Free online advice is available in abundance these days, but the self-improvement industry still brings in about $10 billion per year. We are addicted to life hacks and shortcuts to weight loss, perfect relationships and untold riches. The irony is that most of the industry’s biggest customers are repeat offenders. The most likely purchaser of a self-help book is the same person who has purchased one in the past 18 months. Full disclosure – I am guilty as charged. I regularly read Tim Ferris and James Altucher and Brené Brown to name just a few. The problem became that reading these blogs and books made me feel like I was accomplishing something, but in fact I was idling.
There is no magic bullet when it comes to life’s challenges. The stumbling block most of us face is not a lack of information, but a lack of commitment to action. As Erica Jong said, “Advice is what we ask for when we already know the answer but wish we didn’t.”
Lasting Change Requires Action and Determination
Any lasting change requires good old-fashioned determination. We can journal and make to-do lists until the cows come home, but until we back up our plans with action nothing material is going to change. I worked on the plan for this business for over a year without taking enough action to make it a reality. I read a lot, and made notes, and wrote about ideas to write about, but I never published anything. Finally, I ordered business cards and that was enough to change everything. That small action, a mere $100 investment, was enough commitment to get my momentum moving forward.
The tendency to plan and not act is especially problematic when it comes to overhauling your financial life. Tracking your spending and setting boundaries on luxuries is a great first step toward meeting your financial goals, but the hard part is making those tough decisions in the moment. Saying no to the last minute weekend trip or gorgeous boots staring at you from one of the gazillion shopping emails in your inbox can be difficult to do. If you’re debating the decision in each individual situation, eventually you are going to run out of willpower. The key to successfully taking action is tweaking your thought process around progress. I’ll save you hundreds of hours of reading – these are three mental shifts I found helpful in moving from analysis-paralysis into the action stage.
Three Mental Shifts to Move into Action
1. The 1% Plan: Set small goals attainable in the short-term, then take the first step and then the next. Don’t obsess about the end result. Focusing on the larger goal can be overwhelming and demotivating. If you need to save $100,000 for the down payment on your dream apartment, then focus on the first $1,000. It’s enough of a challenge to motivate you, but not so much that you’ll feel like throwing in the towel. Also, set the time frame for accomplishing each 1% increment. Write it down somewhere visible and track your progress.
The small step of ordering my business cards was a 1% commitment to action. My next 1% was polishing my website enough to launch it, not perfect it. Then I wrote my first new blog post. Every day my new 1% goal is to improve my site, write, or develop connections to grow my business. And when I get overwhelmed by a situation I always remember the immortal words of Dory from Finding Nemo, “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming, just keep swimming.”
2. Find Your Hook: Figure out what value or goal motivates you and hooks your interest. Money on its own doesn’t motivate me. Some people obsess about the accumulation of wealth as a goal on its own, but that doesn’t work for me. I’ve been in financial services for 20 years and I never took the hard-charging jobs that would fill my coffers. I always tried to do things that were interesting but still allowed me the lifestyle I enjoyed because I most value freedom: freedom to set my own schedule, freedom to travel, freedom to do something that I believe is helping people. In order to have this freedom I need money. I like to joke that my parents forgot to leave me my trust fund, so I need to be responsible for funding my freedom. This hook is what keeps me from surfing the internet, listening to music and walking my dog all day long.
What is your primary motivator? Is it freedom as well? Philanthropy? Security? Power? Keep your motivation in the front of your mind when you feel like giving in to the path of least resistance.
3. Be Kind to Yourself: Stop beating yourself up. In “The Willpower Instinct,” author Kelly McGonigal says that we may think that guilt motivates us to correct our mistakes, but evidence shows that self-criticism is consistently associated with less motivation and worse self-control. Guilt makes us feel like, well, we already messed up once, might as well do it again. In contrast, being supportive and kind to yourself, especially in the face of stress and (self-declared) failure, is associated with more motivation and better self-control.
Forgiveness, not guilt, increases accountability. Taking a self-compassionate point of view on a shortcoming makes us more likely to take personal responsibility and correct course. We are also more willing to receive feedback and advice from others, and more likely to learn from the experience. Letting go of your past “mistake” can wipe the slate clean. If you haven’t been saving for your goals on a regular basis, today is the best day to begin.
In case you want to help take the self-help industry from $10 billion to $11 billion, here are some of my favorites on motivation and breaking through resistance.
Some of My Favorite Books and Podcasts to Get Motivated
"The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It" by Kelly McGonigal
"Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead" by Brené Brown
"Rising Strong" by Brené Brown
"Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action" by Simon Sinek
"Do the Work" by Steven Pressfield
"The War of Art" by Steven Pressfield
"Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative" by Austin Kleon
"The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph" by Ryan Holiday
"The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work" by Shawn Achor
"What Should I Do with My Life?: The True Story of People Who Answered the Ultimate Question" by Po Bronson
The Tim Ferriss Show Podcast (General Link)
The Tim Ferriss Show - The Importance of Being Dirty: Lessons from Mike Rowe
James Altucher Podcast Ep. 159 – Derek Sivers: The Zen Master of Entrepreneurship