It's a crazy time right now, isn't it? The media machines of the internet, cable news, online forums, and everything in-between can be distracting. In this 24-hour news cycle and our own business, how can we stay focused on what matters? How can we let go of what doesn't?
That's what I want to explore in today's post.
The amount of information available in today's world is overwhelming. We can find information and stories about any topic imaginable on the internet. We can validate and confirm whatever view we have on that topic.
Somehow, marketers find their way into our inboxes and on our cell phones. Have you noticed how many more robocalls you're getting on your cell phone? I have. It's probably two or three a day minimum. I don't answer these calls. If they don't leave a message, I'll call back to see what's up.
One of two things happen. I get a message saying it's a nonworking number. Or I get a robo answering machine. I block all of those numbers. The next day, I'll get a call back from another number. When I call back that number, I get the same robo message I got from the number I blocked yesterday. It's freaking maddening!
It's also distracting.
With all of this going on around us, how do we stay focused on what matters to us? Have you thought about that? Are you spending time on what you value? Have you written down what's important in your life? Do you know your “why”?
If not, keep reading. I want to offer some suggestions on how to find out what matters and stay focused on those things.
Our financial goals and our purpose
We set financial goals all the time. Some of us use spreadsheets or budgeting apps to track our expenses. Most of us contribute to (or maximize) our 401(k) plans and IRAs. We have an emergency fund and plan for vacations. We run the numbers on how much we need to have the kind of retirement we desire. Many of us use the 4% rule as our benchmark. All of these things are important in planning for our future. Along the way, we should adjust and modify our plans as circumstances change.
I've said it many times on this blog and to the clients I advise. If your plans don't line up with your values and your life, it will be hard to stick to those plans. We may be easily distracted and thrown off course.
In my know your “why” post, here's the definition I included.
I also said that money is not the best motivator:
Which brings us back to the focus of the post – what matters to you?
Finding what matters
If you haven't thought about or formally written down what matters to you, here's how you can find out. Ask yourself these three questions:
- What do you think about?
- How do you spend your money?
- How do you spend your time?
You'll find evidence of what matters to you in the answers to these three questions.
Why? What we think about will reveal itself in how we spend our time and money. If we say the family is important to it should be easy to see that in how we live. Do you think about work when you're at home? Worse, do you bring work home with you?
Do you say your kids are most important to you? If so, are you at their sporting events? Are you home from work in time for the family dinner? Do you even have a family dinner?
If you think about your family and kids a lot but don't adjust your life to be with them, that's a mismatch in what you say is important and what your actions show is important. If the family is what matters most to you, your actions need to match that.
I'm not trying to be the hall monitor here. I've had to reexamine my own life in this area too. There was a time when I talked about how important family was to me. And it was and still is. Unfortunately, my actions didn't match that reality.
How I learned
When we lived in Indianapolis the first few years of our marriage, I was the volunteer extraordinaire. I was a deacon and then an elder at our church. I ran the largest benevolence outreach program for that church. During the week before Christmas, we brought a month's worth of groceries, clothing, household items, and other needs to some of the largest and poorest families in Indianapolis. We served over seven hundred people. I was on multiple other committees. We volunteered as youth advisors as well.
I was patting myself on the back and full of pride in all I was doing for people. Here's the problem. I was gone most nights during the week. At least two to three nights a week I was at the church or in the city doing something. My wife and my son were not getting the time and attention they deserved from me. I was too busy serving others and ignoring my own family.
My schedule was running me ragged. I started feeling a fluttering in my chest. It wasn't constant. But when it came, it was pretty intense. One of the men on one of my committees was a doctor. He took my pulse one day and told me (without hesitation) I had atrial fibrillation and needed to get to the doctor. Sure enough, that's exactly what I had. I was on medication for about six months to treat it. Fortunately, it was not permanent.
What I learned during that time was that my lifestyle was the biggest contributor to the atrial fibrillation. I was drinking coffee pretty much all day and a couple of glasses of wine at night. Needless to say, that interrupted my sleep pattern. I tossed and turned most nights. I was not getting the kind of sleep I needed.
It was a wake-up call for me. I modified my behavior (a lot less coffee and wine, fewer committees, better diet) and got back on track. I spent more time with my wife and son. That improved our relationship and reduced the stress for all of us, most of which came from my intensity. I'd like to tell you that I changed a lot after this. Though I did change, it took years before my actions matched what I said mattered to me the most.
The other thing I've learned over the years (the hard way to be sure) is the importance of being thankful. Doing this takes more work than it should. I attribute this to what I said in the beginning. The 24-hour news cycle makes it hard to focus on what matters to us. If we spend too much time on our favorite cable channel or internet news sites, it can cause us to become more negative. Let's face it, it's a lot harder to find positive news stories.
We need to adopt a thankful mindset.
Here are some ideas on how to develop a thankful mindset.
Steps to a thankful mindset
- Count Your Blessings – Despite the current problems, we have many blessings in this country. History tells us we have survived much, much worse than what we’re dealing with now – a civil war, a debilitating economic depression, the Great Recession, and two world wars come immediately to mind. Compared to the rest of the world, all of us live in abundance. Most of us have good jobs, families, friends, homes, plenty of food, computers, smartphones, numerous choices for internet, TV and phone services. Often we one car for each driving member of the family. Many of us take vacations every year. We enjoy freedom and opportunity that have people from all over the world lining up to get their piece of the American Dream. We should be more thankful we live in a free land, full of flaws, but free.
If you’re not currently volunteering, I encourage you to think about it. Writing checks to organizations is great, but it keeps us distant from the recipients of our generosity. There are plenty of opportunities. Volunteer at a shelter. Help families winterize their homes. Tutor a student who is struggling. Read children’s books to an elementary class. Volunteer at an after-school program. Don’t know where to start? Google volunteer opportunities for your town. You will find numerous options listed.
Don't make the mistakes I made when volunteering. Balance is the key.
Figure out what matters to you the most. Build your life and activities around those things. Take a timeout from the media blitz. Look up from your cell phones. See the people around you. Deepen the relationships that are important to you. How do we do that?
Focus on what matters most and ignore the rest.
Now it's your turn. What matters most to you? How have you become distracted? What can you do to get back on track?
Fred started the blog Money with a Purpose in October 2017. The blog focused on three primary areas: Personal Finance, Overcoming Adversity, and Lifestyle. During his time at Money with a Purpose, he was quoted in Forbes, USA Today and appeared in Money Magazine, MarketWatch, The Good Men Project, Thrive Global and many other publications.
In April 2019, Fred, along with two other partners, acquired The Money Mix website. To focus his time and energy where he could be the most productive, Fred recently merged Money with a Purpose with The Money Mix. You can now find all of his great content right here on The Money Mix, along with content from some of the brightest minds in personal finance.