I’ve recently been thinking about the parallels between fitness and finance. During the last week in February, we went on a Disney Cruise. There were tons of kid activities, which meant that my wife and I had a lot of time to do things on our own. Among other things, we spent a bit of time everyday in the fitness center working out. And boy, did it feel good.
We’ve both been active throughout our lives, but sometimes life gets in the way. This is especially true once you have four little boys running around the house. While my wife has been better about remaining active by doing regular sessions on the treadmill, the miles have been catching up to her and one of her knees in particular has been bothering her.
To make a long story short, back in early March we re-committed ourselves to an active lifestyle. Given that we’re just too head off to the gym (and we wouldn’t have sufficient childcare even if we had the time), we decided that we needed to focus on assembling a home gym of sorts. Three months in and we haven’t looked back.
Anyway, back to the topic at hand — the parallels between fitness and finance. The more I think about it, the more I see. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far…
Nothing will work if you’re not ready for change. First and foremost, you have to have the right mindset. Change takes discipline, and that sort of discipline requires that your actually ready for (and committed to) change. It won’t work if you’re content with the status quo.
Slow and steady wins the race. The key to any lifestyle changes is to stick to it. In my experience, this means that no matter how gung-ho you feel at the outset, you need to rein yourself in and set a sustainable pace. Both financial and fitness-related improvements take time. Don’t burn yourself out. Make small changes and allow them work over time.
Do what works for you. For me, this meant buying a rowing machine for a more or less full-body cardio work. I don’t like running, and I know that I won’t stick to something that I don’t enjoy. Walking is fine but, to me, it’s a relatively inefficient use of my time. In contrast, rowing gives me much more for my proverbial buck.
In the financial realm, doing what works for you might mean shunning credit cards (or not). Or it might mean going against conventional wisdom when paying down debt (or not).
Make a game out of it. Guess what? You’re far more likely to stick to something if you’re actively engaged in it. Set goals and them strive to beat them. In the financial realm, this works for almost anything, including things like meeting investment goals or sticking to a budget.
On the fitness side, competition can drive you to new heights. For me, this has meant maintaining an online logbook at Concept2.com where I can pop in and compare my performance with that of others. I’ve also joined a “virtual” rowing team to give me teammates against which I can compete, and with whom I can commiserate.
Compare against your own benchmarks. As important as gamesmanship is, it’s also important to compare against your own benchmarks. Just as you should track growth in your personal net worth instead constantly comparing against broad benchmarks and trying to keep up with the Joneses.
In the fitness realm, competition is healthy. However, you should also focus on your own personal bests and use those more than anything as an absolute measure of your progress. Gauging your progress solely relative to that of others can be discouraging — you don’t want to end up in a race with the Red Queen, making no apparent progress even though you’re truly progressing by leaps and bounds.
It’s okay to screw up. While slow and steady wins the race, that doesn’t mean that all is lost if you fall off the wagon. Get back up, dust yourself off, and press on. Consider it a learning opportunity. Think about what led to your failure and try to avoid a repeat performance. The key here is to just get back up on the horse without beating yourself up too badly.
Reward yourself. While self-discipline is an important component of any positive lifestyle change, it can get old over time. If you meet your goals, reward yourself. Whether this means splurging on something nice, taking a day off from your exercise regimen, or whatever else you might think of, do something nice for yourself and don’t feel bad about it. Just try not to make it too counterproductive or you’ll regret it when you get back to the grind.
It also hasn’t esacped my notice that there are a number of decisions that you can make in life that will improve both your bottom line and your waistline. For example, bringing a healthy (and cheap) lunch to work vs. regularly eating out can save both calories and dollars. Likewise, walking or biking instead of driving or paying for public transit means that you’ll save a bit of money and get some exercise.
Now it’s your turn… What did I miss?