little stressed out when it's time to pay bills, and you worry about how long you'll have to keep working. Or you (okay, this is me) find it easier to stay off mountains instead of getting off the couch.
How to keep the change chugging along
Starting is not my greatest challenge. I usually can muster up enough enthusiasm to attempt changes, at least for a few days. But then, life happens.
So how can you make your life better?
1. Look for ways to make the change as easy as possible. If I put my running shoes and exercise clothes (or even sleep in them!) beside the bed, I think I would be more likely to exercise. Some people advocate freezing credit cards in ice to make it more difficult to use them. Consider your own situation and identify possible barriers to your success and see if you can make at least one tweak to make it easier to change.
2. Think about where you want to be often. Before I started writing this article, I hadn't given a thought for years about the emotions that flooded through me when I couldn't keep up with the rest of the group in Haiti. I have thought vaguely that I should get into better shape, but not about those life-changing emotions.
3. Look for little wins and acknowledge any success. Change is hard. Did you make better choices today than you did yesterday? Will you make better choices tomorrow? Viewing your improvement as a slow journey may be enough to keep you powering through the tough times.
4. On the other hand, expect failures and don't let them derail you. You WILL spend more than you should sometimes. I won't exercise as long as I should some days. It's okay.
5. Just do something — anything — every day that will help you reach your goal. A fitness goal could be running up and down four flights of stairs, no matter what. A financial goal could be picking up every nickel or dime you see. Or focusing on one part of your budget for one month and doing something small every day to impact that part of your budget.
When you perform some action, no matter how small, you should find the momentum you need to keep going. And then some day, you will find a new status quo to challenge!
How do you make lasting changes in your life? Share your tips to get off the couch, close your wallet, or stop doing what you have been doing even though you know you'll keep getting the same results!
Lisa Aberle is a college professor by day and a freelance writer by night. Always an aspiring writer with an interest in money, she once ironically misspelled “mortgage” during a spelling bee. Most of her current adventures take place on the four-acre mini-farm she shares with her husband in the rural Midwest (where she writes with gel pens whenever possible).