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Small Steps Will Lead To Lifestyle Change

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?)

  • enza - Being in good physical and financial shape comes about through comprehensive life style changes. There are no quick fixes, as you know.

    The best way to stay physically fit and and in shape is to eat reasonable quantities of nutritionally dense food and exercise regularly (resistance training is oh so important here) …for the rest of one's life. Not particularly insightful or sexy (just like "living within one's means") but that's what works.

    Does the 30 day shred really promise 20 pounds of weight loss in 30 days? How nutty. The most fat one can lose in a week is about one pound. Anymore more than this is muscle and water. And losing muscle is a disaster. Metabolism slows and it's yo yo weight gain a go go after that.

    BTW congrats on the your savings over the last 3 years. What an impressive effort. And good luck with the job hunt too. Been there done that at your age (in the early 1990s when there was 11% unemployment in New Zealand). ReplyCancel

    • WellHeeled - 30 Day Shred says you can lose “up to” 20 pounds a week – that all depends on how much you start off with, of course. I am not looking to lose any pounds, my focus is on trimming inches. And I hope a commitment to exercise for 20 minutes a day, for 30 days is just what I need to jump start my exercise routine.

      I definitely agree with you that there are no quick fixes. It’s all a process. Thanks for the good luck… I’m taking all the luck I can get! :) ReplyCancel

  • Sense - ha ha, I posted almost the exact same thing just now (without seeing this post first, of course!). Small steps are truly the key to change. ReplyCancel

  • Moneyreasons - I'm off to a slow start. So far I've only lost a few pounds this week, and I've barely exercised (a few sets of lifting weights, and shovelling the drive)…

    They once you do someting 21 times (I don't know where they came up with that number), it start to become habit forming. I just need to stick it out for those first 21 days!

    Sounds like wise advice, thanks! ReplyCancel

    • WellHeeled - 21 times? I guess after 30 days of The Shred I'll become a Shredder for life, no? ;) ReplyCancel

  • Sam - I recently started reading your blog and I love it! I can completely relate to this post on both the fitness/health and financial levels. I lost ~25 pounds that I packed on in college about 4 years ago and it did not happen overnight! I took about 9 months of implementing small changes such as exercise, limiting portions, eliminating mindless eating, etc. The same is true with personal finances-we don't get ourselves into debt overnight, therefore we will only achieve financial freedom by making positive small changes. I will be discussing similar topics on a new blog I just started as well. Good luck with your fitness and financial goals! ReplyCancel

  • psychsarah - Well said! I'm trying to focus on feeling fit (like having the energy to do the stuff I want to-like you described with tango) rather than weight loss. I hold the belief that we aren't all meant to be thin or a certain weight, but I think we can all feel better if we move regularly. So, I make sure I do something physical a minimum of 4 days a week (a walk, a fitness class, a workout dvd at home, dancing around my living room) so I can maintain my energy level. Most of this is accomplished by making these activities social-I meet two different groups of friends to do most of these activities. This makes my lifestyle healthier in two ways-by moving my body and keeping me in touch with great sources of social support and laughter. ReplyCancel

    • WellHeeled - I'm in favor of anything that makes exercise seem more fun, and having friends to do it with you is certainly great. :) What types of fitness classes do you take? ReplyCancel

  • Kim - I try to go to Curves 3x a week, but I think the best steps towards fitness-happiness for me have been realizing that I don't need to beat myself up if I don't. When I wasn't working, I went 4-5x a week, every week, because I had nothing else to do. Now that I'm working again, I have less time and energy, but I do try to get myself there after work a few times a week. I'm not doing it to lose weight (another step towards lifestyle happiness was just being happy with my body); I'm doing it for my health. And if one week, I only go twice because life gets in the way, well, I'm ok with that. ReplyCancel

  • Ralph - Great post!

    It takes a lot of discipline to tell your body 'no'. I think that is why most people are unable to stay in shape and eat right. And I agree with you, life is much more fun when you're i shape. Thanks for sharing! ReplyCancel

  • MoneyReasons Weekly Review 2010, Jan 10 | Money Reasons - [...] Well-Heeled Blog - has a great article on lifestyle changing goals called “Small Steps Will Lead to Lifestyle Change“.  [...]ReplyCancel

  • Caity - To me, awareness is the most important step. I've been trying to become more aware of what I buy — as a student, I don't even have a basement to throw things into, and it really strikes me how much little purchases add up, both on my credit card and in my closet. Life will be more fun if my life is in order — no more useless clutter! ReplyCancel

  • LobotoME - good luck on the 30 day shred challenge – you can do it! i just started 90 day challenge of p90x! ReplyCancel

  • Kristine - Discipline. Both finance and fitness require discipline. ReplyCancel

  • Laura - :-) Thanks for the motivation!
    How did day 1 of the 30 day shred go? I should have mine today! ReplyCancel

    • WellHeeled - Day 1 was successfully completed. Right now I am mustering up the courage to tackle Day 2. I think my fingers and toes are the only muscles that *aren't* store. ReplyCancel

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