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True Grit for 2020

Phil Dawson  |  January 1, 2020

“RESOLUTE” is the wrong adjective to describe most of us at the start of a new year. We know what we should be doing for our future self. But within weeks, days and sometimes hours, we forget about the person we’ll become.

What can we do to improve our odds of success in 2020? As Stephen Covey taught us years ago in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, the answer is to exercise integrity at the moment of choice. That’s perhaps the most difficult behavior to implement with consistency, so here are eight supporting suggestions:

1. Start with why. In his book, Simon Sinek explains the importance of getting clear about your objectives. If you can clarify the importance of the changes you’re trying to make, you may find within you the incentive to persevere on your chosen path.

This preparation takes time and energy, and yet it may be the key to long-term success. Perhaps you’re seeing the suboptimal results of a family member’s lack of financial planning and wish to avoid his or her fate. That’s a pretty strong “why.” But make sure your resolution is your own and not something imposed on you.

2. Focus. There may be multiple dimensions where you’d like to improve, but it’s best to prioritize and focus on the one thing that will have the biggest impact on your life, according to author Gary Keller.

Maybe you aspire to have a generous travel budget, but your debt load is crushing you. Focus on the basics. Lose the debt and your opportunities to save will increase by a commensurate amount, plus interest. Be precise with your written plan. The greater your resolve to achieve your desired outcome, the less you leave to chance. Spend some time pondering the costs and rewards of your goals in great detail.

3. Think small. The results of years of overspending or poor nutrition can be daunting. What can you do—or stop doing—today that will begin to reverse those conditions?

“Focus on these small wins so you can make gradual progress,” says Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit. “If you’re building a habit, you’re planning for the next decade, not the next couple of months.”

4. Be realistic. Get real about the dysfunction in your life and the amount of time it took you to create it. Chances are you have been living with it for a while, which is why you’re resolving to correct it.

The Stockdale Paradox is a warning about the downside of optimism. In an interview with Jim Collins, Admiral Jim Stockdale shared that the first prisoners to die in the Vietnamese POW camps were the optimists: “You must never ever confuse, on the one hand, the need for absolute, unwavering faith that you can prevail despite those constraints with, on the other hand, the need for the discipline to begin by confronting the brutal facts, whatever they are.” In short, be prepared to grind it out.

5. Automate your choices. Even the best intentions and strongest of wills can fade from exhaustion and inattention. Thus, it can help to reduce or eliminate the number of conscious choices or activities required to meet your objectives. Using automation will eliminate the most unreliable link in your financial plan—you. Research on the effects of automatic enrollment in retirement plans confirm this.

6. Be accountable. Announce your intentions to someone who understands and supports you. Better still, tell someone who is committed to similar goals and willing to share in your success and failure. Social commitment and personal connection can be strong motivators when the going gets tough.

7. Understand why you fail. There are likely patterns in your imprudent behavior. These patterns may involve certain people, places, retail websites or recurring negative emotions. You will need to find ways to understand and intercept those triggers. Your accountability partner may be able to help or you may need to employ a professional.

8. Lose the losers. In his bestseller 12 Rules for Life, Jordan Peterson talks about the importance of making friends with those who want the best for you. Many “friendships” endure only because we lack the courage to end them. Jim Rohn says, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” If that thought scares you, maybe it should.

“Fall seven, rise eight” is an ancient concept that’s found in many enduring cultures. In 2019, we saw many assaults on the Dawson family financial plan. Expenses that couldn’t be anticipated escalated to tens of thousands of dollars. Many times, I was reminded of the words of my friend and mentor Rafael Reyes: “If you have the money, it’s not a problem. It’s an expense.” While that’s true, a series of beatdowns can leave you discouraged—and cause you to capitulate. Please don’t. If you care to look, examples of resilience abound. Take courage. Be resolute.

When not paddling, biking or shooting, Phil Dawson provides technical services for a global auto manufacturer. He, his sweetheart Donna and their four extraordinary daughters live in and around Jarrettsville, Maryland. His previous articles include Tending the GardenWhen Brokers Fail and Financially Fit. You can contact Phil via LinkedIn.

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