This post first appeared on VTX Capital.
Have you ever mowed a lawn before? Do you mow one now? How about when you were younger?
With a wife and two little girls in the house, sometimes I go out and mow the lawn whether it needs it or not!
All joking aside, it’s nice to get out there on a beautiful day and cut the lawn. It takes me about an hour to do my lawn. That translates to a lot of thinking time almost weekly during roughly half the year.
And what do I think about? Well, since I’m a big nerd (just ask my wife) I think about personal finance. And Disney. And personal finance.
Oddly enough, cutting the lawn reminds me of some aspects of Personal Finance.
Those Straight Lines
There’s something satisfying and beautiful about a freshly cut lawn with straight lines from the mower. From the outside, it looks easy to get those lines in the grass straight. All you have to do is walk straight right?
I can tell you from experience that it’s a lot harder than it looks.
You’ve got a lot on your mind when you’re cutting grass! You’ve got rough terrain in the grass, trying to get every last blade cut, and making sure you don’t run over that rabbit nest.
And who could forget…BEES!!!
See what I mean? It can be tough to keep a nice straight line in the grass when you’re trying swat at or run from a bee and still have the lawn mower going.
So what does this have to do with personal finance?
Well, bear with me here for just another few moments…
Look. Straight. Ahead
That’s the secret. Remember, those straight lines? The way to get those beautiful, straight lines in the grass to where it looks like you’re a professional is to look straight ahead.
Focus on one point and then walk toward it.
When you’re trying your darnedest to get those straight lines by looking down and making sure the wheel never goes over the previous line but also doesn’t get too far away from the previous line, you are never going to have straight lines.
But if you focus on one point every time you turn around, you’ll have a straight-lined, immaculately cut lawn in no time.
So you might be able to see where I’m going with this now… what does this have to do with personal finance?
I’m glad you asked.
Do you set for yourself some financial goals? If you don’t, I highly recommend you do. It is one of the habits of wealthy people.
Just like with mowing the lawn, the best way to meet your financial goals is to look straight ahead. Stay focused on your goals.
Keeping your financial goals in the line of sight of your mind’s eye is the quickest way to create a straight line. And everyone knows that the quickest path between two points is a straight line.
When you stay focused on your goals, things around you tend to fade away. Suddenly, that shiny new “insert-object-of-your-desire-here” doesn’t look so nice stacked up to a goal of financial freedom or being debt free.
What would you rather have, the shiny new toy that’s going to be obsolete in 6 months or a vacation with your friends or family (or both!) that will give you memories to last a lifetime?
Keep your financial goals in sight and it will help you make the best decisions to get them quickly rather than making you continue to wait for it.
A straight line will keep you from the wait line.
How to Stay Focused On Your Financial Goals
I’ll tell you one thing. It’s hard to stay focused on your goals.
In lawn mowing, in order to get that perfectly straight line, your goal is to find that point and remain focused on it. But crap happens.
You may step on something squishy and wonder what it was (oh no, the rabbit nest!). It’s possible that you might forget to lift your foot all the way up and almost trip. The lawn mower may make some funny noises or run out of gas.
The point is that there will always be things that take your focus off of your goal. The same goes with financial goals.
Here are three ways that you can stay focused on your goal even if things may happen around you that are threatening to take your attention.
1. Use Reminders
One of the ways I tell people to turn their stress from debt into motivation to pay it off also works for staying focused on your goals.
Give yourself reminders.
When you’re paying off debt, to stay motivated you’ll want to remind yourself of how far you’ve come already. But to keep your mind focused on your goal, consistently remind yourself of where you want to be.
This could be as simple as leaving yourself a sticky note your computer monitor that reminds you of your goal. There are also apps you can download that will remind you of your goals throughout your day.
Alternatively, you can also use the alarm clock on your phone set to go off every few hours with the alarm label matching your goal. When the alarm goes off, it will tell you what your financial goal is.
