Get Rich with…The Process


I’m going to let you into a secret.  Most people don’t want to be rich.

Oh, I know they say they do.  But people are complicated and they say lots of different things.

Generally, if you want to know what people really want, look at what they do rather than what they say.

What most people mean is that they want to spend like they’re rich (or, more accurately, like a rich person on their way to becoming poor).

People may want the outcome of being rich but most don’t know what the process is to get there.  Or if they do, they aren’t willing to go through that process. This used to confuse me. When I wanted to be rich, I really wanted to be rich. As in…wanted it enough to get a job and start saving.

When I first set out, saving was only vaguely related in my mind to becoming financially independent. Back then I had more immediate goals in mind. Things like not being broke and homeless. After I had an emergency fund and the mortgage paid off, I worried less about being homeless. But I carried on saving anyway and the summit of the mountain of financial independence started to come into view. I realised that it was possible.

I’m not gonna lie, there were struggles along the way. I lost count of the number of arguments discussions with my wife about why we were saving so much when no one else was.  I lost count of the late nights in the office and the cars I didn’t buy.

So yes there were struggles, but it never felt like deprivation.  I just never saw it that way. I enjoyed the process of wealth building.

I enjoyed (parts of) my job.  Not always, but enough to keep going. I enjoyed the promotions (a little) and pay rises (a lot). I enjoyed learning about investing.  I enjoyed seeing my salary hit my bank account. I enjoyed the process of going into the bank, over-paying my mortgage and getting a slip of paper with the new (lower) monthly payments. I enjoyed seeing my dividends roll in. And I enjoyed updating my net worth spreadsheet once a month. 

What if you don’t enjoy that stuff now?

I’m glad you asked.  You can learn to enjoy those things. Over time, the things we work for (and eventually get good at) are the things we come to love.

To make this easier, I used conditional rewards.   Conditional rewards are deals that you do with yourself. Things like: if I can survive this week at work, I’ll get drunk on Friday evening. Or if I can do my tax return this weekend, I’ll get some chocolate. I used these “carrots” to motivate myself…as if I was the donkey and the jockey. So, along the way, I spent more on things like booze and holidays than I need now.

I used these rewards for long enough to embed good habits. Once you have those habits in place, wealth accumulation happens on auto-pilot. At that point, you no longer need willpower. Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for willpower. It’s just that there are limits to how far willpower can take you.

With a base level of fitness, you can run a marathon on nothing but willpower…its just a few hours. But with financial independence, we’re talking about 19 years at a 50% savings rate or 7 or 8 years at a 75% savings rate.  Grit and determination work for hours and days. For years and decades? Not so much.

The way to make this much easier is to enjoy the process.

Imagine 2 different ways of motivating yourself:

  1. focusing on the outcome
  2. focusing on the process

Focusing on the outcome is the conventional approach.   You often hear people talk about goals. Goals are like diets, budgets, weather forecasts and New Year’s Resolutions. In theory they’re a good idea. Its just that in the real world, the failure rate of goals is shocking.

I’m here to tell you that detailed goal setting is vastly over-rated and mostly a waste of time.

It’s great to have a vision.  So by all means begin with the end in mind (#2 of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People).

But you don’t need detailed and specific goals. Your “plan” doesn’t need to be some “death by powerpoint” business plan nor some Stalinist 5 year plan to double tractor production in The Ukraine.

Scott Adams writes about goals versus systems in How to Fail at Everything and Still Win Big.  He illustrates this with how he and his friend approached girls at high school. 

Scott had a goal-based approach which involved developing a crush from afar on one specific girl, putting her on a pedestal as teenage boys often do. His friend had a system-based approach which involved action; regularly talking to different girls and seeing what happened.  Do I need to say that his friends approach was much more successful? Yes, I probably do.

Or imagine the example of a new blogger. If you focus on a goal of having a massive readership, you may never even start. The risk of failure will seem too high. If you do start, you’ll be tempted to avoid controversial subjects to avoid offending anyone. Result: something bland and boring.

Better to focus on the process of writing and enjoy creating content. If you write because you enjoy the process, you are WAY more likely to keep going if you hit a difficult patch. Or if your blog stats go down one month…which they will (January 2018 was my best yet but its never a straight line upwards).

With blogging you don’t need goals.  I have values that I support: environmental awareness, freedom, social mobility…that sort of thing.  But I don’t have any specific goals for my blogging.  When I started, I had an idea it would be nice to get a million page views. But I never took that goal too seriously. And when I reached a million page views (according to WordPress) and then 2 million, I didn’t stop. I focused on enjoying the process of writing.

A goal based approach involves focusing on far away outcomes.  It often leads to endless analysis, prediction, procrastination and other things that don’t involve doing something useful RIGHT NOW.

If your goal based approach hasn’t lead to you taking action then its useless.  So whilst a goal of saving more is a good thing, its only a start.  You must take action that drives you closer to where you want to get to.

Investing is a game where you can’t control the outcome.  You can only control the process. It’s fine to have a net worth goal.  But things outside of your control (e.g. market falls) can reduce your net worth.

As Mark Manson explains in The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck, a lot of the fear of failure comes from paying too much attention to (the wrong) goals.  For example, if your goal is to make everyone like you, that’s setting yourself up for failure. You’ll be anxious because success is out of your control.

Better to focus on your own actions, your values and your process.  For example: be responsible, be decisive, be more honest. These are all process orientated values and they are all within your direct control.

It won’t always be easy to live your values.  But struggle is an essential part of the process. Here’s Mark:

Who you are is defined by what you’re willing to struggle for.

People who enjoy the struggles of a gym are the ones that have chiseled abs and can bench-press a small house. People who enjoy long workweeks and the politics of the corporate ladder are the ones who fly to the top of it. People who enjoy the stresses and uncertainties of the starving artist lifestyle are ultimately the ones who live and make it.

This is not about willpower or grit.  This is not another admonishment of “no pain, no gain”. This is the most simple and basic component of life: our struggles determine our successes.

After a certain point, outcomes such as increasing your net worth may not be the point. To illustrate what I mean, ask yourself: Does Warren Buffett get a big boost to his happiness when a general market rise pushes his net worth from $53bn to 54bn? I doubt it.

I do know however that Warren Buffett continues to enjoy the process of wealth building.  I’m pretty sure he enjoys the process of finding, structuring and completing deals. Not only does Buffett get up and go to work, he’s written about how he feels like he’s “tapdancing to work every day”.

Remember life is about the journey not the destination. That must be true as we all end up dead.

Enjoy the ride!

p.s. As another example of process > goals, I prioritise the process of getting new blogposts out over the goal of making them 100% perfect. So I publish articles first, then tidy them up later. 

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  1. ladyaurora · · Reply

    Our struggles determine our successes….i like that.

  2. Great post man, some excellent points here. I too update my NW spreadsheet every month, been doing it for over 20 years. With all the struggles and up and downs it still makes me tapdance.

  3. BeatTheSystem · · Reply

    ‘Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans’ – John Lennon

  4. ladyaurora · · Reply

    “Happiness is a way to travel not a place to arrive.”
    As mentioned above some great points in this article.

  5. warren buffet quotes:

    On taxes. “Teach your kids about taxes : eat 30% of their ice cream”

    On earnings. “Never depend on a single income. Make investments to create other income streams”

    On spending. “If you buy things you do not need, soon you will have to sell things you do need ”

    On saving. “Do not save what is left after spending, spend what is left after saving”

    On taking risks. “Never test the dept of the river with both feet”

    On investing. “Never put all your eggs in one basket”

    On expectations. “Honesty is a very expensive gift. Do not expect it from cheap people ”

    On time. “Some things just take time. You cannot make a baby in one month by making nine women pregnant at the same time”

  6. Having just started on the path to FI, I am very much looking forward to finishing my PhD and accelerating the savings rate way up!

  7. Thank you for your insightful thoughts here. Point well taken here: too much time spent on the end goal, the quality of the process suffers therefore the end is rarely reached.

  8. Yes, I fundamentally agree it’s all about enjoying the journey to FI. Taking the time via trial and error to work out what works for you and makes you happy, working towards the eventual nirvana.

  9. A really timely post! I am currently reading “Show Your Work” by Austin Kleon. Chapter 2 is called “Think process, not product”.

    He makes a fascinating observation about the shift from the end product to the process in a more digital world. “People really want to see how the sausages get made”. Abit like going to a Skepta grime concert and having access to the backstage journey.

    Process is messy and in most cases, more important than the outcome. It is the focus on process that really allows us to tell stories, which I am a great believer in.

    As you mentioned new bloggers in this post, I am fresh out of the box.

    Reading Kleon’s book got me really thinking about how else I can tell the story behind the creation of my blog posts. I usually start each one with asking myself “What is the transformation I seek? What is the purpose?”. Once i have that written down, I do a mind-map to get the ideas out of my head and that forms the outline of the post. I work backwards like that until I start writing. And then at some point, Mary (my wife) gets involved to create a beautiful image for the post.

