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How to Form Habits and Be More Disciplined

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Some of you might see this headline and think, that’s rich! Elizabeth shouldn’t be preaching on this topic. But, as I’ve mentioned recently, I have turned my financial life and my personal life around in a lot of ways. I’d like to share how I got here and what’s working for me.

The Budget Calendar

I mentioned I use the exact same method as Our Debt Free Family. I use a Budget Calendar! When I was truly free-falling with money, this is what got me out of the hole. I used to borrow money while I had a full-time job from my sisters who are in college, and this method helped me figure out what I had to spend without dipping into what I owed for rent or my car payment. The concept is straightforward:

  1. Write your pay dates and amounts on the calendar (you can leave these out if you prefer, but I like seeing the whole picture)
  2. Write every single bill payment due date and amount on the calendar
  3. Add things you know you will need to spend money on – your mother-in-law’s birthday, kid’s field trip

I take the total income for a pay period and subtract what I need to spend money on. What’s left is what I can spend, technically.

The struggle, of course, is that I have a LOT leftover and I need to be more judicious about how that money is spent.

Automatic Investing

Saving is a serious challenge for me. This one is pretty simple – I use automatic payroll deductions to save money for retirement. I also automatically deduct a small amount to my fun investment account. I usually end up contributing more on my own each money. It’s the only way I’ve been able to throw money at my RRSP and I intend to increase that amount substantially on my next check. I want to live off of less money and automatically deduct more to savings.

Mindfulness and Fitness

Health is tied to financial prosperity for me. They all seem to go off the rails at once for me. When I am planning meals and going to bed on time, I am not spending money wastefully with my friends downtown. So what have I done to create habits in this area? I think finance and overall well-being are intrinsically entwined for me, and I bet they are for many of you as well. I’m feeling so great in all areas of my life right now, and I’d love to share what’s working for me:

  • The Calm App helped me start meditating. I have been a premium member since I had panic attacks traveling for work last year. It helps me fall asleep when I can’t breathe. The emergency calm and body scan sessions are 5/5.
  • I won’t renew Calm this year. I learned to seriously meditate on my own over time, and I don’t need or enjoy guided meditation any longer. At night, when I have monkey brain (moving thought to thought like a monkey swinging from branch to branch), I like to focus on the sensation of breathing out of my nose. I take a HUGE breath in, then let it out and feel my body sink into my mattress (the best feeling on earth). Then I focus on the feeling of my breath coming out of my nose on to my upper lip, or the vibration of my nostrils, and I just keep breathing slowly. When my mind wanders, I go easy on myself and let it go. I redirect my thought to my breath and I fall asleep in minutes. It took me almost a year to learn this and IT HAS CHANGED MY LIFE. I am sleeping like a baby for 7-8 hours a night, every night. No more night terrors. No more panic attacks at 3am.
  • Move every day. I’ve been going to the gym and running regularly, but it was next to impossible for me to form these habits with my insane work schedule. So, finally, I started being gentle on myself and accepting 10 000 steps a day instead of a “workout” when days get out of hand. I am friends with serious athletes and “just walking” felt like a failure at times. But walking is so healthy for us! I am now very happy to get those steps in on relaxing walks, knowing I will still sleep better. I used to think “well, if I can’t make it to the gym I might as well just sit on the couch.” Not anymore. Move every day, somehow.
  • Stretching. I stretch all the time. If my muscles hurt, I throw on a yoga video and skip a workout. I sleep like a baby and my body feels good. You guys, have you heard of Yoga with Adriene?? She is amazing! Most of her content is free and it’s not very technical (great for beginners). But as someone who has practiced yoga pretty seriously, I still find her videos challenging in all the right ways! She is funny and offers a lot of modifications for people at different flexibility levels.

Organization is Key

I schedule social time, fitness, and work. I’m thriving right now by hacking my work schedule. I’ve started throwing gym sessions and coffee with friends in my calendar as work “meetings”…and no one knows. If they do, they don’t care. I should have done this years ago. I just leave the office at lunch and go to a 30-minute high-intensity interval training class. This is coming from a woman who struggles to find time to pee at work! If it’s in my calendar, no one questions it, so I just leave. Boom!

