Are you improving your habits?

Blog post #430

For most of us, wealth or a successful career does not happen overnight.

Growing your wealth or accomplishing almost anything, such as improving your health or building a business, takes time. Success in these types of endeavors rarely happens quickly. Massive success does not always require massive action. In reality, most successes are usually the result of changes that seem small and incremental, which accumulate over months and years and then compound into remarkable results…..if you’re willing to stick with good habits for years.

In the book Atomic Habits by James Clear, he explains how very small changes in your habits and routines can have a significant long-term positive impact on your life. Although I have only started the book, I highly recommend it already.

Clear explains his title….” atomic” means an extremely small amount of a thing which is the source of immense energy or power. “Habit” is a routine or practice performed regularly.

Improving by 1% per day or per year does not seem like much, and may not even be noticeable at the time, but over the long run, can be very meaningful.

Likewise, small declines or mistakes here and there hinder progress and can eventually lead to a problem. Think of your daily food decisions, fast food visits or poor financial decisions, such as if you tried to time the stock market and failed at it. Did you ever get out of the market and then miss a huge recovery before you got back in?

If you are working and trying to build your retirement, are you increasing your retirement plan contribution % every year, when you get a raise?

  • If you did that, you would be saving more every year, and still taking home more money.
  • If you increased your retirement contribution every year, say from 5%, to 6%, to 7% and continuing each year…..that would have a huge impact on your savings and wealth accumulation over 5-10-15 years.

When my three children were young, we saved a few hundred dollars per month for each of them for college. Along with the habit of saving gift money they received from relatives, such as grandparents, and sacrificing some trips to ensure that we continued to save, we were able to save enough for each of their college costs. The growth of these accounts did not happen overnight….it was the result of starting at birth and continuing to save for more than 15 years for each of them. Also, we were disciplined and stuck with the investments, regardless of the ups and downs of the stock market.

In his bookClear stresses that “habits are the compound interest of self-improvement. The same way that money multiplies through compound interest, the effects of your habits multiply as you repeat them. They seem to make little difference on any given day and yet the impact they deliver over the months and years can be enormous. It is only when looking back two, five, or perhaps 10 years later that the value of good habits and the cost of bad ones becomes strikingly apparent.” **

If you save money each month or regularly, you don’t become a millionaire overnight. If you go to the gym or workout a few days in a row, you are not suddenly in great shape. For most of us, we make a few changes, try to change our habits….but don’t see quick results, so we don’t make the change a permanent habit for the long term.

Clear empathizes over and over that success is the product of daily habits that you stick with, not a once in a lifetime transformation, such as one great stock pick or starting the latest fad diet for a few days or weeks. You should be more focused on your trajectory. Are you moving in the right direction? We can help you with your financial planning, financial habits and trajectory. A personal trainer can help you with your health trajectory.

  • Are you spending less than you are earning?
  • Are you saving regularly?
  • Are you exercising regularly, doing both aerobics and strength training?

Your outcomes (results) are a lagging measure of your habits (what you have done in the past for many years). Your net worth is a lagging measure of your financial habits (which we can help you with). Your weight is a lagging measure of your eating habits. Your clutter (and mine) is a lagging measure of your cleaning habits and organizational skills (and mine). You get what you repeat.

Clear introduces two concepts that I found very instructive late in the first chapter. He said we all go through a “Valley of Disappointment” when we adopt new habits. We start exercising and don’t see quick results. It is frustrating. So, we get disappointed and don’t stick with it long enough to see the compounding benefits. Most of us quit the new habit when we are in the Valley of Disappointment. We want to see the results and impact, but the key of the compounding process is that the most powerful outcomes and changes are delayed into the future. And this is part of the reason that so many new habits are started and not adhered to for the long term, let alone for weeks or months.

To see a meaningful difference, we must adhere to new habits and practices long enough to reach the breakthrough, or what he calls the “Plateau of Latent Potential.” When you are saving monthly for college or retirement, the account may not grow much month to month, but then you realize at some point, which may be years into the future, that your monthly or quarterly habit of savings is becoming real money. The account has grown to a significant level. The habit is/was worth sticking to!

While I didn’t know about the “Valley of Disappointment” or the “Plateau of Latent Potential” until this week, I experienced exactly these feelings over the past few months. I hurt my back, which also caused pain down one leg and behind my knees in mid-November. After seeing my internist and a physical medicine doctor, I began physical therapy in mid-December. He prescribed a series of exercises I was to do three times daily, which took 20-25 minutes each time, as well as go in for physical therapy visits 2-3 times per week.

I started the exercises and was very frustrated around Christmas and New Years. I was spending about 60-75 minutes per day doing the exercises, plus office visits….and was not feeling much improvement. In Clear’s terms, I was in the “Valley of Disappointment.”

Fortunately, I am disciplined. I wanted to feel better. I didn’t give up. I made these exercises a new habit. Three times a day, almost every day, regardless of whatever other activities and early morning meetings I had, I did these exercises and went to see the physical therapist as directed, 2-3 times per week. (If anyone needs a great PT recommendation in the Southfield, MI area, I will gladly provide you his name).

Then it happened. All of a sudden, I started to see real improvement. I hit the “Plateau of Latent Potential.” The daily exercises showed signs of paying off. My legs felt better. My back pain was progressively diminishing. That was even more motivating. So, I have continued doing all these new habits, the regular PT exercises and office visits, and the progress has continued.

And unexpectedly, I realized that I was also getting stronger, which was a great side benefit. This is another benefit of adhering to good habits. Sticking to good habits leads to continual improvement, which leads to self-improvement in other parts of your life.

For me and our firm, we have always been dedicated to self-improvement and continual learning. I have been a member of a study group for over 15 years that meets with other financial advisors from across the country a few times a year and have monthly peer telephone calls.

This dedication and habit of self-improvement had another benefit last week. I decided to begin reading Atomic Habits after a Q & A session I participated in last week in Austin, Texas, with the co-CEO of Dimensional Fund Advisors. I had heard of the book previously, but had not read it. Dave Butler, the co-CEO was asked about his habits, as a successful leader. He said he is a huge believer in the power of habits and that successful people develop small habits on a regular basis. And they are successful because they stick to them as long-term habits.

I have a habit of listening to others I respect, and Dave Butler is one of those people. When someone like that recommends a book, I usually go directly into my Amazon app and put the book into my cart. Habit. It then becomes an immediate reminder to consider reading that book. Another habit. Then I read a lot. Habit.

We want to help you develop and continue to have good financial habits.

If you spend less than you earn, you can save.

If you save and invest wisely over the long term, you can have financial success.

You can retire in a comfortable manner. You can travel if you choose. You can provide financial assistance to your children and grandchildren, as well as charitable causes.

A lifetime of good things can come from having good financial habits.

Talk to us about your family. We want to help you, your children, (and even your grandchildren), with any financial matter that is important to you and your family.

If you know of family or friends who could benefit from this type of advice and guidance, please share this post with them, and let them know we are available to help them as well.

** Source, Atomic Habits, James Clear, page 16 (italics added for emphasis)

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *