Help A Guy Out! – The Dark Side of Immersion

I thought I’d try something a little different today. I’m dedicating a blog post to a problem I’m having and then turning it over to my readers to for help. If it goes well, I may just turn it into an ongoing series. 

I have a problem. It surfaces after I pick and then focus on a long-term goal. First, it was to become debt free. For eight years I myopically chased this pursuit. Now, I’m focused on Financial Independence and am looking at another decade before we are in striking distance.

These are great goals and my life is richer for setting and pursuing them. However, the time line leads to periods of discouragement.

Discouragement During the Debt Free Journey

I’ve written about the importance of Immersion when trying to make a change in your life. This was certainly a tool I utilized during our journey to debt freedom. I’ve also given you the mathematical trick I used to stay motivated during this period.

However, despite these tools, our 8-year journey to debt freedom had its fair share of lulls as well. Maintaining intense levels of motivation over such a long period of time is challenging if not impossible.

There were numerous times throughout this process where we took the foot off the gas and coasted for a while. I think this is just part of the process.

The problem is when these periods of coasting lead to negative momentum. When we made progress and paid off large chunks of debt, we felt encouraged and it was easy to keep pushing forward.

But then a medical bill would pop up or Christmas spending would get in the way. That’s when we started to coast. Unable to make larger payments towards the debt for a few months, our restricted life and lack of progress combined to form the mental hurdle of discouragement.

Discouragement

This usually didn’t last for more than a couple months at a time, but having 2 or more bouts discouragement in a year quickly adds up. Spending a third to a half of your year discouraged about the goal you’ve set for yourself is no way to live.

Don’t get me wrong; these periods of discouragement didn’t have me on the verge of depression. I was able to enjoy all of the other aspects of my life. It wasn’t hugely disruptive to the rest of my functioning.

However, I’m struggling with if it is a necessary part of the process or if it is something I can find a way to overcome.

Financial Independence (FI) Journey

Our FI journey has followed a similar emotional path. Long time line..check. Disrupted progress by life’s inevitable financial anomalies..check. Feeling discouraged…check.

Maybe discouragement is the wrong word for our FI journey. Impatience seems more accurate. I know we’ll achieve FI and I don’t have doubts like “is it worth it?” the way I did with our debt free journey.

But I do go through periods of impatience. Wanting to be further along than we are. Wanting to begin planning our life after FI, but knowing so much will change in the next decade that planning anything now would be premature.

The Dark Side of Immersion

Okay, not that dark.

I soon realized the impatience I felt was an unintended consequence of immersion. While I continue to thoroughly believe in the value of immersion when trying to achieve a goal, I’m beginning to see its dark side.

This impatience is partly a personality flaw, but I also think it is fueled by surrounding myself with others who are further along in their FI journey or who have already achieved FI.

I will continue to read my fellow freedom seeking bloggers and listen to the FI podcasts. The benefits I get from these resources far outweigh this minor drawback. But I do need to find a way to shift my mindset away from this impatience.

Short Term Goals

I know that the logical solution is to create short or moderate term goals that will be more achievable and offer a sense of accomplishment.

While I do set short-term goals, I have a hard time feeling good about these milestones when I know achieving them is just a drop in the bucket of the “real goal”.

These short-term goals tend to be the worst of both worlds. I gain very little encouragement from achieving them and feel even more discouraged if I don’t reach it in the time frame I’ve set for myself.

Help!?

So I’m turning to my loyal readership and seeking your sage wisdom. How do you navigate your long-term goals? How to do avoid the pitfalls of impatience and discouragement when the timeline for achieving your goal is years rather than months?

19 Comments

  1. “I know that the logical solution is to create short or moderate term goals that will be more achievable and offer a sense of accomplishment.”

    I think this quote demonstrates why you feel the discouragement in the long term goal. Short term goals are not just sense of accomplishments, they are actually achievements one should celebrate.

    Creating a dividend stream of income that brings in $100 when you were first at $0 is an achievement. Further, taking that $100 and turning it into $500 is another achievement. They may be short term to the overall goal of reaching 10K (or whatever your looking for), but dog on it $100 is 100 dollars coming in each month due to your effort, sacrifice, and research.

