Author Topic: What motivates you? (Or: How to foster good habits?)  (Read 6532 times)


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What motivates you? (Or: How to foster good habits?)
« on: July 08, 2012, 10:50:19 PM »
Unlike MMM and many of you, I don't have the inherent wherewithal to change habits without blinking. Due to this, I have a hard time fostering good habits.  So one trick that I turn to often is to make a large upfront investment, which forces motivates me into doing something long enough to break even, and by then have hopefully developed it into an automatic habit that continues.

For example, I'm a terrible eater. I grew up in a household where frozen pizza, grilled cheese sandwiches, ramen noodles, and the Dollar Menu were staples. Since I've been on my own (approx. 3-4 years), I've tried numerous times to eat better. I bought fresh, healthier foods. I cut out (most) of the fast food. I replaced the Ramen noodles with rice and beans. But, I always went back to my unhealthy ways with the precooked, easily heated, terrible-for-you mush. Cooking fresh was exhausting with the cooking itself (I'd never cooked before, so there were many ruined dishes), the endless cleanup, and the fact that I'm also a picky eater (a fact I attribute to my earlier eating habits).

So I made two calculated decisions. First, I purchased a Vitamix blender. A roughly $400 expense investment*. Since purchasing this blender, my previously non-existent breakfast has become a smoothie concoction, resulting in the removal of my mid-day snack attack that would have me purchasing a bag of chips from work. My lunch generally involves some type of peanut butter sandwich, as I love making my own fresh peanut butter. I can also puree up virtually any fruit and vegetable, and incorporate it into dishes I already like, and mask the flavor (my diet was virtually devoid of these, despite me constantly attempting to incorporate them previously). Due to this, I've been fuller than ever eating meals half the size I usually do. This $400 blender resulted in me saving an average $125/month over the past 3 months, almost paying for itself already. Plus, I've become much healthier as a result. Second, I just last week purchased a FoodSaver vacuum sealer at a cost of $150. With this, I've spent the past three days bulk cooking and freezing chicken, beef, potatoes, and black beans. I now have roughly 50 individually sealed meals in my freezer, at a cost of ~$1.00/meal. If these meals had been made on an individual basis (i.e. the food had been bought in smaller purchases at a higher cost per unit), the price would have been ~$3.00/meal. As well, if I had just purchased Ziploc freezer bags, I wouldn't have been motivated enough to spend the effort necessary to make the meals. But since I invested $150 into it, I went through with it, saving a total of $100 in the meals made over a weekend. Better yet, I know I wouldn't have made each meal from scratch over and over again. I would have instead purchased precooked or prepackaged meals, or gotten fast food or ordered out. That brings my average meal bill closer to $6-$10, so in one sense I recouped my cost of the vacuum sealer in one go.

The next investment I'm pondering is a nice bike. For the past two semesters, I've rented a bike from my university ($20/semester rental fee, for what was a brand new $500 bike when I first rented it two semesters ago). The problem is I rarely used it. It was cumbersome to get to and from campus (I don't own a bike rack for my vehicle), so it stayed locked up at the campus building I worked at. I'd ride it to class every now and then, but usually forgot the key for the lock, the helmet, etc. The problem is that I have very little financial leverage involved to *bump* me into changing my routine. So I plan on taking another route: buying a damned bike. Investing $500+ into a bike (and however much a hatchback bike rack costs)will force me to ride it long enough to make back my money (in this case, in the form of foregone gas driving everywhere). It takes me approximately a gallon of gas to get to commute to and from work/school . On this alone, it'll take 167 work days to make my money back (at a conservative $3/gallon - it's been at $2.89 for a few weeks so I'm being optimistic). Adding in the mileage driven for errands and taking away mileage due to not riding every day, I figure that I will break even on my initial cost in 6 months. I'll tenaciously stick it out that long just on principle, but hopefully by that time I'll actually enjoy it for itself and continue unabated.

Do any of you guys use similar tricks to get yourself (or your other half) to develop good habits?

*Note: For perspective on exactly how much leverage this was, $400 currently represents a week's take-home pay for me. So I spent 25% of my monthly income on a blender. Accounting for income fluctuations throughout the year, it's probably closer to 12-15% of my monthly income.


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Re: What motivates you? (Or: How to foster good habits?)
« Reply #1 on: July 09, 2012, 12:16:55 AM »
I make "social" investments by telling absolutely everybody I know of my intentions.

For example, I'm more inclined to go to gym if the threat/challenge of someone asking me, "So how's the exercise routine going?" is always hanging in the air.

Another example: when I got a wake up call regarding the social/environmental problems around my clothing habit I shouted my revelation from the rooftops. Now when I'm tempted to browse the shops I think, what if a friend or colleague saw me?

