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Better


Getting better at something is about setting goals, about tracking progress, but also looking at the present. Am I doing my best at this right now?What do you want to do better?

Why?

What’s stopping you?

Most of us want to get better at something, probably many things. Just look at all the financial goals we have.

So today, I’m going to give you four things you can do—actionable steps—to make a 0.5% improvement in your life. That’s not a lot, I know. But what would happen if you did that every day?

Exactly.

My philosophy is this:

  • The process of getting better is just as important as the end result.
  • When given the choice, I’d much rather do something better than do it faster or longer.
  • Even the smallest improvements can lead to dramatic results over time. What can you do TODAY?

[Want to share what you want to get better at? Please do. I'd love to read it.]

Otherwise, I’ll dive in…

A STORY

In high school, I ran cross country. I was never very fast (okay, I was damned slow), but I was on the team because it was fun and it kept me active and I certainly wasn’t athletic enough to play football. It was then, trotting through autumnal forests and across frost-bitten golf courses, that I learned what it meant to get better at something. At my very first meet, I ran 3.1 miles in a downright dismal 28 minutes…over a nine minute mile. A couple races later, I finished in 27 minutes, then 25, and within a few months, I was running seven minute miles. That was still a far cry from winning the race, but that wasn’t the point. I, personally, was getting better.

I knew I was getting better because I was tracking my results. And I wanted to get better not only for myself, but because my teammates and my coach expected me to.

Unfortunately, however, there aren’t many similarities between improving my cross country race times and getting better in the “real world”.

For one, not every aspect of our lives we want to improve is as quantifiable as race times. And, once we’re out of school, we have fewer sources of extrinsic motivation (aside from, perhaps, our bosses). There are no report cards going home to mom and dad. There is no coach hounding us to put in our all. When we want to get better at saving money, managing our time, or watching our diets, it’s usually up to us to provide our own motivation and do our own tracking. And that’s not easy. Willpower breaks down.

This is where focusing on the process of becoming better comes into play.

Living a Better Life In Four Simple Steps

FIRST, JUST DO SOMETHING

When I decided I HAD to get out of debt, there are two decisions I made within a few weeks of each other that launched me on the road out of debt. I started this blog and I got a second job working nights and weekends at Starbucks.

I spent years wishing I were out of debt. Reading about getting out of debt. Thinking about getting out of debt. But doing NOTHING. And then, finally, I did something. Actually, two things: I got a job, and I started writing about my experiences.

I took action. And when I did, I immediately was doing better at getting out of debt.

STOP! What’s ONE THING you can do today that will make your life better? Write down your answer (on paper) or on my free “Better” Worksheet—download and print it here.

THEN, DO A LITTLE BIT EACH DAY

I did not get out of $80,000 of debt overnight.

Big goals take big efforts and big time commitments, and sometimes we just can’t deal. That’s why taking small steps and getting to the small wins is so helpful. Break that big goal down.

Whether you agree with his methods or not, Dave Ramsey has helped millions of people get out of debt using seven baby steps. Alcoholics Anonymous is famous for helping people overcome addition in twelve steps. Why steps? Because both debt and addiction are big, intimidating obstacles to overcome, and people’s experiences have taught them that overcoming both debt and addiction gets easier when you take it one step at a time.

Whatever it is you want to get better at, it will help to think of getting better in the smallest possible terms.

STOP! What goal is currently most important to you? How can you break that down into something small? Write down your answer (on paper) or on my free “Better” Worksheet—download and print it here.

NEXT, MAKE SURE IT’S YOUR BEST

How often do you give your absolute best to something you do? I can honestly say, regrettably, not as often as I should.

And that’s too bad, because think about the last time you gave your absolute best to something: It was really satisfying, wasn’t’ it?

The point here is simple, if you want to do better, give it your best. Yes, I know this seems painfully obvious, but the point is we DON’T DO IT. We’re lazy. Nine times out of ten, we’ll choose mediocrity over excellence.

STOP! What’s one aspect of your life in which you’re NOT currently giving your best. Why not? What can you do to start changing that? Write down your answer (on paper) or on my free “Better” Worksheet—download and print it here.

FINALLY, REFLECT

Sometimes I think I spent too much time thinking and not enough time doing. That may be true. Although, as it turns out, some thinking may not be such a bad thing.

In this article, psychologist Allen McConnell suggests that self-reflection is an important part of self-improvement. He writes:

In life, people have many goals (e.g., exercise more, be a better spouse, save more money). However, goals often go unrealized because people lack self-awareness. That is, without monitoring one’s current behavior (e.g., tracking how often one gets to the gym), the salience of the discrepancy between one’s goal (e.g., hit the gym three times per week) and one’s actual behavior (e.g., only going to the gym once this week) is low.

This goes back to tracking and those race results. It’s difficult to improve something you don’t measure. That said, some things are more measurable than others. So when you can’t—or simply aren’t—tracking something, at least take time to develop self-awareness of how well you’re doing.

STOP! What’s one behavior that you’d like to change but haven’t yet be able to? Why do you think that is? What can you do differently? Write down your answers (on paper) or on my free “Better” Worksheet—download and print it here.

In Conclusion

If you want to live a better life, well, start doing something better as soon as you can!

That’s because “better” is a process, not a destination. In my opinion, doing better comes down to action, small steps, always being your best, and taking some time to reflect on what it all means. Maybe you’ll find something else that’s in the secret sauce. (If you do, please let me know!!)

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P.S. CAN I GET YOUR HELP?

I am committed to getting better at blogging because I want to do better at helping you.

I’m proud of growing this site from nothing to 800+ articles, over 100,000 readers a month, and an income stream I could live off of. But I want to do better. I want to do better at writing articles that deliver value you can’t get 50 other places on the Web. I want to do better at telling my own story in a way that inspires you. I want to do better connecting with you and other readers and helping you get where you want to go financially.

That’s why, in December, I made some big decisions. I invested a good chunk of money in myself and my blog. And I decided to change up the way I’ve been doing some things for years. For example, I made the decision to get a lot more personal on the blog. I made the decision to publish fewer posts, but hopefully better ones. I also made the decision to press on with Money Under 30 even though I am now actually 30.

I made the decision to up my game. In doing so, I want to focus on what I’m best at and stop spending time on other things…and I could use your help.

Here is a THREE question survey (it’ll take maybe two minutes) that will help me define where I’m going to take my blogging. How I am going to do better. I would be forever grateful if you would fill it out. I will share the results—and what I hope to do with them—in an upcoming email to my subscribers. If you take time to respond, thank you!

About David Weliver

David Weliver is the founding editor of Money Under 30. He's a cited authority on personal finance and the unique money issues we face during our first two decades as adults. He lives in Maine with his wife and two children.

Comments

  1. Not spending money I don’t have. Ha!

  2. “FIRST, JUST DO SOMETHING”

    So true. It’s so easy to side on the sidelines and watch everyone and everything pass you by. It’s easy to read about improving your finances, your life, your weight, etc. The hardest part is just doing something!

    I heard this quote one time, and it has stuck with me ever since:

    “The hardest part about working out is just getting your shoes on.”

    It is just SO true! Once you take the smallest step to just get started (or just put your shoes on), you’ve already completed half (or more) of the battle.

    • David Weliver says:

      Glad you liked it, Amber…I love the quote, it’s so true…if I can just get to the gym or get outside with my shoes on, I don’t complain about working out/running, but that first part is really hard!

      I want to thank everybody who read this and responded to my quick survey…there’s over 80 replies in 24 hours, that’s awesome! I thought we’d get more comments but I think my call for them kinda got lost in a big post…if you want, share what you want to get better at here, and why!

      Aside from what I mentioned in the post, the other #1 thing I want to get better at right now is time management and prioritizing. Doing the things that are important and avoiding things that aren’t.

  3. Hi David!
    I just wanted to let you know that I absolutely loved reading this post, and basically all of your others. You always have great content and super practical advice.

    I completely agree with you that baby steps are so important. I recently just paid off all my credit card debt. I milestone that I was very excited for and celebrated and now I am back and focusing on my student loan debt.The small acheivements put everything in perspective.