    I find that it is much more worth celebrating than say investing in a dividend stock that goes bankrupt – meaning you go from $100 to $0 again. The point of a goal is to enjoy the process, not get to the result. Why? Because as you focus on hitting each individual milestone or short term goal if you will, you are learning so much that when you get to that final goal, it is just another short term goal in the grand scheme of your life.

    It gives you confidence you can define and execute things you want in your life. For the dividend example, you have gained a skill that will continually allow you to grow your income. The better you get, the more you can generate, the more you get to generate from the money you generate (inception :D).

    If you feel that your discouraged at the moment, it could be a great time to rethink why your doing it and what you are giving up if you don’t continue towards it.

    Discouragement in adversity and during long term goals isn’t something only your dealing with, even I get discouraged on my debt free goal (its only been 6 months), but 3 years from now I will look back and be so thankful to myself for doing it. I will also enjoy a huge shopping spree to celebrate the shopping ban I put myself through in the process.

    Overall, your on a path that both you, your wife, and your boys will be so thankful for in the future. Why? You will be able to attend their sport events without haggling over work or time. You will get to have dinner with them regularly to enjoy time with them every day. You will be able to teach them about money, and even help them with a lot of the difficult decisions they will need to make as they grow into adults. You’re doing awesome – you can keep doing awesome !! Good luck!

    1. Wow, I think you might have a future in motivational speaking, that was awesome!!

      I think you are absolutely right on both fronts. First I need to work hard at seeing my short term successes as the achievements they are. I think if I keep looking at them like a drop in the bucket, they will keep feeling like that. But instead, if I look at accomplishing the short term goal as the victory that it is, I will be able to enjoy it a lot more.

      I also think I need to focus less on the financial side of the goal and more on what that goal actually represents. What my life will actually look like once the goal is accomplished. I think it’s easy for me to get stuck on the dollar amounts I’m shooting for and forget why I’m aiming for those amounts in the first place.

      I really appreciate you taking the time to provide such a thoughtful comment!

  2. The journey is long but well worth it. I noticed I was getting complacent and had to do a self-reflection on why. Ended up writing a post about it but the spark notes are, “What are you running to?”

    With my new found motivation I was able to find the missing piece of the FI journey. My yearly, five year, and bucket list had new meaning. They were all the steps I needed to make to get to FI.

    I take the bucket list and break them down into my five year goals (if applicable). Each year we take the five year goals and pop off one year and build our yearly goals.

    Anyone in software development can see how this is similar to tasks, stories, and epics from Agile development.

    The key is to have something you can check off each quarter to keep your focus and that helps get you to FI.

    1. Great Stuff Budget on a Stick! I continue to wrestle with the question of what I’m running towards. In fact, it was one of the reasons I started a blog. I wanted to see if blogging might be something that could keep me occupied and give me purpose after I wrap up my mandatory work career…the jury is still out on that one.

      I think you’re right, I probably need to get more granular with my short term goals. I generally have my one overarching long term goal and then a “short term” goal of where I’d like to be at the end of the year. Maybe creating quarterly goals would help with keeping the complacency away.

      I really appreciate your thoughtful response!

  3. The struggle is real with this question as I know exactly what you are talking about. I am dreaming about FI too. The difference is that my impatience is fueled by the fact that my timespan for reaching FI on the traditional way can be measured in decades instead of years, which is unacceptable and also not something worth fighting for. Thus I have to come up with ideas how to accelerate this process. Saying this I cannot offer a painkiller for the problem, but some oil to the fire. Can you do something to accelerate the process somehow to fulfill your impatience? (Of course without harming the peaceful and happy life you live)

    1. That’s a really good thought. I’ve actually been thinking about what I could do to bring in some more money. The difficulty is working around our kid’s schedule. I certainly want to get to FI sooner, but don’t want to sacrifice seeing my kids for the next five years to do so. I actually have an idea on how to do this, but it’s a bit of a long shot. I’ll keep refining it and if it works out, I’ll be sure to write all about it.

