A major component of success is having the willpower to actually do something. This is certainly true in regards to personal finance, but it is also true in many other facets of life. And of course, since it is such a major component of success, it also tends to be one of the more difficult things to master. Isaac Newton captured the idea quite well when he documented the law of inertia. He stated that an object at rest will remain at rest unless acted on by an unbalanced force. This is another way of saying that your situation, task, to-do list, debt burden, etc. is not going to change unless you act upon it.
Take a look around, and it’s easy to see this in practice almost anywhere. Listen and you’ll hear a lot of people complaining about their lot in life. People hate their jobs, never seem to have any money, have unhealthy relationships, can’t seem to get ahead, etc. However, one commonality among this is that quite often the people doing the most complaining are the least likely to actually do anything about their situation. It seems so simple: if you keep doing the same thing the same way, you’re going to be in the same situation. But trying to make changes in your life can be very difficult.
Even on a smaller scale, we all have little projects that are on our list of things to get done that never seem to actually get done. I’m certainly not exempt from this. I can name a few right now:
- Our upstairs bathroom has a squeaky hinge. I have to be very careful in the mornings when I’m getting ready for work not to move the door too much, because it will wake our little boy down the hall. I make a mental note of it every morning and tell myself “I need to get some WD40 and oil that hinge.” Our little boy is now a year old, and I think I’ve been telling that to myself for the entire year. Yet this morning when I was getting ready, the hinge on the door still squeaked. I made another mental note to buy some WD40 and oil the hinge.
- Since we moved into our house in fall 2008, the downstairs half bath / laundry room has had a burnt out light in it. The room has multiple light sources, so I never bothered to replace the one that was burnt out. It was one of those long, florescent overhead lights. I’d never changed one before, and thought it would be difficult and that the bulbs would cost more than standard ones. This weekend, we finally replaced the burnt out bulbs. It was super easy, and the bulbs were pretty inexpensive. The room looks a lot nicer with the extra lighting.
- We had a regular trash can in our kitchen. It always seemed to be in the way, and the lid didn’t stay on too well. My wife always complained about it and told me she wanted one of those under-the-cabinet, slide out trash bins. They’re more convenient and would clear some floor space in the kitchen. I added it to my mental “to-do” list and kept it there for three years. It was just easier to leave our current trash can in the kitchen. But finally I took the action, went to Lowe’s, bought the under-the-cabinet trash can, and installed it. It really is a lot more convenient, and the kitchen looks a lot nicer with our old trash can out of there.
All three of those situations have some common characteristics:
1. They all required me to go out and purchase something to be able to complete the task
2. They all required me to take time out of my day to work on the task
3. Once the task was completed (though the first one isn’t yet complete), I looked back and said to myself “I should have done this a long time ago”
The point is that it takes a concentrated effort to generate enough inertia to get things done. It’s always going to be easier to leave things the way they are now, but that doesn’t solve the problem. Your hinge will always squeak, the lighting will never be as good, and the trash can will always be in the way. Sure, you’ll get used to those things and come to think of it as normal. But, imagine how much better it would be if you actually took the time to take care of the situation. Just a little something to think about as you start your week…