Monday, February 4, 2013

Resolutions and Money

In my previous Happiness Project I dedicated a month to money, worked out a rough budget and collected all my receipts for a couple months.  I found money month to be one of the most eye-opening.  I had a better idea of where I was spending my money and I kind of left it at that.
So, enough time has passed and my money focus has changed a bit and I thought it was time to try it again.  I recently used Mint to create a budget for myself and I think it’s fabulous.  It's a program that takes your banking information, allows you to categorize your purchases and then uses the information to help you create a budget.

For example, I eat total garbage for lunch.  So I categorized all of the receipts for lunches under fast food.  In my head I had a number of what I thought I spent on lunches, turns out I was spending more.  Going out for dinner I categorized as restaurants.  I only went out a few times with Flash, but dinner for two costs a lot more than lunch for one and I was shocked at how much I had spent on meals.  I also bought groceries in addition to that.  I should be the size of a house given how much I spend on food.
The program also allows you to budget for future expenses, such as travel or car maintenance, allotting a certain amount of money each month towards something you need six months down the road.  In theory I could do this all in a spreadsheet, but to track my spending properly I would need every receipt for every purchase.  A lot of times I forget to ask for a receipt for small purchases, or I’ll do a great job of collecting them but by the end of the month I don’t feel like going through them all and adding them up.  The other thing is Mint makes note of all charges on your accounts, your credit card, etc.  I’ve never factored account fees into my budget before.  With Mint it’s immediate, I make a purchase, Mint categorizes it (I can modify the category if needed) and it automatically starts filling up the budget.  If I spend with cash, I can go in and add a transaction manually. 

Instead of spending all month and then adding my receipts up at the end of the month to see if I went over, I can go on my phone app during the month to see how much of my clothing budget I’ve already spent to prevent myself from overspending.  It’s this great visual chart and I think it’s going to help me a lot.
The other thing I found interesting is how something like a budget can be a catalyst for new resolutions.  As I budgeted for my current and future expenses I found I needed to cut back on certain areas if I wanted to save what I needed to.  You have to take a long hard look at your lifestyle.  I get bored of salads and sandwiches and like a hot lunch so I often resort to buying fast food.  In the past I tried making my lunch with the goal of eating better and got bored of it.  Now I know that I have about half as much money to spend on lunches as before, so I need to make a lunch at least 50% of the time or I’ll run out of money.  To me that is far more motivating.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Life is a Battlefield

There’s this constant battle going on in my head between wanting to do everything in my power to be a better version of myself by actively trying to be, and the other part that thinks I would be happier if I could just be happy with what is.
Being obsessed with self-improvement can be exhausting.  Nothing is ever good enough if you believe everything can be made better.  You end up feeling like you’re not good enough.  So then you think it would be nice to just stop; to just be.                  
I think Nicole, from more is better, and I are having some parallel life experiences.  She recently wrote a post about her obsession lately with self-improvement and how too much of it can wear you out and make you feel like you’re not good enough at anything.
I believe that lots of small steps toward a goal is the most effective way to make changes over time, but I hate baby steps.  I want immediate changes!  I love a dramatic before and after.  The satisfaction of an immediate accomplishment – want.  This way of thinking leads me to never able to take the first couple steps because I’m always ten steps ahead.  If you never take the first couple steps then nothing gets done.
I also want to change lots of things.  The idea of just spending a few months focusing on changing one thing feels like an ineffective use of time, but really, when I try too many things I just end up getting nothing done.  Accomplishing one thing would be better than nothing, but I can't seem to allow myself to do that.  These mental wars I’m having with myself are exhausting.  Not only is it a battle on how to accomplish things I want to do, but it’s also a battle between doing these things or not doing them at all and just chilling out.
I feel like there’s a fine line between being happy and grateful for what you have, and settling.  If I could be more content with what is, then maybe the idea of focusing on just one thing might not seem so bad.
The trick is that you’re supposed to believe that when you start being happy and grateful for what you have, more good stuff just flows into your life.  How does ambition and hard work factor into everything?  In my head, these two worlds do not know how to coexist. 

