By Cherie Lowe
Should we pay off debt? Save for college? Train for a marathon? Build a new house? Change jobs? Renovate the bathroom? Go on vacation?
The endless questions ramble through our hearts and minds on a regular rotation. Constant choices present endless opportunities. It’s hard to know what to do in which order and when. In the end, many of us find ourselves frozen in a state of paralysis by analysis. Turning over the possibilities in our heads, we accomplish nothing and remain stuck. We never take steps toward our big dream.
Maybe you don’t suffer from this particular complex. Maybe your challenge is trying to do all of the things at once. You choose to tackle multiple goals, burning the candle at both ends. Your life ignites in a flame of fury. As you rush from one place to the next, you realize you can’t possibly sustain doing absolutely everything — and neither can your wallet.
Or, some of us dive right into planning a particular goal without much thought. We buy a calendar and hire a trainer. We compile to-do lists and build the dream board. We read the best books and consult the experts. But we never translate our head knowledge and preparation into action. Instead, our books and lists end up piled in the corner and our dreams right along with them.
Should we forget about dreams then?
Such a bleak outlook could cause even the most driven individual to chuck long term planning to the wayside. What’s the point if we’re never going to succeed? Having a dream, big or small, in and of itself isn’t a bad thing at all. Having a grand financial dream got us out of $127,000 in debt in just under four years. Every great accomplishment begins with a dream.
But biting off more than you can chew rarely ends with anything except for an unmanageable mouthful. In order to achieve a goal, you have to break it down into manageable pieces. Long-term dreams should fuel your choices in the day-to-day decisions you make. But you do have to rank and prioritize what you want to achieve. You can’t do everything at once.
Do the next right thing
Even when you successfully choose which dream you want to achieve, it’s easy to get lost in the vastness of your goal. Most of us long for overnight achievement. We want to pay off all of our debt and we want it done yesterday. Or we want to save up for a dream vacation we’d like to take in a month’s time. Our impatience leads to frustration when we don’t instantaneously receive all we desire.
Often, this mindset leads us back to a state of freeze-frame. We’re so flustered by not having what we want now and the enormity of what we want to do, we lock up and lock down. We allow our emotions to control our actions. Fear and anxiety point us toward all we can’t do right now. At best, we zone out on the couch watching Netflix. At worst, we make decisions that derail our dreams.
Instead, shift your perspective by focusing in on what the next right thing — even it’s something very small and minute. No, you might not be able to pay off mounds of debt in 24 hours, but you can begin making small strides in the process. Even if it’s as simple as fixing lunch to take to work or tossing in a load of laundry, ask yourself what next right thing would help you achieve your goals.
Anytime panic overcomes your soul, ask the question again – “What is the next right thing for me to do in this situation?”
Macro-goals are phenomenal, but micro-goals out-rank them in spades. Instead of fixing your eyes only on the outlandish, set smaller goals within your larger aim. When you reach those smaller goals, be sure to celebrate the win. Rewarding yourself for positive behavior reinforces your overall efforts. After all, no one runs a marathon without first taking a one-mile jog.
Choose a targeted dollar amount within a greater savings goal. Circle a date on the calendar. Choose one room to clean instead of your entire home. Small, attainable goals lead you to greater good. Dream small to win big.
A few years ago, I began to look at my life as composed by seasons instead of days. I may not be able to accomplish everything I want to do with my life in a single day, but I can achieve what I earlier regarded impossible in a longer season. I have to realize what I choose every day, every hour, every minute has a bearing on a larger outcome.
Freak out mode still tempts us all from time to time. We feel the pull of the many directions we could choose to spend our energy. Realigning day-to-day behaviors with a greater purpose redirects hearts and actions to the path leading toward success.
Greenwood resident Cherie Lowe and her husband paid off $127,000 in debt in four years and now live debt-free every day with their two kids. She is the author of “Slaying the Debt Dragon: How One Family Conquered Their Money Monster and Found an Inspired Happily Ever After.” Send questions, column ideas and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org