I don’t look unhealthy from the outside, but I’ve never been good about exercise. Every New Year – even though I’ve stopped making New Year’s resolutions – I think, this will be the year I really get in shape. But I never sustained my efforts past a few days, because for some reason I saw “getting in shape” as this grand undertaking that requires me to run 5 miles a day, subsist on lettuce, reject beef, and swear off butter. FOREVER. And I’d try to do that, but after 3 days I am so sick and tired of salads and running, and that would be the end of that until the next year.
Now I understand why some people are so reluctant to save, or exercise – even though we know – we know! – it’s good for us. Because the big goals – Financial Independence, or Retirement, or Sailing Around The World, or Getting In Shape, can seem so far-off and impossible, or they seem to require an unrealistic level of discipline and structure. If you see route to Financial Independence as making your own toilet paper or buying clothes once every 10 years, then of course you couldn’t – and wouldn’t – do it.
This year, something clicked and my perspective on “getting in shape” changed. A few months ago, I seriously got into tango. It gave me some much needed exercise, but also made me realize that if I can’t dance for an hour without feeling exhausted, I really should kick my lifestyle from “sedentary” to “active”. Tango is such a joy – and it will be even more fun if I were in better shape and can dance for two hours straight (or maybe even 3! – imagine the possibilities!).
Then it’s as if a light bulb went off - life will be much more fun if I were in better shape. Just as personal finance shouldn’t make you miserable, a healthy lifestyle isn’t about deprivation. It’s not about saying “no” to delicious foods or relaxing days, it’s saying “yes” to taking good care of the only body you’ll ever have.
Some people spend beyond their means and don’t save for the future because they say, “you only live once”. But eventually, hopefully, they will realize that life will be much more fun if your finances were in order. If I am too unhealthy, I won’t enjoy my life, even if I can eat strawberry shortcakes every day. If I am too in debt and have creditors calling me every day, I won’t enjoy my life, even if I buy expensive cars or go on luxurious vacations.
A few days ago I took my first “small financial step” of 2010 – contributing $250 to my Roth IRA. On Monday, I will take my first (and very painful) “small exercise step” of 2010 – doing Day 1 of the 30 Day Shred. Small steps are worth celebrating, because if you maintain enough small steps, over a long enough period, you may be surprised to find yourself with a changed lifestyle, a changed outlook.
And the best part is, this lifestyle will be sustainable. Financial responsibility (or frugality, if you will), is not fad. Eating right and exercising are not fads. I know that now. And I’m willing to take enough small steps to make “getting in shape” happen.
What small steps have you taken to achieve your lifestyle goals?
(This is not a health or fitness blog, but I want to write more about this aspect of my life because there are so many parallels between fitness and finance, and they are both cornerstones of a healthy, happy life – how do you guys feel about that?)