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Time Waster

One of my great frustrations of the year so far has been my inability to sit down and figure out what I want.  My rollercoaster moods and related inconsistent burst of motivation and the utter and complete lack thereof have made any sort of progress impossible.  I constantly battle with feeling that spending that much time and energy thinking about myself is selfish, and feeling like I really need to focus on myself.  This feeling is exaggerated when someone in your life is causing you unhappiness or frustration and you funnel a ton of time and energy into resolving that issue or helping someone resolve it.
I have a hard time dissociating myself from things like that, especially when it gets to a point where the situation is making you miserable and you feel like you have to separate yourself from people connected to the problem, but at the same time you know you’d be happier if you and the other person could resolve the problem together.
I go through phases where I daydream about living alone; being able to come home and the TV not be turned on and having to fill my evenings and weekends with activities that move me toward goals I want to accomplish.  In my head I imagine that anyone who lives alone and doesn’t spend hours in front of the TV/computer must be productive and happy.  You wouldn’t succumb to mindless channel surfing and fall asleep after an evening of doing nothing.  On a day where you came home from work exhausted you might take a hot bath and go to bed early, maybe curl up with a book or chat with a friend on the phone.  That sounds pretty great.
What would I do if I didn’t watch any TV?  I would probably spend more time outside the house.  I imagine I’d be a better, more involved friend since I’d be actively making plans with people.  I could see going to the gym or an extra-long walk with my dog being more attractive alternatives to sitting home alone in my silent house.  But I guess it would get lonely after a while.
Nonetheless, I think a more serious approach to removing things that keep me from being productive is a good start.  I think TV is a big one.  My roommate and my roommate/boyfriend are big TV watchers and I often find myself sitting watching shows that I don’t really care about.  This is dumb because I don’t even care to watch most of the shows they watch.  It’s also frustrating because my boyfriend is a bit TV obsessed and I feel like a lot of the time we spend together is watching TV.  He always says that we spend all our time together, but I feel like we rarely do anything other than sit in front of the television.
Another thing I keep coming back to is mornings.  I’m so exhausted in the morning I’m always hitting snooze.  Waking up early and spending more time getting ready, eating breakfast, walking my dog in the morning or whatever it is morning people do, I think would make me happier.  Do I spend my evenings being super productive instead of watching TV and go to bed really early so I can get up earlier?
I get up and rush to work, I come home from work feeling tired.  I laze around all evening, go to sleep, get up and do it again.  My weekends are more of the same, but in place of work I sleep half the morning, add some laundry and a thorough bathroom cleaning.  I feel like life is just passing by.  I need to stop wasting time.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

You Better Run, Better Run

I threw around the idea of running a marathon a while ago when making my first round of goals and quickly dismissed it because it’s not something you attempt if you’re not serious about it.
I recently finished reading Born to Run by Christopher McDougall, a departure from the novels I usually read.  It was a mix of a true story, with several tangent stories of side characters and their relationship to running.  Some were ultra-marathoners themselves, researcher or trainers. 
I’d always thought of a marathon as an accomplishment goal, but I’d never thought of running a marathon in terms of running.  Why we run, what it takes, what you learn about yourself when you get your body to a point where it can run 30 miles.  Ultra marathoners run crazy long distances.  The book discusses several 50 mile and even 100 mile races.  100 miles, that’s almost 4 back to back marathons.
Cardio and I are not friends.  So to get to a point where I can run for 30 minutes or an hour already seems daunting.  There was a line in the book that said, “If you don’t have answers to your problems after a four-hour run, you ain’t getting them.”  The idea of self-discovery at the end of a long run is intriguing. 
I’ve been thinking a lot about running.  I’ve even gone down to the little gym in my apartment building and ran a few times.  I also bought some toe shoes, also known as Vibram five fingers, and I love them.  They are seriously so fun; they make me want to run just so I can wear them. 
I downloaded some marathon training schedules.  There’s a schedule for the half marathon I found that is for three months of preparation.  At the end of February will be exactly three months until the big annual marathon(s) in my city.  I figure, train for the half, if you do well with it run the half, if not, do the 10K.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Waaa Everything is Hard

I want a life guru.  Someone who knows what they are talking about who can guide me through my life.
Yes, young grasshopper, do this and you will succeed.
Like, if someone said that if you followed 10 steps they outlined you would be a millionaire, and it was a straight up guarantee, you would do it. You would.  You would do it because you believed in the process.
Sometimes it’s just nice to have someone to help you.  Someone who knows what they are doing.
Self-improvement can be a lonely journey.  It’s a lot easier to wallow in a lazy, unmotivated funk if the only person it’s affecting is you.  If Sally Sue is picking you up for the gym in an hour then you best get up and put your freakin’ shoes on.
So I think to myself, ask for help.  Asking for help can be a tricky thing.  First of all, you need someone capable of helping you.  Helping you move furniture is one thing, helping you structure goals and keep you accountable is a whole other type of person.  I’d need someone who is somewhat organized or skilled at planning.  Someone who is not afraid of keeping me accountable.
Even when Melissa and I did projects at the same time, the way we went about our goals was completely different.  My way was a structured checklist, hers was a more general be more conscious and I’m bound to improve sort of way.  Any sense of friendly competition or staying on par with each other didn’t exist.
Why can’t I find goals that excite me anymore?  I should be able to do this by myself.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Accomplishment Goals

