Imagine you’re in the final stretch of a grueling race, vying for first with a small pack of determined opponents. As adrenaline and your desire to win pushes you forward, one by one, you pass your competitors. Finally, with the finish line in sight, you’re in the lead. Of course, you won’t relax and give others a chance to catch up; you will push through to the finish with every last drop of energy in your tank. The reason? Inertia. For every inch you gain, your mind propels your body two inches further. You’re in motion, and you want to stay in motion. You have momentum.
I’m no psychologist, but I have realized that personal inertia can be a powerful force in life. The human mind needn’t obey laws of physics, yet in many ways, it does. Our propensity to stay in motion can help us win races, earn promotions and yes, reach our financial goals. Unfortunately, inertia can also keep us at rest; the same principle that helps us achieve positive goals can make it increasingly difficult to escape bad habits.
Inertia In My Financial Past
I was financially reckless for most of my early twenties. I spent too much and earned too little. Worse, I didn’t realize at the time just how big a hole I was digging for myself, nor how difficult it would be to escape. One of the reasons I lived that way for so long is because the deeper into debt I got, the easier it was to spend even more and pile even more zeros onto what I owed. I had momentum for sure, but in the wrong direction.
If you have ever been “maxed out”, you know this feeling. You get to a point where you can only afford minimum payments, which don’t make a dent your debt and leave you needing to turn to credit again just to keep the lights on and food in the fridge. And you can certainly forget about saving! That’s why the first steps towards positive financial change are the hardest. You have to break the inertia. You have to force a body at rest to become a body in motion. The good news is that once you take that first step, lasting financial change becomes easier every day.
Five years ago, when I wanted to spend money, I didn’t think “I can’t afford this”, I thought “what this costs is insignificant to what I already owe…it’s just a drop in the bucket, so why not?” Today, however, I have a totally different relationship with money. For one, money I spend is actually money I have…not credit. That makes a huge difference. For me, it’s far more difficult to part with hard-earned cash. What’s more, I’m progressing faster towards my financial goals with every month. And the faster my debts dwindle and my savings grow, the more I’m motivated to save.
How to Use Inertia to Reach Your Financial Goals
I want to outline three things that helped me overcome the inertia that kept me broke and in debt and then harness the inertia that has been propelling me to meet my financial goals. Regardless of where you’re at in life, I hope that you can put these three tactics to work in your own life.
#1: Break Bad Financial Habits
If you are in a cycle of debt, not saving or simply spending too much, you need to quit the bad habits that are causing the problem. Often times, this requires a big life change like changing where you live, getting a second job (or a higher-paying job) or at the very least giving up luxuries that you have come to enjoy. Just like quitting smoking or losing weight, making such a big change is difficult, and inertia will make it even harder. So once you decide to break your bad money habits, act intensely. Rip the band-aid off. Do not try, just do.
#2: Set Goals and Keep Yourself Motivated
Step one, reversing the direction of your finances, is the most difficult step because it requires the most energy and commitment. Now, at least you have stopped yourself from rolling the wrong way. But getting going in the right direction isn’t going to be easy, either. This is the stage where it will be important to set small, achievable goals and to keep yourself motivated by reading books and blogs. Whether you are digging out of debt or starting to save, it’s easy to get frustrated by how slowly things go in the beginning. If you want to save $25,000 and only have $1,000 in the bank, you’re probably going to see a long road ahead of you. To help, break your big goal into smaller chunks. Figure out when you can save $2,500 and pat yourself on the back when you get there for saving 10 percent of your goal.
#3: Track Your Progress
The farther along towards your financial goals you move, the more motivated you’ll become to reach them. That’s inertia at work! Of course, you won’t enjoy this boost of motivation unless you can visualize just how far you’ve come. That’s why it’s so important to track your progress. It doesn’t matter whether you use a spreadsheet or just a piece of paper taped to your bureau. Remind yourself daily of the obstacles you have overcome and you’ll become inspired to make even bigger strides towards your goals.
What About You? Has inertia played a role in your financial story? Have you felt trapped in a cycle of bad financial decisions, or have you started working towards financial goals and found that you picked up a momentum that motivated you more and more?