Like many of the readers on this site I’ve spent the vast majority of my time on my fire journey lurking and reading instead of creating content, so it should come as no surprise that I have a few blogs that I read for ideas, inspiration, and to learn. Personally I prefer the smaller blogs now a days because they tend to have less mainstream posts, but also because at some point or another I think I’ve read most of the posts on our communities staples such as Mr. Money Mustache and Financial Samurai.
Additionally, I find that there really is only so many things to post about, so sometimes bloggers repeat topics for the sake of word count or in the name of producing more content. At least by switching blogs I can hear about the 3-fund portfolio with a different voice, even if it is the 20th post I’ve read on the subject. I don’t find rereading about a topic boring, instead I view it as reinforcement of a good habit.
Whenever I don’t spend enough time or thought on FIRE for an extended period of time, my good habits slowly deteriorate and I find myself spending more money or looking for ways to get rich and beat the system. During coronavirus I’ve experienced this to an extreme and wasted a good chunk of change buying stock options based on the “impending collapse of the economy” that has yet to materialize. Remember guys, you can’t predict/beat the market!
I digress, a blog that I discovered close to a year ago does this awesome series called thought experiment, where bloggers in the personal finance/financial independence field all respond to the same prompt, and then link to other responses to the same prompt so that anyone who is interested can get different perspectives on the same question. I’m definitely a little late to the party on this one, but thankfully there isn’t a deadline this time around, so I’ll finally get to participate in a thought experiment as my own entity rather than as a passive reader!
The thought experiment prompt 10 was:
Unprecedented events create new experiences. What fun, misadventure, or positive discoveries have you encountered while locked down?
So my response to this is probably going to seem a little unorthodox, but it goes hand in hand with some other self-discovery stuff that I’ve been embracing during the lock down. My biggest take away from lock down is that it’s okay to do nothing, or to do things that add no value to your life.
In the past, I’ve put an immense amount of pressure on myself to be productive, or to spend all my time doing something that creates value, and I felt that if I wasn’t doing something with identifiable benefits that I was wasting hours of my precious and fleeting life. Basically, I had a huge stick up my butt, and ended up getting less done because I would dread the next activity rather than look forward to and enjoy it.
Going into quarantine, this was my mentality. The thing I knew I would miss most would be the gym. A broken wrist prevented me from working out for most of the months leading up to the stay at home orders, and I was afraid of losing my last shreds of physical fitness. I set out an entire workout plan for myself to follow six days a week. Abs, cardio, resistance bands, push ups, and curls with the single 20 pound dumbbell I had available in my house. After that, I figured I might as well layout my other goals as well.
Unfortunately, once I started planning, the anxiety surrounding the idea that I might regress in any field took a hold. I started mapping out my entire calendar, making lists, and generally over planning every second of my life. I laid out Spanish lessons for myself, made a list of ambitious recipes to cook, and planned to increase my posting on this very website your reading, as well as purchase another one.
As you may have guessed from my phrasing, things did not work out as planned. For the first couple days I did (almost) everything on my list. However, I quickly ran myself in to the ground. Trying to spend every waking moment learning, practicing, working at my job, and failing at new things was exhausting. Couple that with the uncertainty and lack of social interaction due to coronavirus also taking their toll, and I was a mess. By the time I gave up, I was in the habit of exhausting myself of all motivation before even starting the tasks I laid out for myself. Rather than reduce stress and improve myself, I drove myself away from the things I enjoy most.
After gaining some insight from my closest friends I started to recognize that you can’t beat a dead horse. I stopped trying to force myself to do things when I didn’t want to do them, with the exception of work (hey, you win some you lose some!) At first I thought I screwed myself up, because after I did the things I had to do, I would just lay in bed and surf YouTube and Reddit for hours until falling asleep. I had no desire to do anything, even though I had the ambition.
Thankfully, things didn’t stay that way. Ever so slowly my desire to do the things I enjoy returned, and it truly hinged on how I was feeling that day. Some days, I would get plenty done, while others, I would continue to lay in bed and scroll through all the notifications on my phone.
Looking back on it now, I have learned a very important lesson, which is that moderation is key. Too much of any one thing will almost always be unhealthy, even drinking water can be damaging when its excessive to the extreme. It’s for this reason that I try to keep my hobbies separated from my work. Otherwise the most lucrative side hustle for me would probably be to do the same quantitative analytics I do at work but freelance.
Currently, I still make way too many lists in my phone notes, but rather than planning out every minute I’m not at work, I only do things when I want to. I don’t force myself to practice my Spanish, or to cook fancy meals when I just don’t have the energy. I allow myself to spend time on Reddit, or have a DiGiorno pizza for dinner even when I know the red sauce will give me heartburn. Honestly though I am so much happier and more relaxed than I have been in a long time.
I don’t want my message to be mistaken here, I’m not condoning laziness, what I am advocating for though is giving yourself a break when you need it. I still believe in having lofty goals and pursuing them with all the passion you can muster, but to do it in a balanced and sustainable way so that you don’t run yourself into the ground.
If you’re a type A personality like me, I urge you to cut yourself and those around you some slack. Don’t be afraid to cancel plans if you don’t feel up to it, or trade out some time that you were going to practice playing an instrument for instead relaxing and listening to the music. If you’ve been in the same predicament, chances are that the person who puts the most pressure on you is yourself, so when you feel anxious, remember that you don’t have to be!
Personally I’ll be saving this article and rereading it whenever my anxiety levels get too high. Unfortunately I am extremely stubborn, so its best to hear the hard lessons from myself! I encourage you to save this page as well if you gained anything valuable from it, and I’d love to hear others opinions on this, as I know a couple people whose viewpoint directly disagrees with my own. E.g. learning discipline is important so that you can force yourself to do the things you need to do, even when you don’t have the motivation for it. How do you deal with lack of motivation?