A few days ago, I was sitting at work with co-workers, and we were discussing a guy whom most of us had never met before. Why? Because he is truly living a life on the edge. He is a freelance photographer who has improved his craft to the point that he can make enough money in the few shoots he decides to take to support himself. This ability has afforded him the opportunity to live an unconventional life.  

For months, he lived out of his truck.  He would travel to National Parks all over the U.S. where he could hike and also get great pictures. He recently sold his truck and is in the process of outfitting a 15-passenger cargo van to be his next home. He can literally drive his home wherever he wants to visit, and he can oftentimes make money wherever he goes. If he needs more money, then he can just do a few more shoots. Sounds like a tough life.

Of course, this guy doesn’t have a family, he lives a very nomadic life that many people, myself included, would not be interested in for an extended period. However, the fact remains, we spent an entire lunch hour, talking about a stranger we would likely never meet, all because he decided to make a few tough decisions. Rather than follow the traditional path of going to school, getting a secure job with benefits, contributing 5% a year to his 401k, and then retiring 30 years later, he developed and refined a specialized skill set that allows him to live his dream life.

As counter-intuitive as it may seem, the easier we try to make our lives in the short-term, the harder those decisions tend to make our lives in the long-term. Let me give you a few examples:

  • It’s easy to skip the gym after a long day at work
  • It’s easy to order takeout rather than cook
  • It’s easy to watch Netflix
  • It’s easy to lease a car instead of fixing your existing car
  • It’s easy to keep buying more stuff
  • It’s easy to get mad
  • It’s easy to complain
  • It’s easy to make excuses
  • It’s easy to spend everything you make
  • It’s easy to take the safe option
  • It’s easy to keep that great benefits package
  • It’s easy to wait until tomorrow
  • It’s easy to be ordinary

So what’s the inverse?

  • It’s hard to consistently go to the gym
  • It’s hard to eat right
  • It’s hard to cook yourself healthy meals
  • It’s hard to come home and do something productive, maybe talk to your family, clean the house, work on a side-hustle
  • It’s hard to drive an older car (both logistically and mentally since you’re not keeping up with the Jones next door)
  • It’s hard to stick to a budget and not buy crap you don’t need
  • It’s hard to be nice and patient
  • It’s hard to be optimistic
  • It’s hard to take ownership
  • It’s hard to save more than the employer match in your 401k
  • It’s hard to take a risk
  • It’s hard to embrace the unknown
  • It’s hard to start today

Unfortunately, most people you know will opt for the easy choices because doing hard things today is, well, hard. People commonly use the excuse “I’ll skip today because (insert excuse here), but I’ll do it tomorrow/next week/next month/next year/someday.”

I heard an interesting analogy some time ago.  You could continue to acquire quarters, lots and lots of quarters, and at some point, you would be considered “rich.” Of course, being rich means different things to different people, but let’s just agree that it takes A LOT of quarters to hit that point. One individual quarter is seemingly insignificant, but combined, they equal something great, something formidable.

The same thing can be said for all of the tough decisions. Skipping the gym that ONE time won’t matter, it takes hundreds, maybe even thousands, of times at the gym to equal real results, what impact would this one day have? “Work is so busy and I’m just so stressed. I’ll pick it up again next month when things die down.”

What impact could this one purchase make? “I mean seriously? It’s $29.99 a month, I mean I could cut $30 a month for the next 30 years, that but let’s be real, that’ll just trim a few months off of my retirement and I’d rather enjoy my life for the next 30 years.”

Often times, we discount individual actions so much, skipping becomes the norm, since that one time just doesn’t have an impact. Or we don’t look at our decisions in aggregate, and rather focus our attention to one transaction at a time. Sure, cutting that $30 dollar membership won’t make a huge impact, but if you find 10 other similar expenses to cut, you just found an extra $300, and now we’re talking!

We default to the easy thing since more often than not, ONE hard thing won’t make a noticeable positive impact on our lives.

I will walk this back and say that not everything we have to do in life has to be a grind.  You can set up your 401K to automatically pull more from your paycheck, you can make the smart housing decision ONCE every decade or so (housing accounts for about 30% of average monthly expenses), you can make a smart decision on a vehicle ONCE every 5-10 years (transportation amounts to about 20% of the average budget). Doing just those 3 things could dramatically impact your financial future, and it’s more important to get the big things right than it is to get them wrong and try to make it up on the margins.

But for the rest of those actions, there’s not a one-and-done decision you can make that will make you eat healthy for the next 30 years, go to the gym 4 times a week, or stick to your budget. For those times, you simply need to condition yourself to become tougher than your surroundings. Since it’s hard to just will yourself to success, here are a few tips that have worked for me over the years to accomplish the hard things in my life:

  • Write down your goals, and put the paper in a clear spot you will see.
  • Regularly track your progress.
  • Join a like-minded group. You can do this in a gym class, mastermind group, Facebook or Reddit. You can talk about your goals so you can hold each other accountable.
  • Don’t go shopping alone or hungry. It’s much easier to splurge when you’re by yourself, so avoid it as much as possible
  • Set yourself up for success. Lay out your gym clothes the night before, go to the gym right after work before stopping by your house, have healthy snacks at home and at work, create a small “fun” budget for yourself and pull the money out in cash so when it’s gone, it’s gone, create a simple action plan.
  • Reward yourself by doing something that will further cement you in your goals. If you run for 5 days a week for a month straight, don’t buy a tub of ice cream to celebrate, get a new running tank top.

This is your challenge, seek out those areas that you have settled for the easy path rather than the hard one and think of how you can set yourself up for success. Make changes today, because tomorrow will never come. Start accumulating those quarters, and before you know it, you’ll be rich.

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