Scrabble pieces spelling "failure"

Understanding Why We Fail Financially

A couple of months back I reiterated my goal for the year of publishing an article per week here at Abovare. Today, the merciless calendar shows us that the date is June 3rd, while the most recent article here shows May 8th as its publication date. Where did the month of May go, and why did I fail so spectacularly so shortly after restating my commitment to this goal, and how does this tie in with failure when it comes to building wealth?

The Secret Ingredient of Success

Every single failure is, of course, unique, and has its own set of circumstances and explanations behind why it came crashing down. However, I a firm believer that in the vast majority of cases where we fail to reach the goals we set for ourselves, the number one reason is the lack of one key ingredient behind almost every significant success: Persistence.

The importance of persistence is perfectly illustrated by this old quote, by former American President Calvin Coolidge, recently featured in the movie The Founder, which details the early days of the McDonald’s fast food empire:

Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.

As a society, we so often misattribute success to “Eureka!” moments and motivation. But if you listen to anyone who has succeeded at something talk about how they got there, you will rarely hear them talk about how it was that one great idea that pulled them over the line. Nor will they be telling you how supremely motivated they were throughout the endeavour, to the extent that working on their thing felt like playtime. No, good ideas are a dime a dozen, and motivation is what will get you started. But what keeps the tough going when the going gets tough is persistence, and that is a matter of fact whether we are discussing writing with a particular frequency, or building wealth.

At this point, it is easy to step back, throw your hands in the air and say: “That’s it! Persistence is a character trait which eludes me, so I can’t build wealth or achieve anything else of note.” But before you throw in the towel, let me fill in some additional tidbits of information regarding my month of May, and my failures. Remember how I also aimed to do a fair bit of running this year? I am crushing that goal, currently on track to do double the mileage I targeted for 2017. And more importantly, despite spending hardly any time thinking about money, I am still on track to meet my financial goals for the year.

If persistence, which is, at least to some degree, a character trait, is the most important ingredient for realising your ambitions, how can it be that one person can reach some of his goals, and fail miserably at other targets? Can people be persistent in some matters, while susceptible to quitting at the first hint of friction in others? Probably, but the key is how we spend those precious days or weeks at the beginning, where motivation is plentiful. While planning on everything we aim to achieve, we also set ourselves up for either success or failure. And if persistence is key, we need to emulate it somehow.

How To Fake Persistence

As illustrated by my failings featured in the opening anecdote, I am not a particularly persistent person, if we measure character features. That fact hasn’t stopped me from completing quite a few feats throughout the years that, from the outside, seem like they could only be pulled off through perseverance and grit. The secret? Habits, and systems devised to form them.

Tiger facepalms
Even the coolest cat experiences the odd facepalm-moment on account of their failures. Photo by Tambako.

Motivation, as mentioned earlier in the post, will only get you so far. Once that initial burst of excitement fades, it is persistence which will pull you through, but you can fake persistence by making it as easy as possible to complete whatever it is you aim to achieve. If we once again consider my own, featured mistake, it is easy to see where I went wrong: Eager to read new and inspiring content from other sources, and write and publish new content myself, I made no clear, set schedule for when I should be writing the content. Given the fact that I am a person of no particular endurance as it pertains to completing lofty goals, my productivity decreased as soon as my burst of motivation waned. A month later, here we are, and I have to pull myself up by bootstraps in a what feels like a grand fashion to write another article and get back on track.

Contrast this to the area where I did succeed, running, and what I did differently: In addition to setting concrete goals for what I wanted to achieve with my running, I also created specific plans for how to do it. My training plan detailed when I should be running, for how long, at and which intensity. I alleviated myself of the burden of having to consciously contemplate when, how and what I should by doing to reach my goals, and as a result significantly increased my chances of reaching the goal. Before long, the runs in my plan became a habit, something I looked forward to doing. And then the real magic happened because the progression from following my original plan motivated me to push further and harder, and I was able to build on the established habits to throw in additional sessions to reach my goals sooner.

Create Your Financial Plan Now!

Given that you are reading this right now, it is reasonable to assume that you are motivated, to some degree, to make changes in your financial life. You have likely already thought about what you want to achieve, and perhaps some of the steps you can take to get there. But don’t stop there! I’m not saying that everyone is as devoid of persistence as I am, but why take the chance when it concerns something as important as your finances, your future, and your freedom?

If you haven’t already done it, sit down and get to work on creating a concrete and actionable plan for how you are going to achieve your financial goals. Detail what you are going to do, when you need to do it, to make sure that you save yourself from having to figure that out each time.

How much money do you have available to spend on buying fidget spinners? These are points you need to cover in your plan, and if you are out of funds in the relevant category, then no spinner until you refill that lot. How much money should you be saving each month? So many people make the mistake of thinking that they will just save whatever’s left at the end of the month, meaning that every purchase decision they make has to be weighed up against saving. It requires ridiculous mental strength and restraint to be sensible every single time you’re forced with a decision between “fun and awesome” and “boring and safe.” That’s why you need to make a plan and decide right now that you should be saving $x every single month. Make a non-negotiable commitment to yourself, so that you don’t have to rely on your sound judgement.

If you are unsure where you should start when making your plan, I covered the basics of how I set myself up for financial progress in this post titled How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Saving Money, and it is a good place to start. After you’ve finished that, leave a comment if you have any questions or need assistance. I will welcome the distraction from sitting down and figuring out my plan for how I will be reaching my goals for Abovare from here on and out.

Title photo by airpix.

2 thoughts to “Understanding Why We Fail Financially”

  1. I agree that persistence is essential for long term success in just about everything we venture out to do in life. Many people who fail because they did not persist ascribe their failures to bad luck.

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