It’s all about making small changes now in order to achieve big results down the road.
In late August of 2011, a friend’s family invited me to join them for a day of boating on the Columbia River before we started our final year of college. I still remember it vividly as the first time I ever water-skied (even somewhat successfully!). After a hot summer day in the eastern Washington desert, as we drove home, my friend’s parents asked each of us, “Where do you see yourself in 10 years?” As we approach the actual 10-year mark this upcoming summer, it’s worth reflecting on.
At 9.5 years in, most of the hopes and dreams my friends and I discussed that night have become realities. We are all married, some with children, and we work jobs we are passionate about in meaningful careers. Many of us are homeowners. We are very blessed, but not because of ‘luck’ or ‘privilege.’ We were taught the summation of our small choices over time would shape who we became, and we knew we needed to take personal responsibility for our actions. The last 9.5 years have been filled with intentional work toward real goals.
But goals without a plan to see them through to completion are simply dreams, and dreams rarely become reality without action. In a culture that looks mainly to the next weekend for our hope and anticipation, we must look further. I once heard we overestimate what we can accomplish in a day or week, and we underestimate what we can accomplish in a decade. The crazy goals you can knock out in 10 years with even just a simple plan and diligent work is staggering.
Our outcomes were also heavily influenced by those we spent our time with, including each other. Have you heard “show me your friends, and I’ll show you your future?” According to speaker and author David Burkus, data demonstrates we are influenced positively or negatively by far more than the five people we spend the most time with; even indirectly by friends of friends. If you spend time with friends or even family who hinder you with their behavior or even tell you outright your goals and dreams are unattainable, I submit: it’s high time to surround yourself with different people.
Over the years, I have dreamed about being different, struggled to implement massive overhauls to my routines, then failed repeatedly because I was biting off more than I could chew. This is why people joke about gyms being extraordinarily busy in early January (pre-COVID, anyway), but not February! I got discouraged long ago with New Year’s resolutions, but as I get older, I’ve learned small changes over time are far, far more effective than large changes implemented simultaneously, and I strive to make small tweaks year-round.
Life would have been far easier in my earlier years had I used this “Swiss cheese method” of poking small ‘holes’ in school assignments, tasks, and goals until they were done. Whole productivity systems have been developed to aid people in getting their tasks done. I have tried implementing many of them, and I believe it all boils down to this: Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
Much of personal finance is behavioral, so this idea is very important, and it extends into almost every other avenue of our lives. Charles Duhigg, author of ‘The Power of Habit,’ writes, “A habit is a formula our brain automatically follows: When I see CUE, I will do ROUTINE in order to get a REWARD. To re-engineer that formula, we need to begin making choices again. And the easiest way to do this, according to study after study, is to have a plan. Within psychology, these plans are known as ‘implementation intentions.’” If we can isolate each item in that habit loop (cue, routine, reward) and make small changes, we can alter our habits from the inside out.
Actions you can take today, right now: Dream a little. Where do you want to be 10 years from now? Maybe your finances need an overhaul, or maybe you’re on track and want to fine-tune things some. Maybe you strive to spend less than you make, knowing debt will only hinder your progress to financial freedom, but you don’t have a monthly budget. You’ve heard of an individual retirement account that offers tax-free growth and tax-free withdrawals in retirement, but you don’t know how to create one or how to invest. Maybe you’re unsure you’ll have enough money in retirement. Maybe you lost a job and just need to find a way to put food on the table before thinking about career progression. Or perhaps you have a stable job, but it’s just ‘good’ on the ‘good, better, best’ spectrum. Maybe people have said that you can’t earn a good income doing what you love (not true!).
Let’s resist the urge to be discouraged by or complain about 2020. For many, it was a difficult year filled with setbacks, sickness, natural disasters, loss, and unrest. Yet, I believe the adversity and frustrations we endured can shape us like nothing else can. Our parents were right; nothing builds good character traits like overcoming struggles. I truly believe the future is bright and opportunity abounds, even now.
Surround yourself with people who are successful, are good influences, and who challenge you. Get curious and ask questions. Write things down. Learn what actions and habits made these people successful, then go do those things. You will be amazed what happens over time. Commit to doing even just one thing each day to that end. Make that phone call, ask that question, read that book or article, do that one pushup, create that budget, break down that goal.
My wife and I often ask ourselves “What are we doing today that, God-willing, will propel us toward where we dream of being in 10 years?” Dave Ramsey says, “Set written goals with a time limit. Break them down into weekly and daily activities. Read them every morning. Watch what happens.” A pilot I recently flew with told me he and his wife wrote down their long-term goals years ago, accomplished them, then wrote down more and accomplished those too! He jokingly remarked we need to be careful what goals we write down, put on the fridge, and constantly review, because they can become reality in almost a magical way. Give it a try!
This article first appeared on GoalsOnTrack. It is written by Luke Miller, passionate about helping others succeed in their finances, careers, and lives. A fourth-generation aviator, Luke is a pilot for a Seattle-based major airline. He lives with his wife live in Enumclaw, Washington.