Here are some tools I use for scheduling bills, finance, and work:

  • Evernote. I use this to track things I find and hold notes. I am fading away from this though, as my iPhone has native apps that do most of this
  • Reminders! I hold the Siri button on my phone or Apple Watch and say “remind me to take the chicken out today at 4pm” or “remind me to check the grocery store flyers on Saturday at 9am”. I might see a deal for something and set a reminder for it, too. Reminders are amazing!
  • My paper agenda. For work, I find this the best way to track my tasks. I like to take notes in meetings and plan my work on paper. My career is highly technical and detailed, and I retain information when I write it down.
  • The spending spreadsheet that’s working so well for me. I can’t wait to share my insights from this in my next post, which will undoubtedly stir some opinions. January was the spendiest month I’ve ever had. I’m glad to be back in the world of moderation!

Do you have any tips for habit forming? What’s working for you?


9 Comments

  • Reply Laura |

    Throwing personal things on your calendar as work meetings isn’t a work hack, it’s being dishonest and cheating your employer out of time. That would get you fired in most jobs.

    • Reply angie |

      Elizabeth is a professional. That usually involves some flexibility in hours as long as you get the work done. Blocking out time around a lunch break or on days you need to leave early is fine. How else are you supposed to let people know you’re unavailable? This can be necessary for those in managerial roles who get invited to tons of meetings everyday. It’s a time management skills. Standard in my workplace is to block out the time and write personal. I doubt she’s actually lying and saying it is a meeting for xyz project.

      Her specific example was hitting a fitness class on lunch break. I think that’s appropriate. Otherwise she could get meetings scheduled then last minute. It’s not like she’s making fake meetings at 2pm to meet her friend for drinks.

      • Reply Laura |

        Do you block out time by lying about having a work meeting? That is dishonest. I’m a professional too, and a general out of office is what is used when you have something personal.

      • Reply Laura |

        Posted the last one too soon, she says she blocks it out as work meetings, I don’t know how else you can interpret that other than she’s lying about having a meeting.

        • Reply Cynthia |

          I block out time on my work calendar for my usual lunch break time, otherwise people regularly schedule meetings then and I end up not getting the break. I could interpret Elizabeth’s post either way: either she’s blocking off her usual breaks so she can actually take them, or she is unethically sneaking away from the office during work hours. That’s why I suggested she clarify and/or reduce the amount of personally identifying information in her blog posts.

    • Reply Cynthia |

      It sounds as though Elizabeth may do this on her lunch break, but the wording is confusing. Elizabeth, I would clarify your wording and give a good think to what personal and professional information you are putting out there in your posts: you never know when a colleague, boss, or rival may stumble upon your posts or how they will interpret or misinterpret what you write.

  • Reply Margann34 |

    Automatic savings works well for my. I have a set amount transferred to my savings after every pay day (every 2 weeks).

  • Reply Louise |

    I disagree with Laura about the personal appointments during the day being dishonest, as I think that is very contextual. In a salaried position where you often have to work long hours without overtime, one of the benefits you get in return is flexibility in your work days at the times that are less busy. And if going to the gym or coffee allows you to return to work energised and results in better quality work, the company is benefiting. However it is highly privileged. The vast majority of people will never work in positions where this is permitted by the workplace culture. I’m glad you get to do it, and I wish we all could.

  • Reply Canan Onat |

    What if one of your employers is a fan of PF blogs and finds out about your “hack”? How about work ethics? Some jobs do not keep a person occupied for every minute of the day and I can understand getting online paying a bill or two or looking at the online news for 5-10 minutes in such a case. However, if your job is so busy that you cannot go to the bathroom, what you are doing is not ethical. You can use your lunch break for whatever you want to do but, the rest of your time belongs to your employer.

So, what do you think ?