One step at a time

Financial independence

We know that the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago and that the second best time is now.

So why not plant the tree today that will provide you with shade and shelter in 20 years time?

But people sometimes fret about exactly how the tree will turn out.

Which week will it flower in spring? What colour will the blossom be? What if the squirrels eat the fruit or the tree gets struck by lightning?

One of the themes that I often come back to in financial coaching is the idea of crossing your bridges as you come to them.

When you start feeling overwhelmed, it’s best to let go of perfection and stop focussing on the future. The important thing is just to keep moving along The Path. What is the thing that you can do right now?

Life is like driving on a country road at night. Imagine that you’re going on holiday, driving to the place that you’ve rented. It’s dark, it’s raining and you don’t know these roads. Your headlights can’t see round corners. You have to take each bend in the road as it comes or you’ll end up in the ditch.

Keep your eyes on the road. You only need to look at the map every so often to get your bearings. As long as you know where you want to get to, you will end up in the right place.

You will feel a bit lost from time to time, that’s normal. The trap to avoid here is catastrophizing where your mind races ahead and invents a disastrous future where you have to sleep in the woods and end up getting eaten by a bear. As someone smart once said: I have lived through many terrible things in my life…most of which never actually happened.

Just keep moving forward, cross off items from your to-do list and try to enjoy the journey. This has been my Standard Operating Procedure for most of my life. I do have goals but I focus more on day to day actions.

The tougher the times you’re going through, the more you need to just take things one day at a time.

When I was at my lowest points, I used The Daily Alien Mental Model. Imagine you are an alien and that every morning you wake up in the body of a new person. It’s confusing but your job is just to get through the day without ruining the life of that person whose body you are temporarily inhabiting.

Keep in mind that tomorrow you will wake up in a new person’s life (it’s amazing how different things seem after a good nights sleep). Ideally you leave your host’s life a little better than you found it. But on the toughest days, you just have to get through the day without fucking everything up for them.

It’s easy to read this and see it makes sense now. The hard bit is embedding it into your operating system as a mental model that you can access in the moment during tougher times. For this you need to train your mind.

Contrary to popular opinion, training your mind is a thing. It just takes some work. Here’s an idea from the book Secrets of The Millionaire Mind:

What if you had a hand that was just like your mind? What if it was all over the place, it was always beating you up and it never let up. What would you do with it? Cut it off?

Your hand is a powerful tool so why would you do that? The real answer of course is you’d want to control it, manage it and train it to work for you instead of against you.

The four steps to doing that are i) awareness ii) understanding iii) disassociation and iv) re-conditioning. I will return to these in a future post.

Life is rarely a straight line forward. Often it’s two steps forward, one step backwards. The idea is to enjoy the journey so if you get an urge to explore something off The Path, you can take a detour for a while.

One important thing that most people overlook: there are very few personal finance and investing mistakes that can’t be undone. What if you choose the “wrong” fund or platform? Well, you can always transfer out later. So why would you worry about the perfect solution? Good enough is good enough.

Start with baby steps. Do the thing that needs doing. Complete the task that unlocks the bottleneck and allows you to move on to the next stage. Fill out the form, make the call, write the email.

As someone smart once said: the best way to take care of the future is by taking care of the present moment.


I’ve been invited by a London Financial Independence meet up group to do a live “Ask Me Anything” Q&A session online via Zoom on 5 May.

You can find details of the event here.


5 comments

  1. ladyaurora · · Reply

    I have a way of living. Each day I like to do something that moves my life in a positive direction. Even if its only small like going for a short power walk. Or clearing out a drawer. I suppose its like planting seeds for a better future. Im counting my blessings more too. Even negative things I try and look for a positive. It takes work , it’s easy and lazy to be negative . It’s a daily battle you have to fight ,or you loose..I naturally have always worried about money and security and keeping a roof over myhead. Which has made me work hard and save. Pay off my mortgage etc. No debt. During this covid crisis one problem I haven’t had is money worries.

  2. Good stuff. I’ve taken this approach to most things now. I’ve found that if you take the small steps and make progress each day, week, month etc you really start getting somewhere. Things get done. Its great if you can push for a period of time, but many times it isnt that sustainable and really wears on you. I break down larger tasks and goals into smaller steps and find I really make progress as opposed to trying to cram it all in, in a short period of time.

  3. Bill Clinton · · Reply

    I use the to-do-list system to keep me sane. I do not have to spend brainpower to remember anything anymore, they are immediately put on a paper where “to do stuff” is sequentially listed. I have several of them, one in my kitchen for stuff I will need to purchase to refill the hardware/food stock, idem in the bathroom, and in my home “office” too. Then I know what my near term priorities are. I don’t ever put a date behind each line, I simply have to do them when I feel in the mood. Eventually, when doing something every day or week, the lists dramtically shrinks from scrapped items that were processed in due course. And after a month, it is really shocking to see how much got done without even realizing it. Having a routine also helps. When you are less mentally able to focus (everyone has such a fixed window period in his / her day), I usually process emails or less brainpower demanding tasks, another thing done without realising it. And having a monthly routine for financial stuff and computer stuff keeps things level headed too: status updates and backups are done once at each end of the month, whatever happens. That way, I do not need to plan ahead, it is automated behavior. And so on. The same approach can be used for human interactions, but that is a more touchy subject , so I will refrain from putting anything here.

  4. So true. Great post.
    Loved the example of the hand.

  5. Awesome Article. Sound advice.

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