I have been staring at blank pieces of paper for several days now.  I feel completely disenchanted with making new resolutions.  Flash and I took a 5 hour round trip on Sunday to pick up our dog who was being watched by my aunt and during the drive down we created a huge plan for him and his goals.  We made him a budget, set fitness goals, and more.  On the drive back I tried to think of what I wanted my goals to be and I drew a blank, a blank that has yet to fill up.

I've spent the last 15 months trying a lot of different things.  Yes, I've struggled to find an effective system for setting up goals, but it seems to be more than that.  I can't seem to find anything I want to do.  Nothing excites me.

I just feel tired.  A lot of the resolutions I want to be successful at are lifestyle changes.  The kind of resolutions that you need to do day in and day out, like eating healthier, drinking more water, taking vitamins, flossing, etc., but I know (from a quiz I did in an Oprah magazine) that I am motivated by accomplishment.  I need the satisfaction of completing something, crossing shit off my list.  These lifestyle changes are every day from now until forever type things and I have a hard time keeping my motivation.
I don’t want to just scrap these types of changes; I know they need to be done.  I had an appointment with my trainer yesterday, and even thought I’d been feeling super tired and sluggish I decided to go anyway in the hopes it would kick start my workout motivation.  We were going super intense for about 15 minutes and I had to stop because I was going to vomit.  She was nice about it, said we’d reschedule and told me to drink more water and make sure to have a snack before the workout, blah blah.  Case in point is that I don’t take care of myself.  I probably don’t eat enough; I know I don’t drink enough water.  I focused on exercise and I made progress on that, but I’m not really taking good care of myself in a well-rounded way.
Flash’s goals include diet and exercise and I know he needs help to do them so by default I am doing them as well.  I want to do them and not doing them alone should help.  I’ll need to find a way to structure them for him to be successful, and hopefully by association I’ll be successful.
These goals are big should goals.  I want to start figuring out what I really want to do for myself.  To draw a complete blank when trying to make goals for myself is a red flag.  I want more ‘accomplishment goals’.  At the end of 2012 it would be something I can say I started and finished.  I climbed a mountain is an accomplishment goal. 
I need to find a way to turn every day no accomplishment goals into accomplishment goals AND find real accomplishment goals that are awesome.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Resolution Time Again... and Again

One of my favorite bloggers from Nicole is Better, did a big post on how she’s going to organize her upcoming goals for the next year.  I thought her system has lots of solid points.
Basically she breaks it down like this:
Choose a one word resolution to be a driving force for all your goals.
Choose several ‘life buckets’ (overall categories).  She chose 9.
Example: Romance, Exercise, Friendship, Work
Choose three big goals for each ‘life bucket’ that you would like to accomplish by the end of the year.
(Key point here being end of year, not the start)
At the start of each month choose one small action step toward each of your big goals for each bucket.
Example: So maybe one of your goals is to have consistent date nights.  So your action step for the first month might be something as simple as researching possible date night activities.  That’s all you have to do for that goal for that month.
I’m going to give this system a try.  I’ve always struggled with creating a system for following through on goals.  What I’m not going to do is pick as many ‘life buckets’ as she did.  When I did something different for every month of my happiness project before, I found I got overwhelmed with the sheer number of resolutions I needed to keep up with.  Granted this is different, but I still think I need to choose a manageable amount of goals.
Another difference is that I would be working on my goals somewhat simultaneously.  It wouldn’t be daily like before, but I’d being doing something toward all my goals each month instead of focusing on one topic each month.
The challenge now is that I feel very disconnected from my goal planning.  I’ve been very distracted by my efforts to help Flash with his goals.  I must admit I don’t know how anyone who is has a group of people dependent on them gets anything done for themselves.  Other people are so distracting and it’s hard to separate yourself from their problems.
So, I’m sitting thinking I’ll start re-planning, making goals, finding better ways to be successful and I’m staring at the page.  I came up with a dozen monthly categories and dozens of sub categories in an afternoon for my last go around and now I’m struggling to pick three.  It’s not that I don’t have things I want to be different, I do, but I did tackle most of my problems in some way shape or form last time and they weren’t always successful.  The ideas aren’t fresh, but the approach is structured differently.
Still, I feel uninspired.  I haven’t sat down and thought about what I want for a while now.