Writing On The Wall

It’s Monday and I’m writing again! Funny how that works. The minute I’m back in my weekday routine, I’m straight back to my writing. Over the weekend? Not so much.

I know this is because my morning routine is not as strong (and occasionally non-existent) on the weekends. This is due in large part to the fact that I’ve been away a lot lately – this was one of my first weekends at home in over a month! But also, I think it’s because I want my weekends to feel less regimented. Weird things happen on weekends (read: getting up early for Hamilton tickets, etc) and I want to be able to adapt to them!

So I have decided that rather than fight it, or make myself feel badly, I’m just going to read the writing on the wall…or lack thereof, as the case may be. As I said in this podcast episode, our behaviour has so much to tell us about what we want and what we need, even if we’re not consciously aware of those desires. And my behaviour lately has said: no writing on weekends!

This behaviour has been consistent enough that I wouldn’t say it’s resistance. For me, resistance tends to have a whiny, emotional component. This change has just been a simple shrug: “nope!” Because it’s not so emotionally loaded, I don’t feel like I need to push myself on this. Writing 4-5 days a week is more than enough for me. It’s all an experiment, and I’m learning so much as I go!

Discipline Brings Freedom

I’m a couple weeks into using You Need a Budget regularly, and can safely say that it has changed my life. I have a completely new paradigm about money, and feel way more in control of my financial life. I also have this beautiful, newfound sense of freedom about my money in a way I never have before.

Historically, I’ve been a very reluctant spender, at best. I can easily talk myself out of purchasing almost anything, even if it’s something I actually need! It’s difficult for me to buy new socks, for heaven’s sake! Being an underbuyer is something that’s generally good for my bank account, but less good for my wellbeing. It’s no fun to feel guilty every single time I spend a dollar.

The system hasn’t changed my tendency entirely, but it has helped. The way YNAB works is that you “give every dollar a job” – you decide how much you want to spend on the various categories of your life, and then allocate funds to budget for each of those areas. You record & categorize your transactions, and so you can get a quick birds-eye glance at how you’re doing for spending in that category.

This means that if I’m feeling guilty about spending money or unsure if I should, I can “get permission” from my budget. If I want to go out, I can check how much I have left in my “Food & Drinks Out” category, and spend what’s left without fear. And if I overspend, I can always “move money” from another, less important category to cover it. I know all of this seems simple, but it’s been revolutionary for me, speaking as someone who always hated budgeting.

This reminds me a lot of Gretchen Rubin’s paradox: “Discipline brings freedom.” I used to think that having an “anti-budget” (covering for bills & savings, and then spending the rest however I wanted) was giving me the most financial freedom. But I spent my time feeling stressed and tentative. Now, I have an elaborate system that requires a habit of checking in, and I feel free. Go figure!

It’s All Relative

I just finished reading my 86th book of the year. Trust me: it even sounds crazy when I say it, and I’m the one who did it! This is a new record for me, and it’s only October 23rd today, leaving me with another couple months to finish up my goal of 100 for the year.

I’ve been reflecting on this goal a lot lately. It’s the kind of thing that sounds really impressive to others, but doesn’t really feel like much when I’m doing it. Reading is my favourite thing to do, so I’d be doing it voraciously whether I’d set a goal to or not. I enjoy reading. It’s super fun to me. It feels like a treat to settle in with a good book and get lost in a story. It’s not like I’m force-feeding myself books! So why set a goal?

Well, it’s very telling that the year I set the highest reading goal for myself is the year I’ve read the most books. This sounds very obvious, but it’s an important reminder for me that it’s all relative. If I set my sights higher, my results will naturally be higher. When my benchmark for success changes, I subconsciously recalibrate my behaviour and beliefs to match.

We’ve all heard that quote: “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.” A little cheesy maybe, but I think it’s telling us something important on a practical level. It’s useful to set your sights as high as possible. Even if you come woefully short, you’ll still probably have made more progress than you would have if your goals had been smaller.

In general I’m a fan of the baby steps approach, but I’ve also experienced how setting gigantic goals shifts your internal compass. It catapults you through a bunch of the limiting beliefs & resistance because you don’t have as much time to get stuck in it. It’s like doing a work sprint: when you raise the stakes and compress the time, suddenly you’re more decisive and efficient. 

We’re still several weeks away from New Year’s Resolutions time, but I’ll be keeping this in mind when I plan out 2020. As of now, the idea of reading more than 100 books seems out of reach, but maybe that’s the point.

Identities Change

As I mentioned, last weekend I read James Clear’s Atomic Habits. In it, he expands on his concept of “identity-based habits”, which I love and have talked about on the podcast here. The idea is that the easiest & most effective way to form a good habit or ditch a bad one is to form a new identity around that habit. Each time you perform the habit, you are casting a vote for the person you want to be

I love this message and have seen shifts in my own life since understanding this particular path to change. And I think it’s important to not gloss over the central point he’s making, that so many others have made before him: identities can change. WE can change. Our personalities, our beliefs, and our skills are all mutable. They are not permanent aspects of who we are as human beings. 

Sometimes we may understand the concept of a “growth mindset” intellectually. We might think “yeah, yeah, I believe I can grow and change.” We might know cognitively that people who have a growth mindset tend to have better outcomes than those with a fixed mindset. All of this may be true, and yet most of us are still holding tightly to ideas about ourselves that actually could change, if we were willing to confront them.

We have a tendency to think of most aspects of ourselves as fixed. Some examples:

  • I’m bad at math
  • I’m a terrible singer
  • I hate exercise
  • I’m shy around new people

And while all of these things might even be objectively true in this particular moment, and while you might be able to find me MOUNTAINS of evidence for why you’re absolutely right about each and every one of those beliefs/”facts” about yourself, I think you’re missing the point completely. That might be your identity now, but identities change. 

I know this because I have seen it in my own life many a time. I never used to be “someone who” flossed, meditated, went for near-daily walks, wrote frequent blog posts, had a podcast, had consulting clients, worked from Inbox Zero. But now I am! All those identities and more have changed for me, which is helpful proof when I feel stuck in an old pattern that seems permanent. Nothing is permanent & identities can change. You change them by casting new votes with your habits every single day.