There’s also a really cool free extension for Google Chrome called Momentum. It gives you a gorgeous picture with the time and a greeting to you. Then, it has a little section underneath the greeting where it asks what your focus is today. You can put your financial goal there. Now, every time you open up Google Chrome or a new tab, you’ll see that beautiful picture with your goal. #motivation
There’s also a to-do list in the bottom right-hand corner if you want to use it for that as well.
The point is to do what you can to remind yourself of what your goal is. This will help you stay focused.
2. Use Milestones
I like to call these “steps”. If your financial goal is analogous to making it to the roof of a building, then milestones are the steps that help you get there.
When you’re cutting the lawn, your main goal is to get the entire lawn cut. Even though you want to focus on what’s ahead of you to get those nice straight lines, you can’t just pick one spot ahead of you and then use that one point to get the whole lawn cut. You’ll never make it!
No, what you have to do is focus on one thing, get the straight line, then turn around to focus on something new to go back and get a straight line in the opposite direction. These smaller focuses are like milestones.
Milestones help you to have something a little bit smaller to shoot for in order to reach your final goal or destination.
This gives you smaller wins to celebrate and motivates you to keep moving forward.
Say, for example, that you’re a basketball player. Now, you’re a little bit on the shorter side compared to all of your 6 foot 7 inch teammates so you set yourself a goal to get really good at making three point shots.
Now your goal and focus don’t change, but in order to start small, you might start by practicing your free throw shots and getting really good at those. Once you hit that milestone and are good at shooting free throws, you may move back just a little bit and get good at shooting from there. You hit that milestone and you keep going.
You do all of this while keeping your goal of being an amazing three point shooter in mind.
The milestones continue to motivate you and further your focus on your goal. As you hit each milestone, as you climb each step, your confidence level rises. You say to yourself “I’ve done all of this so far, I can keep going!” Then, before you know it, you’re one of the top three-point shooters in the league.
Before you know it, you’ve reached your financial goal.
Have someone to hold you accountable.
Accountability is one of the biggest keys to staying focused on your goal. Sometimes, when you get in the thick of things, it takes an outside party to bring the focus back in and remind you of what you’re really shooting for—someone to say, “Hey, how’s your lawn looking this week?”
Have a friend that you can trust and speak with them about your goals at least once a month. This accomplishes two things.
First, you actually have someone you are reporting your progress to. There is a certain level of embarrassment (of the good variety) that occurs when you tell your accountability pal that you’re going to do something and you don’t do it.
When you are “disappointing” (and I use that term loosely) someone other than yourself, you’ll try and do what you can to avoid disappointing them.
At the same time, the person you are confiding in will be there no matter what and help you along the way, whether you have a disappointing month or not. In fact, they will be able to shift your focus from the things you said you’d accomplish but didn’t, to the things you did accomplish instead, furthering your motivation to keep focused and keep going.
Second, when you are doing things that may not align with your ultimate goal, you may not even realize it. Talking with your friend about your goal and your progress will give you an outside perspective from someone who really cares about your best interest.
They can help point you in the right direction and tell you things like, “This may seem like it’s getting you closer to your goal, but it’s actually taking you in the opposite direction.” Or they may tell you, “What you’re doing is perfect, but you’re spending a little too much time thinking about it. I’d say it’s time to move on and you’ve done all you can for this particular milestone for now.”
Don’t forget to offer to hold your friend accountable, too!
In order to get those straight-as-an-arrow lines when you’re cutting your lawn, fixating your gaze on one point is the way to do it. When setting personal finance goals, do your best to keep those in mind always.
Remember, the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. Keeping your focus on your goals will help you create those straight lines needed to reach them quickly.
To help you along the way, remind yourself of your goals consistently, keep track of your milestones to keep you motivated, and share your goal with a friend to keep you accountable.
You’ll have a freshly mowed, beautifully completed financial goal in no time.
How do you keep yourself motivated to reach your financial goals?