You get a different perspective on what you're doing and it puts your reputation on the line. It works for me because I'm externally motivated and very social.


  • Bristles
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Re: What motivates you? (Or: How to foster good habits?)
« Reply #2 on: July 09, 2012, 03:22:09 PM »
Interesting take on sharing your goals:

However, accountability is definitely useful *if* you have friends willing to keep you accountable. :)

In my case I do what I can to make the things I want part of my every day life. For other stuff, my wife helps me, or I just don't do it. :P

I like Everyday Systems, which attempt to make habits easier: but it's hard to make Everyday Systems for every part of life.


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Re: What motivates you? (Or: How to foster good habits?)
« Reply #3 on: July 09, 2012, 04:20:52 PM »
Cosmie, do you worry that some of your purchases might stop motivating you once they've "paid for themselves"? Or are the new habits really becoming ingrained?


  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
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Re: What motivates you? (Or: How to foster good habits?)
« Reply #4 on: July 11, 2012, 01:40:34 PM »
I find giving yourself a reward when you accomplish part of your goal can help keep you motivated to keep going.

You could treat yourself to a piece of chocolate after every healthly meal you eat, or something like that.  Eventually you will not need the chocolate.  sounds simple but it works.


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Re: What motivates you? (Or: How to foster good habits?)
« Reply #5 on: July 11, 2012, 01:53:36 PM »
I make "social" investments by telling absolutely everybody I know of my intentions.

This is a great suggestion. Also, tracking progress helps. It makes accomplishing goals more tactile, less abstract.

Approaching habit-building like a trial and error experiment can help too. If you fail, consider what brought it about. Recognize where your current limits are, work within those parameters, and gradually expand them.


  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
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Re: What motivates you? (Or: How to foster good habits?)
« Reply #6 on: July 11, 2012, 01:59:46 PM »
Well defined goals and time-lines keep me motivated.  This year we are paying off the house, it is a HUGE motivation for both my husband and I.  So, that makes the little steps easier.  Also, I try to do as much as I can to make saving money automatic.  I don't sign up for extra bills and ruthlessly try to cut when I can.  We bought a programmable thermostat a few years ago so it adjusts up and down on its own, even if I forget, saving a ton of money.  I've made hanging the laundry a part of our evening routine.  I try to make sure I leave early so I can use measures to save gas, etc.

For food I just don't buy junk food.  I've got children and that is a big motivator in that regard for me.  If you eat crap your kids will as well.  Besides the fact I don't like feeling like crap.

Making an investment such as what you do has never worked out for me long term in the way you've stated.  I make myself commit to something without the shiny gadget, etc before investing.  If I can keep at something then I will look at investing but otherwise not.  I try not to buy anything until I show a real need for it and that I will use it.  I end up saving a lot of money that way.

I also tell people  as well.  Everyone knows we are working towards paying off the house.  It would be a huge embarassment not to be able to do it at the end of the year now.  So, we track every dollar and are keeping it tight because we want the end result more than we want any other little thing and we don't want to look like fools.


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Re: What motivates you? (Or: How to foster good habits?)
« Reply #7 on: July 11, 2012, 11:58:21 PM »
I used to try the big investment theory but it didn't always work for me.  I'm guessing that the reason it worked for you in the first two examples is that you purchased a tool which made the change much easier.  In the case of the bike, you already have the tool you need, but you still aren't using it.  I would suggest looking for a way to make it easier to take the bike.  Could you park further away from campus so that the bike is more convenient at school?


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Re: What motivates you? (Or: How to foster good habits?)
« Reply #8 on: July 13, 2012, 08:49:23 AM »
I've found that it's very motivating to track my progress, especially in graphs.  I have a phone app that maps my bike rides, graphs my speed, and shares my stats on Facebook (so I get the social accountability thing too).  For a while I kept a blog about what I packed for lunch -- it helped me be creative about what to pack.  If you lift weights you can make graphs of a particular benchmark exercise.  I do jiujitsu, so it's hard to graph that, but I check my progress against other students and in tournaments.

I got this idea from Mint -- when I started using that, I realized that saving was a lot more fun if I could look at a graph of how much work my money was doing. 

For me, a big part of staying motivated is feeling like I'm making progress.  It means I have to set measurable goals, and have a way of measuring my progress that's not a huge pain in the ass.


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Re: What motivates you? (Or: How to foster good habits?)
« Reply #9 on: July 13, 2012, 05:49:04 PM »
My children motivate me: quit smoking, eat better, work-out, save more, remove cable, payoff car, save even more....


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Re: What motivates you? (Or: How to foster good habits?)
« Reply #10 on: July 14, 2012, 07:39:36 AM »
Building habits takes time for me. I put notes where needed so that when I come home distracted after work, I see the note and remember my intention. I allow myself 2 months of this to see if it will work - if after 2 months it's still not habit, then I figure it just wasn't important enough for me and forget it.

I also plan to succeed - for example, I take my lunch to work every day, so in the evening my lunch bag goes on the counter so that when I pour my first cup of coffee before 6 am, I see the lunch bag & it gets filled. Once filled, it goes on the door knob so that I won't forget to bring it to work!

For something like biking to work - I would leave the bike lock on the bike, hang the helmet on the exit door (or somewhere you have to stop before leaving), put the bike key on your regular keyring, put out your biking clothing the night before... stuff like that. Anticipate that you will fail and build the routine so that you can succeed.

And if I fail, I don't beat myself up over it. I take call and have had call days like the one this past week where I worked 15 out of 24 hours, didn't get home until 1 am, back at work at 7 am... I can get very tired, but still manage to bring my lunch to work every day because of I hang my lunch bag on the door knob. Now when it's not there my reaction is "what's wrong?"!


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Re: What motivates you? (Or: How to foster good habits?)
« Reply #11 on: July 22, 2012, 11:21:15 AM »
I find that setting up a system that works for me takes a lot of time and trial and error to get to a change in habit and it is usually externally motivated (ie. I need a reason that it not just will power).  Here is what has worked for me to change habits/lifestyle:

1. Eating - buying expensive equipment does not motivate me.  Having people to cook for does.  I want my kids and partner to eat healthy so I plan and cook for them and get the benefit myself. 

2. Exercise - I have a dog that needs to be walked and therefore I get a walk as well.  I also have a garden that needs to be maintained.  I am currently looking at bumping up my exercise level a lot with my partner.  We have committed to doing an exercise routine at home together using a dvd.  We will see how it goes but I expect this will likely work.  If not, I may have to get a paper route or something :)

3. Saving money - I find this one comes natural to me.  I enjoy the challenge of making the numbers lower each month if I can.  We are moving closer to work/school on October 1 to save money and increase walking overall.  I like reading books on this and implementing new ideas.

4. Stress - I am very motivated to reduce stress.  I have taken all kinds of steps to do this including working for myself, reducing contact with those who are not positive, reducing work hours, and, again, moving closer to an area that is central for our needs.

5. Cleaning - I invite people over regularly.  Suddenly I am motivated to clean the day before!  I also follow speed cleaning and fly lady recommendations.

6. Personal growth - I think it is really important to keep at this one.  Being FI does not guarantee happiness for you and your family members.  Spiritual or emotional growth is pretty key for me.  I found a program that I think works well.  My partner, children and I have all been through it.  It was expensive and took a week of our time each but it works.  We now have the same language and understanding about what gets us more of what we want together.  My partner and I now coach this program once a year.  We don't pay for this but we do donate a week of our time.  Well worth it and a good refresher.    We have made good friends along the way doing this.

7. Holidays - I bought a vacation rental property in a great winery/orchard/beach/ski/hiking small town where my parents live.  It is cash flow positive. I got a client I work one week a month with in this town.  Our vacations to this place are all business trips now (Kids come three or four times a year to ski or enjoy the lake and visit the grandparents).  We have fun and our travel is paid for, the accommodation has no out of pocket cost, and all of the personal belongings we need are waiting for us in the garage when we arrive.


  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
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Re: What motivates you? (Or: How to foster good habits?)
« Reply #12 on: July 24, 2012, 12:46:02 AM »
I find the following motivates me:

1. Having a clear visualization of the end-point. This isn't just the 'I want to retire', but for me the 'I'll spend everyday with my kids and wife, doing the things we love'

2. Small victories that turn into large ones. I use things like 'no purchase days' where I buy literally nothing as motivation to keep going, this continued momentum makes building upon success easier

3. Forgive myself for the mistakes. Inevitably being a young, 28 year old man I make a few mistakes along the way. This is acceptable so long as I don't let these mistakes compound.

4. Focus on the positive. I tend to think about how short this journey really is (e.g., only a few years, less time than I spent in bloody school) and knowing that each individual action contributes to it getting even shorter.

5. Avoid temptation. This for me is the simplest one but yet the one that most people find the hardest. If my friends about to embark on a bloody debaucherous debacle on Friday after work I simply stay away and spend time doing other activities. I don't buy any form of food other than staples and I ensure I spend Sunday from 5pm - 10pm cooking 3 long-lasting dishes for the week so that I always have food and am not tempted to stuff my face with stash and soul destroying fast food.


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