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Where to Begin... When You Don't Know Where to Begin. Thumbnail

Where to Begin... When You Don't Know Where to Begin.

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So you’re convinced you’d like to do better in your financial life. Perhaps you haven’t looked at your bookkeeping since last tax season. Or maybe your books are up-to-date, but you aren’t sure how much to set aside for taxes. Or perhaps you're not sure how best to save for your retirement.

And despite these aspirations, you might not know where to begin. Maybe you’re feeling stuck, or a little bit overwhelmed. If so, today’s installment of Money Mindset is for you!

Cultivating a Practice

Alright, so there’s something in your financial life you’d like to make progress on. That something could be in your private practice, like bookkeeping, or it could be in your personal life, like how to invest your savings. You probably recognize the importance, but find yourself avoiding the topic because it feels uncomfortable, energy-sucking or simply overwhelming. Despite your best intentions, you find time drifting by without you making much progress. And that starts to feel even more dispiriting and discouraging.

If that describes your situation - don’t despair! We all hit roadblocks like this in life!

When you find yourself in this situation, I suggest that you start by cultivating a practice of simply showing up and looking at whatever financial matter is in front of you. The kind of practice I’m talking about isn’t even really about accomplishing anything per se. Rather, it’s about building the habit - or cultivating the practice - of engaging with the material.

So what does that look like? One idea I love is simply spending five minutes each day just looking at your financial details. Maybe that’s logging into your online bank account and simply looking at the transactions. Or understanding how to navigate a website or app. Maybe it’s spending five minutes looking at and organizing your receipts. Or maybe it’s spending five minutes reading a blog about investment options.

You’ll notice these examples feel really small - just five minutes of engaging with the material. I love this idea of starting with a daily practice that feels so small, so manageable, that you’ll experience virtually no resistance to sitting down and doing it. The reaction we’re looking for, is “oh, yah, of course I can do that… that’s nothing… I could do that right now.”

In addition to being small, there’s another important element to these examples I want to point out. They are time-bound rather thathan outcome-bound. Just five minutes of engagement, of looking, of focusing without any particular outcome in mind. This isn’t about solving the problem in one herculean effort. Rather, it’s about building the skill of simply getting started; building the skill of consistently engaging with this important area of life. 

So, here’s what to do: define whatever you want to work on, and then make a written, scheduled commitment to engage with it for a certain, short amount of time each day. Put it in your calendar, block that time off. I really like the idea of making it an easy, bite-sized commitment that you can complete every day, or at least every weekday. 

But I’m Not Accomplishing Anything!

Alright I know what you’re thinking: “Dave, this sounds doable - but it doesn’t sound like I’m actually doing much of anything!” I know it feels a bit counterintuitive, but it does work. Let’s talk about why.

By making this small, seemingly insignificant commitment to take action, the first - and arguably most important - thing you’re accomplishing is to get comfortable with your emotions that come up. Those big, overwhelming things like undone bookkeeping, or dealing with student loan balances can feel intimidating. But as you develop the practice of engaging with them, even in a very small way, the intensity of those emotional experiences will subside. Eventually, whatever task is in front of you will morph from this scary monster to just that thing you do at 3pm on Tuesdays. 

And by cultivating the practice of engaging and sitting with those emotions, what we’re really doing is building the muscle of just getting started. We’re building this habit of looking; of movement; of taking action - and that breaks the inertia and gets the momentum of forward movement on our side.

Ok, so now that we’ve started building this practice of getting started and doing just a little something each day, let’s talk about the second important thing that’s happening. And that is that you are coming to understand the key elements of your project, what the real challenges are for you and even appropriate next steps.

I believe that by intentionally bringing your project into your conscious awareness each day allows your subconscious mind to do some of the heavy lifting. The details you consistently expose yourself to sort of slosh around and marinate in the back of your mind. By dipping your toe in the water each day, you will begin to understand your situation a bit better, make connections, have insights and gain access to new perspectives. You likely even discover new possibilities on how to move forward.

Eventually, some solutions, or next steps, will come forward. And perhaps those will require more time than five or ten minutes each day. But by having cultivated your practice of getting started and making a small amount of progress each day, these larger actions will feel much easier to move into. And never underestimate how much you can accomplish working just 20 or 30 minutes each day!

Closing Thoughts

Before I wrap up, let me share a couple items to keep in mind as you begin to cultivate this new practice.

First, don’t forget where you began. Check back every now and again to see how far you’ve come and be sure and celebrate the success and progress you’re achieving.

Finally - and this is perhaps the most important thing - take it easy on yourself! Developing this type of practice is a trick. Allow yourself to be ok if you fall off or miss a session. Be sure and watch for an upcoming post where I’ll discuss dealing with setbacks and disappointments

If you’d like to read more about these concepts and put the ideas in practice, there are some great books to check out. I’ve included links in the description box below. A few of the books I’ve found helpful are Deep Work by Cal NewportAtomic Habits by James Clear & The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

If you have questions or thoughts about what I’ve covered here today, please reach out. I’d love to hear from you. You can always shoot me an email at dave@turningpointHQ.com. Or you can schedule a complimentary 30 minute no-obligation meeting where we'll simply have a relaxed, no-pressure conversation about whatever financial matters are on your mind! 


Disclaimer: This article is provided for general information and illustration purposes only. Nothing contained in the material constitutes tax advice, a recommendation for purchase or sale of any security, or investment advisory services. I encourage you to consult a financial planner, accountant, and/or legal counsel for advice specific to your situation. Read the full Disclaimer here.