“Everyone has learning difficulties, because learning to speak French or understanding relativity is difficult.”
― Mark Haddon, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

I know a lot about trying to lose weight. I should know, I have been trying for a while now.

I have good discipline when it comes to saving money, but not so much when it comes to avoiding yummy food. Going through a lot of finance related blogs recently, I noticed that financial issues people face are different. There are some like me who want to retire as soon as possible, and at the other spectrum are those who deal with getting out from debt.

I have never been in debt (other than our mortgage, and car loans that were paid off quickly), so you would think that it is hard for me to understand that part. However, having been overweight for the last 10 years of my life, I understand people who have little to no control over their spending. Because that is how I am with food.

Essentially, they are both the same issue. It is a matter of habit change. And the habits we have, they have been with us for the most of our lives. And the biggest mistake we make is trying to change all of it at once. Now that we have just two weeks left for the New Year, many of us will be busy deciding what resolutions to make.

I don’t know of too many resolutions that lasted for more than a month or two. I am not saying that none do, just that most of them don’t. Once upon a time, I had given up on making resolutions because I wasn’t sticking to any of them. I figured that if I really wanted something, it didn’t have to start on New Year’s day. It could start any day of the year, and if it was important for me to remember when I started that particular behavior, I could remember one extra date. It is not like I don’t remember dates, anyway.

And if you have stumbled on to this post at some time past the New Year, remember that working towards your new goal doesn’t have to start on a New Year’s day. Or the first of next month, or next Sunday, or even tomorrow. If you really want to do it, and you are not trying to fool yourself, it starts now.

When you are trying a new habit, whether it is trying to save money or lose weight or exercise regularly, or something else altogether different, these are what you should pay attention to.

Find your WHY

You need to know why you are attempting what you are attempting to do. It is completely personal, and what is important to someone else may not be as important to you. I have heard of people losing lots of weight because of medical reasons, because they wanted to participate in activities their kids are doing. For saving money, it could be something like wanting to get out of debt, or the desperate need to retire early. Finding your why is really important because there are going to be days when you do not want to do the new habit, and want to return to the old. This is going to remind you to stick to the new habit even when the going gets tougher.

For me, I have a strong, burning desire to retire early. I want more free time in my life; I want to be able to do things because I want to do it, not because I am supposed to be doing it. I have a high income job – It is not easy to leave the comfort of that to do something else when it is going to pay much less. Especially when I don’t even know what it is that I really want to do. My way out is early retirement. Once I don’t need the money, I wouldn’t feel bad to leave my job, irrespective of how much it pays.

Finding my why has not been so easy when it comes to weight loss. I don’t have medical issues, and my weight doesn’t really stop me from doing anything I want. Mostly because I was never interested in anything where I had to be fit.

Revise your WHY periodically

Circumstances are going to change. What was important to you when you started your journey is probably not going to be that important at some other point of time. You still need to keep going; Or do you? Think of why you started this journey, why you want to still keep going. Don’t do this when you are tired or frustrated, or not too happy about the sacrifices you are making for your new habit. Do this when you are in a calm mindset, when you can think through all of your parameters.

For example, you may have started off your weight loss journey trying to stop some medications. And you may have got rid of them before you reached your target weight. At that point, you have to make a decision about whether you want to carry on with losing weight. If you do want to, you need to decide what your main motivation is. When you decide to stop your journey, it should be because you consciously decided to, and not because you gave up for no reason. Similarly, you may be trying to save money because you want to pay off a student loan or credit card debt. Once you are close enough, or have actually paid it off, decide whether you want to carry on with your frugal life style. And if you do, decide what your next goal is – Do you just want some buffer so that you have some flexibility, or do you want to save up a considerable chunk of money, or may be even go on to early retirement. Only you can make these decisions for you. And make sure you do.

Have a plan

You need to know how you are going to approach turning the new behavior into a habit. It is easier if your goals are S.M.A.R.T – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Result-oriented and Time-bound. People often bite off more than what they can chew. And that is usually the reason most resolutions don’t last beyond a few months, and in some cases, a few weeks.

For instance, assume that you want to lose some weight. And you know that you have to eat less, drink less soda, eat more protein, drink more water, and exercise more. So within the first week, you go and buy new water bottles, a food scale, protein shakes, a gym membership. The honeymoon period would last a few weeks. You would be eating on plan, exercising and losing weight. Everything is fine until one day, you eat something you weren’t supposed to eat, and you feel guilty. Or it snowed 24 inches and you couldn’t get to the gym when you actually had plans. And then you suddenly realize that you are tired of the whole process. That you don’t care anymore.

Ideally, you would have started with one new habit, not a whole bunch of them. Suppose you picked exercise. If you had never stepped foot in a gym the previous year, you should concentrate on getting to the gym once a week, or may be twice a week, until that is a habit. If you are only learning one habit at a time, it is easy to concentrate on that and not give up on everything.

So don’t give up on that latte, stop buying clothes, and stop going out for lunch all at once. Do one thing at a time, until you don’t even think about it any more. Once that is a habit, pick the next item you are going to be working on.

Make a backup plan

You will start with your new behavior, and you might be getting on with it pretty well. But a day will come, when you find that you have slipped. You have made one, or two, or ten decisions that is more in line with your old habit. What most people do at that point is admit failure, decide that they were not meant to get better. Trust me, that day is coming. What you can do is plan for that day. Change your behavior from what you have done so far. You can may be even send  your future-self an email (send it now, before you slip up) saying that it is okay to slip up. Have a plan ready to get back on track. What matter is progress, not perfection.

Keep it simple

What you are attempting to do is monumental. Keep it as easy as you can. Associate new behaviors with old habits so that they act like a cue. Remove temptations. Stay consistent – don’t make anything optional. Track it – Nothing motivates saving like seeing your net worth go up. Most important, do it because you want to.

For me, weight loss is way harder than saving money. And let me tell you why. Every dollar I don’t spend ends up adding to my savings. It is visible, and it is immediate. But not so much for weight loss – There are too many factors affecting my daily weight. Starting from the amount of salt I ate the previous dinner. I agree, they don’t change the fat stored in my body, and the effects are negligible long term. But the lack of immediate feedback is what makes it hard for me.

By the way, I lost over 30 lbs last year. I am still sticking to it. I have another 30 lbs to lose. I hope I get to it in 2018. If I don’t, I still have years ahead to lose it. My first and foremost priority is to get to early retirement in 1965 days. I am making huge progress on this front.

Do you think losing weight and saving up are similar? Do you have any pointers for me? Let me know!

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Tagged habits, saving money

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Saturday, Dec 3, 2022