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Thursday, January 15, 2015

Key to a better 2015? Pay yourself first.

I posted this on LinkedIn and figured I'd post it here too.

I've recently found myself frustrated by my lack of progress on several long-term goals. For example, I desperately need to improve my German (I live in Germany!). Learning a language is the kind of project that requires steady progress over a significant period of time. I have similar goals around working out, running, playing guitar, blogging etc. With all these activities, I'll make steady progress for some period of time and then get off track. I'm probably the only one that's experienced this. :)
Recently, my subconscious gave me a nudge that's helped me do a better job recently of staying on track. It (my subconscious) obviously has access to memories that have long faded from my conscious mind. This memory is about 20 years old, going all the way back to my short stint as a financial planner after I graduated college. Selling things like life insurance and mutual funds to my peers, folks used to quickly burning through all their money or saving it in a jar, requires a very simple set of messages or aphorisms to elicit a change in very myopic habits. One of my favorite little gems is that if you want to accumulate (save) money, you need to pay yourself first, i.e., before you pay anyone else. The idea is to determine how much you want to save every month and put it into a savings account (or an investment) before paying the electric bill, your landlord or the cable company. It seems very simple and perhaps obvious, but I've seen this simple approach change people's behavior for the better on several occasions
The applicability of this approach to other aspects of our lives should be fairly obvious. Every day I must do a non-trivial number of both personal and professional tasks for a plethora of folks, so much so that I sometimes (most times?) find myself with insufficient time to make progress on the aforementioned, longer-term goals.
I've recently changed my approach to these long-term goals to ensure I make progress on them before I do all the stuff I need to do for others. As one of those rare (and annoying to most) morning people, I make sure I study a little German before I do anything else, no matter how critical reading that first e-mail seems to be. The same approach also reminds me to take time out during the day to make progress on other goals -- paying myself with an investment in myself before investing precious time in what others need. So far, so good. For a few weeks I'm making consistent progress and feel that now force of habit will help see me through.
I realize this isn't earth shattering insight, but as I learned when trying to sell life insurance to people for whom it wasn't exactly a burning priority, sometimes a simple message or idea can make all the difference. Might work for you too.
How will you pay yourself first in 2015?

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