Written by Trent Hamm, The Simple Dollar is a popular personal finance blog that chronicle's one man's road back from overwhelming debt to financial security. Hamm declared the contents of the blog to be in the Public Domain in 2008 and available for sharing when attributed properly. We will share a couple of posts a week.
I’ve messed up many, many times along my financial journey. I’m willing to bet you’ve messed up a time or two as well.
I’ll spend too much. I’ll forget a bill and have to face the consequences of the lateness. I’ll try to adopt a new positive habit and then find myself slipping in my diligence with that habit.
Whenever I find myself making a big financial mistake, I feel a ton of regret. I’ll usually find myself wondering whether or not I’m a failure and whether or not I’m actually going to be able to continue on a better path.
Can I do this? Can I really do this?
This is a thought process that I’m far from alone in going through. Almost everyone I’ve ever talked to who has challenged themselves to make a life change has made mistakes along the way, mistakes that left them second-guessing the whole process. They’re left with guilt and doubt and a sense that this whole thing might just be a failure.
It’s not a failure.
Mistakes are a normal part of anything new that we take on. We are not perfect. We make mistakes because we’re trying something different than what we’re used to.
The real challenge is to learn how to handle those mistakes and turn them from being setbacks into being tools for success.
For me, there are three powerful tactics for moving on from a mistake.
First, I focus on very short term success. If I overspend, I go back to focusing very strongly on controlling every dime I spend for a while. If I miss a bill, I spend time strongly and carefully evaluating my bill-paying routine.
In other words, I’m extra careful to re-establish a fresh pattern of success. I find that re-establishing that pattern goes a long way toward undoing the sting of the failure, and it often re-awakens my enthusiasm for the habit.
Whatever it is that you feel you failed at, go back to the basics after your failure. Focus on being successful at that goal today. Don’t worry about the mistake of yesterday or the future of uncertainty. Focus on today and making today’s actions right.
Second, nudge the routine a bit. Once you’ve started to re-establish a routine for success, spend a bit of time looking at that routine you established. There must be something about that routine that made you mess up in the first place.
Don’t examine it immediately. Instead, look at it when you’re in the flow of success and ask yourself not why you failed, but what still grates against you even when you’re successful.
Finally, plan in some breathing room. If you’re trying to establish a new habit, don’t go at it completely cold turkey.
If you’re trying to control your spending, give yourself a little spending allowance to spend on whatever you wish and make it your goal to stay within that allowance. If you’re trying to control your diet, give yourself one “cheat” meal a week where you can eat whatever you wish.
Often, that little bit of breathing room can make all the difference in making a challenging habit tolerable. I often find that the ability to look forward to some sort of small “break” makes much of the challenge of the habit easier, and before long, I don’t even really desire the “break” any more.
Making a mistake while trying to build a positive life routine isn’t the end of the world. In fact, mistakes are expected. The real difference comes with how you handle the mistakes.