I don’t watch TV. However, there is an old Nike commercial I love; many of you might be familiar with it. It is titled “Rise and Shine”. It channels that grind-it-out, be-different, not-easy-but-it’s-worth-it mentality, and it maintains a special place in my heart, smack dab between the Rocky theme song and the National Anthem. Play even the first five seconds and those first couple notes drag me back to sweat-drenched wrestling workouts and memories of chasing after a national title in college.
Today, playing that commercial elicits a different response–something much less testosterone-charged and exciting. It might galvanize a thorough desk cleaning, or propel me to finally start reading a book, or help me tackle that to-do list. Mundane, I know. However, to me that old Nike commercial is romantic: it sweeps my motivation off its bruised feet every time I hear it, carrying it off into the Get It Done sunset.
It also typically wears off later that day.
Suffice it to say, as much as I love that commercial and what it stands for, its half-life is all too short. And if I try to play it constantly, a tolerance builds up right away. Ten times into it, the man’s epic voice fades into background noise. At that point, we are back to the drawing board: relying on my typical state of mind to inspire a decision to act.
Therein lies a simple truth: Decision making is the enemy of consistency.
Every time I have to choose to do something again, I risk deviating from the plan.
Thus, the secret to assured success for big, daunting, marathon-style goals is to make as few decisions as possible. Rather than giving yourself opportunities to give up or change your tune, we make it easier with a simple choice early on that eliminates your other options.
A simple, classic example: your pantry. Let’s say you want to eat healthier. You could watch a fantastic TED Talk about how reducing added sugar in your diet can transform your body and mind. You might even be so inspired that you choose the almonds rather than the M&Ms in your pantry’s snack division. It works great, until you have a tough day, come home super hungry, and cave in to your M&Ms.
Or, you could simply not have M&Ms in your pantry.
Financially, it works the same way. We know that stock markets deliver incredible returns over long periods of time if you look at history. We know that the key to financial success later in life tends to be saving and investing enough money early on and consistently over time.
You might read an article about the magic of compound interest and how the stock market has grown dramatically over the years. It might even inspire you to save some money this month. And every month, you decide to save money again in your account. You might be successful.
You also might decide not to because you saw the fancy jet ski you saw your friend playing with, or because you want a new car you saw on TV. There might be a month with a lot of expenses, and it could be tempting to press pause this month. Or you could forget for a few months because life is busy and your kids are destroying the living room when you are about to log in and make the contribution.
Or you could set it on automatic deposit and remove the decision. That one decision can effectively be hundreds of decisions in a moment–hundreds of correct decisions.
Of course, there are times when we have to stop auto-pilot. Emergencies come up and it is important to be able to pivot. But we can still tilt the odds in our favor by positioning the path to our finish line as downriver rather than upstream.
Rather than asking how you can will yourself to do something, ask yourself this question instead: “How can I make this easy?”
There are things in life we need to gut through. Your finances are not one of them.