There’s been much conversation in the last few years about the sorry state of American retirement planning. As baby boomers begin to reach retirement age en masse, financial experts have been tripping over themselves to offer an explanation for paltry savings rates and scrawny nest eggs.
But there’s a much simpler reason for this epidemic–working towards a long-term goal is difficult, frustrating and just plain boring. Saving for retirement offers no quick payoff, and trying to retire early adds a layer of difficulty that few are prepared to endure. Anyone trying to reach FI needs to understand and prepare for this fact.
It might seem exciting at first to live on a shoestring budget, but that glow will inevitably fade. If you want to stay motivated for the years and decades to come, try some of these techniques instead.
Practice Self Care
While working toward FI or any type of long-term goal, the temptation can be to restrict yourself as much as possible. If running your first marathon, you might try to run every day and avoid taking any time to rest. If you want to retire in ten years, you might decide to give up every indulgence, from yearly vacations to the occasional break room candy bar.
But giving up everything for a long-term goal isn’t sustainable. Living like a monk usually leads to burnout–especially if you don’t see results quickly. Shooting for a lofty goal is commendable, but not if it comes at the expense of your overall health.
Find time to practice self-care in whatever way you like, such as going to the movies with a friend, taking a yoga class, or indulging in a pastry from your neighborhood bakery. If you really want to reach the finish line, it’s important to progress at a reasonable pace.
Find Your Tribe
If you’ve just decided to join the FI movement, you might find that your family and friends aren’t interested in hearing about it 24/7. Unfortunately, you can’t expect the people in your life to be as excited about your priorities as you are. Especially when it comes to money. Money can bring up a whole host of issues you never even knew were there.
It’s difficult to stay motivated without support, especially when you reach a plateau or have a problem. That’s why you need to find a group of like-minded individuals to share the journey with.
With the internet and social media, this isn’t nearly as hard as it used to be. The ChooseFI Facebook group is packed with supportive people who are also on this FI journey. Also, find a ChooseFI local group to find people in your area who are as committed to your goals as you are.
If possible, find one person to be your accountability partner. Schedule regular check-in sessions to encourage one another and troubleshoot problem areas. Don’t be afraid to provide–and receive –tough love when necessary.
Related: FI Community Groups To Check Out
Let Go of Mistakes
If your goal is to exercise every day for a year, you’re probably going to fail. If your goal is to build a certain measure of strength or lose a specific amount of weight, you’re much more likely to succeed.
That’s because a smart goal allows for mistakes and adjustments without compromising the main objective. Everyone stumbles when trying to climb a mountain, especially when it could take years or even decades to reach the top, so aiming for perfection is just inviting failure.
Instead of beating yourself up when you falter, give yourself a break. If your goal is to save 50% of your income and you’ve only been saving 45%, resist the impulse to criticize. If you’re trying to lose weight and eat a few more slices of cake than you’d planned on, don’t give into self-hatred.
Letting go of mistakes is critical to long-term success. Use every mistake as a learning experience and consider what you can do better next time.
When starting on a long-term goal, many people try to change their lifestyle overnight. They may throw away all their snacks and convert to a vegan diet in an attempt to lose weight. After a few weeks, they’re back in the McDonald’s drive-thru ordering a cheeseburger and fries.
Focus on making small changes instead of completely revamping your lifestyle. If your goal is to save 50% for retirement and you’re currently putting away 10%, add a percentage here and there when it feels right. If you want to cut out sugary treats or discretionary expenses, give up a little bit at a time to allow your willpower to recover.
Long-term improvement is about building good habits, and good habits grow from a solid foundation. You need to focus on changes that will be sustainable over the months and years it takes to reach your goal.
Celebrate Your Progress
When you’re in the middle of a continuing goal, it’s easy to lose sight of how far you’ve come. Someone who’s trying to save a million dollars in their retirement portfolio, for example, might feel unenthused at having just $100,000. That’s why you need to remember where you started.
I’ve recently started practicing Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and I often feel like I’m not making sufficient progress. I’ll start comparing myself to others with more experience and end up feeling like a total failure. But when I go back and look at my past results, I realize how far I’ve come.
It’s important to remember that the most outspoken in a group is often those who feel the most comfortable with their progress. Because of this, it’s easy to think that everyone is doing better than you. It’s not true, it’s just those who are doing the very best are often the only ones telling their story. Focus on your own journey and try to avoid comparing yourself with others.
Every once in a while, take some time to remember the journey you’ve undertaken. Celebrate milestones and record your progress. Reaching a long term goal is less about the goal itself, and more about committing to consistent, incremental improvement.