Staying The Course

This is a guest post from Sheryl (a.k.a Cdn Gwen) in Ontario, who is 40 years old with a grown daughter, and is trying to rebuild her retirement dream just 20 years too late for early retirement.

I have made a promise to my self that I will be financially independent.  I will pay off my debts and build the life I dream of.

Why do we lose focus sometimes?  I know for me, it has been a long road (and still is) to find the answer to that.  At times, life is smooth sailing, motivation levels are high, I can leap any hurdle in my path, I rejoice in every new way I find to lower expenses (both discretionary and essential), and I do it all with contentment.

Then there are the other days, the days that the drive through looks tempting for breakfast and a jumbo coffee.  As this feeling persists, it is followed by a dis-satisfaction about life, perhaps some self pity, an urge to give up on the long term plan in favor of an impulse purchase (spa day, anyone?), and usually includes at least one restaurant  “treat” (more than one if I don’t do something to get out of that funk). These are also the days that I find I am more sensitive to other peoples bad moods, making it even harder to take the bull by the horns and get myself back on track.  During this time, I find myself focusing mainly on “what would immediately make me feel better?”.

I know these days happen to everyone, but considering the potential for damage to my financial plan, finding a way to minimize the frequency, duration and severity is important.

If I were to review the time leading up to these “days”, I think I would find some similarities with all the occurrences.  Elevated job stress, not enough quality sleep, not eating a healthful diet, dabbling in some old unhealthy habits, a disagreement with a family member, not indulging in any interests or being too sedentary can all add up to a feeling of discord about life.

What makes me feel better during these times?  On the surface, I’m lethargic, so I reach for some form of fuel for my body (caffeine, sugar, carbs), and perhaps buying something I don’t need (something that will distract me from myself for a while).  This does not fix anything, in fact, I find it makes the situation worse.  I am learning during these times to try to figure out what would “really” make me feel better.  Am I sleepy?  Do I need some time either alone or with a friend to do something to recharge my spirit?  Do I need to monitor my food and drink intake to ensure I’m not running on chemicals that will cause me to crash?

I have started thinking about these days the same way as I would a physical ailment.  If I had damaged myself by catching a cold or twisting my ankle, I would slow down for a while and give my body what it needs to heal.  Now,  I am able to recognize when my life is not in balance (the symptom being these “days”), and focus on a long term heal, as opposed to a band-aid made of take -out and unhealthy distractions.

Sometimes I don’t realize what is happening until spending has already begun, at which point it is time for damage control.  I stop.  I breathe.  I can’t usually undo what I started (restaurants don’t give refunds for diner regret), but I can stop it and learn from it.  Why did I do this?  What can I do differently in the future?  I take a step back.  I get my focus back by taking care of me.  I read my favorite blogs for inspiration.  I look at my own progress as encouragement.  I resume thinking before I act.  I ease back into the routines that create smooth sailing again.  A few small steps until I’m sure I’m on the right path again, but before too long, I feel I have life by the tail again.

So how do you deal with your ‘days’?

2 thoughts on “Staying The Course”

  1. Sheryl , I think it sounds like you are doing a fabulous job. I also like looking at my life and decisions as some kind of sociological experiment. No shame, no blame, just noticing what didn’t work, what did – and adjusting from there. I never made any progress through beating myself up and asking “why do I?” I learned from asking “how do I?”

    I can honestly say that after years of changing my spending habits, I no longer feel those “bad day / bad life = must spend to make myself feel better”. I can’t remember the last time I did that – 10 years ago maybe? But I definitely have been there, done that. It stops somehow, I’m not sure exactly how or when, but it just does. I used to meditate for awhile every day and that was a big help. Actually working to make life better was an even bigger help. And 95% of the time, that doesn’t require money, it requires something else.

    For a practical tip – re. the restaurants or coffee, what I often tell myself is “I can make that better / this food is crap.” Because, well, it just is and I can. You’re a cook too right? Use your powers for good, not evil. 🙂

  2. Sheryl,
    I agree with Jacq – meditation helps! I’m also reading a book called Awakening the Buddha Within. Before reading the book I was never into meditation/spirituality. However this book has moved me. It provides an introduction to Buddhism and gives excellent info on how to take control of your life, and not be attached to things/money.

    Good luck to you!

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