  4. I try to distract myself from focusin on the long-term goals daily by focusing on short-term wins in the meantime.

    For example, when I first invested in the stock market years ago I used to obsessively check out each of my stocks were doing. I’d be anxious if they went down, excited when they went up. But the thing is, I wasn’t investing as a day trader. My goal was to make money in the long-run. I wanted stocks that I believed would grow and offer dividends in the meantime. Of course they’d go up and down, that’s the nature of the market.

    So I set goals instead to increase how much money I was putting into the stock market. I focused on saving money and not what my already-invested money was doing MULTIPLE times a day. Then with that money, I would focus on researching new stocks. This helped me get into different habits.

    1. I remember my early days of an investor being very similar. It was addicting to check how my “portfolio” was doing throughout the day. Fortunately, I broke myself of this habit. But while I’m not checking the stock market daily, maybe I’m doing something similar with running various financial projections over and over again. This is probably fueling my discouragement and impatience. I’ll try giving myself a break from it and seeing how I feel as a result. Great suggestion, Thanks!!

  5. All rising to great place is by a winding stair. – Francis Bacon.

    Whenever you are feeling like your motivation is lagging or you are wondering if it is all worth it, stop what you are doing and talk to any colleague at work or that one friend or your sister-n-law. For me, five minutes of listening to how ass backwards their financial life is does wonders to remind me why I fight.
    Being conscious of these concepts let alone trying to implement them, or for gods sake blogging about them puts you leaps and bounds ahead of the curve.
    FI is about Freedom at the end of the day and all forms of self discipline are working to make you a better person overall.

    Carry on Good Sir.

    1. I love this comment. Not only did it make me laugh, but I think you are actually right. I surround myself with influences (i.e. other bloggers and podcasters) who are making better choices than me. I forget that the average person doesn’t think or manage their finances in this manner.

      Great stuff! I really appreciate it.

    1. Thanks, Chrissy! I’ve fallen behind in the ChooseFI podcast (I’ve been absorbed in The Minimalist’s podcast for the past few weeks). I appreciate the recommendation, I’ll listen to this one on my walk tomorrow morning!

  6. I definitely feel that it is just part of the process. We go through it all the time. It is easy to be amped up when you save a bunch of money or see your net worth jump drastically. But there are also many a times spent just waiting or “coasting”. I don’t really have any advice since I feel like all I do is wait it out and try to stay positive in the mean time. Timely post since I kinda feel in the slump of it as we speak.

    1. I’ll be sure to let you know if I find a way to bust the slump. In the meantime, there have been some great comments so far, which has been really helpful for me! I think it is easier to ride out these periods when you like your job (which I know you do) and I do as well. So we have that going for us.

  7. MSF, boy do I understand where you are coming from. We will always find people further ahead and most further behind where we are in our FI journey. We must continue with diligence, but not forgetting to celebrate the wins. It is always good to share with someone who appreciates our victory, no matter how small. It is amazing to me how much easier it is for some to celebrate each victory and so much harder for the rest of us. It is just part of our personality I guess. Perhaps a focus on something other than your long term goals is in order. My spouse and I recently started yoga and we are enjoying the difference. If one looks at it from purely the expense standpoint, it has nothing to with furthering our financial journey. It does however, give us opportunity for community, taking mind off of business for a time, and focusing strictly on the moment. Your walks are a great way of doing this. Also reaching out to your readership, as this engages all of us, and we realize that we aren’t alone. So thanks for posting, and I hope that this fuels you in your journey.

    1. Thanks for the support Larry! I think finding a non-financially driven goal would be really helpful for me in this struggle. I have a harder time following through on goals I’m not quite as invested in, so I’ll have to put some thought into something that will keep my interest. I appreciate you taking the time to provide this thoughtful response!

  8. You’ve gotten some great advice here MSF! For me looking backwards is often the answer. Seeing where I was 1 year, 5 years, or 10 years ago to where I am now really helps. Fills me with a sense of gratitude and motivates me to keep going.

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