    All these steps tell our creation story and the process for getting to a beautifully finished piece of work we hope people will enjoy.

    Thinking about it, although I am at that new blogger stage and looking at stats, shares etc, the focus on discipline, quality, communication, honesty, vulnerability etc are the things that really drive me.

    I am now thinking of new ways to share our process, and I’d recommend you do too 😉

  10. That’s a really good read. Thanks so much for this article, I learnt how to view life in a systemic approach and love the process instead of just setting goals.

  11. Great article and I wholeheartedly agree on enjoying the process. I subconsciously plowed my way towards FI for many years. I was living a great life (with lots of stories) and making investments with a modest saving rate along the way.

    However, since I’ve FAST TRACKED the journey, it’s been super tough and I’ve reached some low points. It depends how much you really want financial independence. It can come at a cost.

    I was never focused on an end date of the journey during my early days (hence I was enjoying the process). But since incorporating this date, the journey has become less tolerable.
    Perhaps I could have ratcheted up the savings rate in the early days? Cut down my lifestyle. But, then my life may not have been as good as it was. I was living in the now.

    “Grit and determination work for hours, days and weeks. For years and decades? Not so much.”

    Yes, grit is important for getting through tough obstacles over a short period of time. That short period of time can vary, dependent on your circumstances and situation. For the long-term, not so much…

    1. ladyaurora · · Reply

      Thanks for sharing your story
      Fi or early retirement is not easy and comes at a cost. Most people just cannot do it. Getting the balance right of enjoying the now and saving hard is a difficult choice .but both must be done. It all depends what YOU REALLY want out of your life. I would say looking back i have acheived that balance. I havnt denied my self much but then my needs are modest. (thats if 3 holidays i greece in one year is modest )but as im nearly there with my stash.
      And i always spend my spending allocation extremly wisely. Holidays x 3 total cost with spends £1500 . Not being a drinker of alcohol helps.

      1. I’m glad you achieved your balance and the finish line is within reach. You’re spot on, it all boils down to the individual and their set of circumstances.

        My needs were a little excessive back in the day, so I’m feeling the brunt now.

        With regards to the fast-tracking part and “that short period of time can vary, dependent on your circumstances and situation”. I’m single, so I can afford to stretch that period a little longer. Otherwise, it would put too much strain on a relationship. I’m also on an expense package for one of my overseas projects at the moment. Hence I can eat and live very well. Again, it makes this period a little more tolerable.

        But overall, there comes a point where enough is enough and that time is not long around the corner.

  12. Being successful at anything takes sacrifice. It is ok to struggle along the way. It makes the process more interesting. If it were easy, everyone would be financially independent. There is a reason why 10% of the population has 90% of the wealth.

  13. BucketBabe · · Reply

    The “process” is life. If you don’t enjoy and find value in it, then what have you got but a pile of money at the end? It’s a shitty trade. I choose value and time over money every single day. It’s ideal when we can have all three though 🙂 We’ve but a very short time to “enjoy” life before we turn to dust so you better get busy livin’ or you’re just busy dyin’ (a bastardization of a quote from Shawshank Redemption). I’ve been a fan of your blog for a long time, thanks for always entertaining content.

  14. sounds like you did it a lot like us, with a bit of a rock’n’roll lifestyle. booze is a good reward for some.

  15. This is very true! Most people like to be rich but are not willing to read books/articles, watch shows, listen to podcasts or attend seminars on personal finance.

  16. Enjoying the ride is the key to happiness and success. Like you said, whether it’s wealth-building or getting in shape, the goal is important ,but if you don’t enjoy the ride you will either fail or find that the goal itself isn’t that special once you reach it.

  17. […] Escape Artist wrote about enjoying the ride towards FI and not setting specific goals. It is argued that you shouldn’t focus on the outcome, but […]

  18. robert @ · · Reply

    I love the psychology you use here and the callout to Scott Adams. I also think you applied the correct balance to beginning with a goal but avoiding leaving your focus there. It’s too fragile and too much of your life is spent living the journey.

    If you don’t love the journey you should reevaluate your goals.

  19. […] A great blogger explains it perfectly:  Get Rich with… The Process […]

  20. […] (great article and one of the most important keys in my opinion if you want to be successful in the long run) […]

  21. […] Is grit enough to achieve a goal as big as financial independence? We ponder goals versus systems with The Escape Artist. […]

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