In this article, I’d like to share with you how I developed a strong budgeting habit using what I call the 1 to 5 minutes rule.
I have used this technique in all areas of my life to accomplish recurring responsibilities, everything from my health to personal growth, but in this series, I will focus on the task of creating a household budget.
You may read the article or listen to the audio version.
START STRONG BY STARTING SLOW
In her 2014 Tedx Talk, freediving underwater huntress Kimi Werner talks about the best advice she was ever given about freediving: “When you feel the need to speed up … slow down.”
This phenomenal advice is applicable to all aspects of our lives. My own mentor often tells me that I need to slow down!
Try as we may, though, it can be difficult to keep this advice in our line of sight when our eyes are constantly drawn in ten different directions at once: from incessant advertising and never-ending videos, to non-stop news cycles and instantaneous social media…. in our fast-paced world, slowing down can seem like a luxury we cannot afford, if not a lost art.
I see this as well when it comes to finances.
Determined to “get our finances in order,” we dive in without first learning how to swim. In this sink or swim approach, many of us tend to sink. I know I did.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
In this series, I’d like to help you create a strong, lasting budgeting habit by taking it slow.
In this particular article, I’m going to discuss why we often flounder when it comes to doing our finances and how we can overcome this tendency.
To be clear, in this context, when I talk about “doing finances,” I am referring specifically to creating or maintaining a household budget and not about researching investment portfolios, buying stocks, or doing taxes.
Here is the road map of this two-part article:
→ First, I will talk about the myth of self-discipline and how we can instead strategically harness our willpower to work for us instead of against us.
→ And second, I will talk about how we can find space to slow down in our lives by following the 1 to 5 minutes rule and creating mini habits.
Let’s get started!
THE MYTH OF SELF-DISCIPLINE
In his book titled The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results, Gary Keller talks about the myth of self-discipline. I’m going to simplify for the sake of time, but I highly recommend his book if you are interested in learning how to prioritize and set far-reaching goals for your life.
SELF-DISCIPLINE IS RUNNING ON WILLPOWER ALONE
Being self-disciplined implies being able to accomplish things whether we feel like it or not─that is to say, by acting on willpower alone.
We have a tendency to think that “successful” people have innately more self-discipline than us, but according to Keller, that is a myth.
The trick to becoming “successful,” especially in a task that we perceive as an obligation, is not to draw on pure willpower every time we want to execute a task─especially not indefinitely. Rather, we should draw on our willpower only long enough to create a habit of recurring tasks. This approach requires some forethought, strategizing, and, yes, self-discipline; but only in the short-term.
People who appear to be endowed with iron-clad, inexhaustible self-discipline are people who have managed to build an accumulation of strong habits over the years.
WILLPOWER IS A LIMITED RESOURCE
We do this because willpower is a finite resource; we only have so much of it available to us every day, and the more we use it, the less of it we have. Therefore, we must judiciously distribute our willpower among the various tasks and activities we want to do in a day.
When we build habits, we streamline the process, saving willpower that we can then reallocate elsewhere.
For most of us, “doing our finances” requires a great deal of willpower─more than we are willing to spend or more than we have left in the evenings when we often get around to these types of chores.
SETTING OURSELVES UP FOR FAILURE
In my experience, when people are ready to start creating a household budget, it’s chaos: out come all the bank and credit card statements from the last several months, papers are strewn about, things go missing, and tempers flare … by the end of the evening, we need marriage counselling and our finances are probably far from being settled.
We seem to think that a budget is something we need to inflict on ourselves, and this level of stress is not sustainable over the long term.
That is not a habit, and our willpower will never shift into cruise-control if that is our reality.
The question then becomes: How can we create regular habits using the least amount of willpower possible?
CREATING MINI HABITS
ESCAPE THE NEGATIVE SPIRAL OF OVERWHELMING EXPECTATIONS
I think part of the problem is that we often make things harder for ourselves by setting our expectations too high. We seem to think a task is not worth investing in unless we can dedicate large blocks of time to it: a 45 minute work out at the gym four times a week, a 30 minute jog every other day, or even a 15 minute daily meditation session.
