I have been running my own business for about 3 1/2 years. Starting my own business was a tremendously challenging, frightening, exciting and rewarding experience. It was an experience I almost didn’t have, though.
It seems that for most of us, major life changes like this sit in our imaginations about the future. We dream and fantasize about what our future will be like once we start our business or improve our diet, start working out every day, fix our career path, organize our house, spend more time with family or friends…. and on and on.
Then the days go by… then weeks, years, maybe even decades, and at some point, we realize that we’re still holding on to that wonderful dream. But it’s still in our imagination about the future, and the reality of life hasn’t brought us any closer to it yet.
When I began thinking about starting a business, it was an abstract, “someday” idea. It was something I was going to do when I was “ready.” I wanted to do more planning and save more money and do all those things the “experts” tell us to do. The problem was, I was so caught up in my routine of work, family, home maintenance, etc., that I was making no progress on the planning and saving. I was just too busy. And, as soon as I was done with my projects around the house, or as soon as my son was older, or as soon as I got a raise, THEN I would start planning and saving.
Time passed and I was no closer to starting my business than I was when I first had the idea. Suddenly, the realization hit me:
If the routine of my life was not getting me closer to my goals, then it never would, and I would always be in a state of “wanting.” I would always be stuck in the routine I was in. Nothing would ever change!
This scared me a lot! So, I went to the other extreme. I quit my job within a couple months and started a business with no money, exactly one client with a limited budget and a fuzzy business plan.
This may or may not have been the wisest choice as it caused some severe financial strain over the coming months, of which I am still experiencing some fallout today. However, I survived. My family survived.
Given the option to go back and rescind that choice, I would never even consider it. In fact, it almost makes my stomach turn to think of what it would be like to still be stuck in the routine I was living back then. Though, the process was difficult and frightening, the payoff has been tremendous.
It’s the fear of facing this difficult and frightening situation that keeps us in our routines. Routines are safe. They require no risk and provide comfort and solace when life is tough. This can be good during especially difficult and trying times. But, the trade off is that they guarantee that nothing will ever change… ever!
So.. here’s the motivational kick in the butt…
Imagine what your life will be like if you take no actions on your goals, ever.
That is exactly what I did today, and it is what prompted me to write this article. Although I am grateful for the life I have today and am blessed with a successful business that allows me to work when and where I want, spend more time with my family and make more money than I could otherwise make, there are a number of sacrifices I have been making to make this work. These sacrifices were meant to be temporary, but have become a part of the routine of my life. One of those sacrifices has been serious limitations on the amount of time I can afford to spend on this website. Another has been practically eliminating contributions to my retirement savings.
Ultimately, my goal has been to make this site my top priority. To write articles and books and provide a number of other services of value. Today, I realized I am not much closer to that goal than I was 3 1/2 years ago. In fact, judging strictly by my recent pattern of article posting, it appears I may have gotten further from the goal. Why? Because I have settled into a safe routine: a routine that helps me pay my bills today, but does nothing to improve my life tomorrow.
So, here’s what I imagine my life being like if I stay in this routine: I will continue to sell my time for money to pay my bills on a month to month basis. Every once in a while, there will be a slow down in business or one or more clients will have difficulty paying me on time and I will worry about paying my bills, empty my savings and get stressed out. As I get close to retirement and see that I still have saved next to nothing, I will sell my house, move into an efficiency apartment and apply for food assistance so I can afford to feed myself packaged food. My social security will be enough to pay my rent, but eventually, my car will get old and decrepit (not to mention that gas will be $35 a gallon by then), and I will be stuck in the city I live in most of the time. When my health starts to deteriorate with age, I will be overwhelmed with medical bills and prescriptions that are not covered by medicare (if it still exists). At some point, I’ll apply for a minimum wage job to try to improve my living standards and then spend the rest of my life looking forward to the day I can afford to quit.
I don’t know about you, but that vision was a serious kick in the butt. What is frightening about it is that it is entirely realistic. In fact, not just realistic, but probable.
Here’s the reality check:
If you do not do today what you need to do to accomplish your goals tomorrow, you will never accomplish them…. ever!
This may sound grim and perhaps even un-motivating, but it’s the absolute truth, and I find it tremendously motivating. I’ll talk about that in a minute, but let me first explain why it is the absolute truth, because I think it’s important to understand this:
- You have no control over tomorrow… period. There is no guarantee that you will do anything differently tomorrow than you do today. In fact, it is highly likely that you will live your life tomorrow almost exactly how you are living your life today. And, tomorrow, you will expect things to be different the day after tomorrow.
- Today is the best predictor of the rest of your life.
- You do have control over today. This is good news! More specifically, you have control over this moment. This moment is your life. You experience your entire life from beginning to end in this moment. Can you remember a time when it was not this moment?
Does this mean we have to turn our lives around completely today? No. It means that some action needs to be taken today with a plan of action for the next day. For instance, I am writing this article today. After this, I am going to get back to a project that will help me pay my bills. Tomorrow, I will spend time on a project that will move me closer to my goals.
Where’s The Motivation?
Perhaps intuitively, we all can imagine that facing a realistic future that absolutely sucks can motivate us to change that future (i.e. Mr Scrooge in A Christmas Story).
Let’s dig into this further. Please read this carefully. It may go a long way in helping you understand why you do (or don’t do) the things you do:
When we discipline our children, we usually find it most effective to include some rewards along with some punishments: i.e. “If you throw your toys at the dog, I’ll have to take them away. If you play nice with your toys, I’ll help you build a tower.” Similarly, when we think about our future goals, we are presented with the potential rewards our goals bring. That is enough to get us excited and dreaming, but it isn’t really enough to get us to face our fears and disrupt the routines of our lives. Like the child who gets some satisfaction from watching the dog’s reaction to being whacked with a toy, we get some satisfaction out of our current routines. When we present ourselves with the impending punishment of a life lived without accomplishing our goals, we then have a full suite of behavior modifying tools.
We often like to focus on positive reinforcement and affirmations. These are great tools, especially when we already feel awful about our lives and are motivated to do better. But then as soon as life becomes okay, we lose motivation. That’s when we need the kick in the butt. We need to face the reality that, if we continue doing what we’ve been doing, eventually, our toys (our dreams) will be taken away.
We need to focus realistically and intently on this reality until it becomes real to us, not just an empty threat, like the parent who doesn’t follow through on the consequence.
An Activity For Today
Consider what will your life be like if you continue doing what you are doing. What will your body be like? What will your financial situation be like? What will your relationships be like? What will your routines be like in a year? a decade? in your autumn years? How will you see yourself and your life on your dying day?
Consider what will your life be like if you take action every day on your goals. What will your body be like? What will your financial situation be like? What will your relationships be like? What will your routines be like in a year? a decade? in your autumn years? How will you see yourself and your life on your dying day?
So… What are you going to do today?
Continue reading about seizing the moment: