I apologize in advance for being a little distracted in late October and all of November. You see, I am about to embark on a great adventure, take on a massive challenge, and (hopefully) end up with an impressive achievement. I aim to write a novel in a single month.
It's a big goal, but I'm hopeful I'll achieve it, because of some of the wonderful aspects of NaNoWriMo. And after watching my boyfriend run his first marathon this week, I think the same factors will help anyone who's aiming for an ambitious goal, financial or otherwise. Whether it's writing a novel, running a marathon, paying off your debt, saving a certain amount of money, buying a house, or anything else, you can help yourself out in a variety of ways...
- Picking the right goal. You need a goal that's challenging but achievable. Naturally you want a challenging goal, one that stretches you, pushes you to your limits. One that gives you a feeling of pride and accomplishment at the end. But at the same time, if your goal's too high, you're just going to get discouraged. You'll feel yourself slipping farther and farther behind, and it'll be hard not to give up. NaNoWriMo's challenge is to write a 50,000 word novel because it's hard but doable if you have the self-discipline to write for a couple of hours every day. A marathon is 26.2 miles, which is an incredible feat, but is also something that most healthy adults can do if they train long and hard enough. As far as I'm concerned, that's what goal-setting is all about: finding the sweet spot to aim for that keeps you driven but not discouraged, that's a stretch but not impossible.
- Knowing you're not alone. Part of the fun of NaNoWriMo is the fact that you're taking on this crazy challenge alongside tens of thousands of other people in your area and around the world, and that many of them will succeed and have succeeded in the past. Marathon runners often train together, and on marathon day they're part of a sea of people. And as you probably know, writing and/or reading personal finance blogs can be incredibly helpful as you try to stay on pace to pay off your debt, cut your expenses, boost your savings or your net worth. Sure, some people draw motivation from feeling like they're way ahead of the pack, but most of us will be trying things that have already been done by other ambitious souls, so having the moral support of fellow-sufferers and fellow-victors can be tremendous.
- Keeping yourself accountable. If you tell other people what you're working towards, it's harder to let yourself wriggle out of it. This can tie into the previous point, because who better to keep you accountable than other people who're trying-- and succeeding at-- the same thing? The internet is a great source of support and a kick in the pants, as anyone who's familiar with the pfblogosphere knows; on the NaNoWriMo forums, you can display your word count on your profile, and if you go to write-ins, you'll have to fess up to other writers about your progress. And there's nothing like having friends and family members in person, too, so you can see the excitement in their eyes when you're doing well or picture their expression of well-intentioned disappointment if you're thinking about giving up.
- Muzzling your inner critic and pushing past your doubts. One of the keys to succeeding at NaNoWriMo is to shut down the little voice in your head-- the one that says "That's awful, you're doing a terrible job, you're no good at this," the one that demands perfection in your first sentence before you ever move on to the second one. There's no way you can write 50,000 words in a month if you're always worrying about having a perfect final product. You need to just write. This means that a lot of the writing does indeed end up being terrible. But amazingly, it also means that you end up with a lot of really great creative stuff, things that you might not have written if you were constantly self-editing and afraid of bad writing, the seeds of wonderful possibilities. I think the general principle is a broader one, though. Don't feel like you have to be perfect-- if you're cutting expenses, for example, small splurges are okay sometimes!-- and keep questioning yourself when you think "I can't." "I can't stop bringing lunches to work": maybe if you push yourself you'll come up with some fantastic ideas that are easy, healthy, delicious, and cheap. "I can't go without cable TV": maybe you'll find out giving it up was the best choice you've ever made. "I can't live on $X a month": maybe you can if you try.
- Getting started now! Despite all of the other factors, NaNoWriMo wouldn't be nearly so helpful for perenially procrastinating aspiring novelists like me if it wasn't so straightfoward on the timing. If you could just write 50,000 words in a month, any month, many of us would keep pushing it off to next month. But with NaNo, when November rolls along you know you've got to do it now or wait a whole year. So even if your November looks hectic, even if it's not a good month for you, even if you have good excuses not to participate (as you always, always will) you plunge right in. You've got to do the same thing with any goal! If it's personal finance related, the dates will probably be more arbitrary, and you'll need to give yourself the extra kick in the pants to get going. But don't let your goal fall victim to the never-ending "I'll start soon"...