When it comes to habits, we seem to think that we always have to go big.
Between work, other obligations, our families, friends, and leisure activities, our days become filled with big blocks of time commitments. When we do try to cram more into our busy schedule, we follow the status quo and dedicate a big block of time to get it done. Usually this time gets relegated to the evening, except by then we’re usually burned out and financial responsibility loses the fight to the comfortable couch and the flickering screen.
This approach to habits blinds us to how much time we’re actually wasting in our lives: scrolling on social media; binge-watching or reading the news; reading about people’s woes of anxiety on Facebook. This time quickly adds up.
We claim this is our down time to rest, but how rested do we really feel after a trip down the virtual rabbit hole? Has it eased our financial worries? Healed our damaged marriage? Made us feel fulfilled in ourselves and in our progression towards our dreams?
ACCEPT THE BEGINNER ATTITUDE (POSITIVE MINDSET)
I propose that instead of going big and trying to accomplish everything at once, that we go small. That, at least for certain tasks or activities, we think in terms of mini habits instead of just habits.
A mini habit is about slowing down. Instead of trying to become masters of everything immediately, we accept our fate as beginners and take our time exploring what we’re doing. And this doesn’t have to take long. A focused session of 5 minutes every day will pay off more in dividends than occasional sessions of 15 minutes or more.
I create mini habits by following what I call the 1 to 5 minutes rule, and I designed this rule specifically to approach my tasks with a positive mindset, which is half the battle in accomplishing many things in life.
IMPLEMENTING THE 1 TO 5 MINUTES RULE
The rule: I tell myself that I only have to work on the task for 5 minutes, but if I only manage 1 minute, that’s still great! Once I get started, I can work past the 5 minutes if I want to, but I don’t have to. The idea is to show up and do something regularly, no matter how small, even if that one thing you do appears to be a micro-step, minuscule almost to the point of insignificance.
But do not be deceived. Something is always more than nothing.
This approach almost nullifies the willpower dilemma: no matter how tired or pressed for time you are, almost everyone can manage at least one minute of anything. If you doubt this, just ask yourself: what else would you do with just 3 minutes, if that’s all you had? Open your phone and browse through someone else’s Instagram? Sit there and stare vacantly into space? Why not instead take the next step in whatever project or responsibility on your list.
Even a single minute can be longer than you thought.
THINK SMALL FOR LONG-TERM SUCCESS
By enacting this principle to create a mini budgeting habit, it may sometimes feel like you’re progressing at the speed of a tortoise.
If that’s the case, think of this axiom:
Slow is efficient
Efficient is fast
Slow is fast.
A slow game is a long-term game. It’s a marathon rather than a sprint. Sometimes, sprinting is necessary; but more often than not, it just saps our willpower faster than we can replenish it.
Remember, the hare isn’t the one who ends up winning the race.
So, when you feel the need to speed up, slow down. You will be surprised at how far you will go.
WELCOME TO THE SERIES
In this audio article, I discussed how the principle of mini habits and the technique of the 1 to 5 minutes rule can create a positive mindset to help you achieve the responsibilities in your life.
When it comes to finances, it’s hard to give particular advice because everyone’s life circumstances are so different, affecting how they need to budget and how their budget will look. That’s why I decided to first focus on this principle, because I believe it is a useful overarching philosophy that we can all keep in mind as we think of how to manage our money.
In the following articles, I will apply this principle and technique as I break down my budgeting system to show you ONE possible routine for dealing with a household budget. Hopefully, it will help you and motivate you to create a routine and system of your own.
I am just an everyday person and by no means a personal finance guru. I can only share what I have learned, and I am still learning. If anything is unclear, feel free to leave me a comment; if you have any advice for me or would like to point out something I’ve missed, please comment as well.
Thank you for listening (or reading!), and I hope to talk to you again soon.
Head over to the series masterpost for more articles on the subject.