It’s a crazy time right now, isn’t it? The media machines of the internet, cable news, online forums, and everything in-between can be distracting. In this 24-hour news cycle and our own business, how can we stay focused on what matters? How can we let go of what doesn’t?
That’s what I want to explore in today’s post.
The amount of information available in today’s world is overwhelming. We can find information and stories about any topic imaginable on the internet. We can validate and confirm whatever view we have on that topic.
Somehow, marketers find their way into our inboxes and on our cell phones. Have you noticed how many more robocalls you’re getting on your cell phone? I have. It’s probably two or three a day minimum. I don’t answer these calls. If they don’t leave a message, I’ll call back to see what’s up.
One of two things happen. I get a message saying it’s a nonworking number. Or I get a robo answering machine. I block all of those numbers. The next day, I’ll get a call back from another number. When I call back that number, I get the same robo message I got from the number I blocked yesterday. It’s freaking maddening!
It’s also distracting.
With all of this going on around us, how do we stay focused on what matters to us? Have you thought about that? Are you spending time on what you value? Have you written down what’s important in your life? Do you know your “why”?
If not, keep reading. I want to offer some suggestions on how to find out what matters and stay focused on those things.
Our financial goals and our purpose
We set financial goals all the time. Some of us use spreadsheets or budgeting apps to track our expenses. Most of us contribute to (or maximize) our 401(k) plans and IRAs. We have an emergency fund and plan for vacations. We run the numbers on how much we need to have the kind of retirement we desire. Many of us use the 4% rule as our benchmark. All of these things are important in planning for our future. Along the way, we should adjust and modify our plans as circumstances change.
I’ve said it many times on this blog and to the clients I advise. If your plans don’t line up with your values and your life, it will be hard to stick to those plans. We may be easily distracted and thrown off course.
In my know your “why” post, here’s the definition I included.
“Here’s how Dictionary.com defines purpose:
- The reason for which something exists or is done, made, used, etc.
- An intended desired result; end; aim; goal.
- Determination; resoluteness.”
I also said that money is not the best motivator:
“Accumulating stuff will not make us happy.
We’ll never be able to accumulate enough stuff to fill the gap. The more we have. The more we will want. If we strive for the newest, most shiny objects, there will always be something on the horizon we want. Money without a purpose always leaves us empty. It should be a means to an end. If it is the end, it will cause more problems than it solves.”
Which brings us back to the focus of the post – what matters to you?
Finding what matters
If you haven’t thought about or formally written down what matters to you, here’s how you can find out. Ask yourself these three questions:
- What do you think about?
- How do you spend your money?
- How do you spend your time?
You’ll find evidence of what matters to you in the answers to these three questions.
Matching actions and words
What we think about is the easy one. Why? What we think about will reveal itself in how we spend our time and money. If we say the family is important to it should be easy to see that in how we live. Do you think about work when you’re at home? Worse, do you bring work home with you?
Do you say your kids are most important to you? If so, are you at their sporting events? Are you home from work in time for the family dinner? Do you even have a family dinner?
If you think about your family and kids a lot but don’t adjust your life to be with them, that’s a mismatch in what you say is important and what your actions show is important. If the family is what matters most to you, your actions need to match that.
I’m not trying to be the hall monitor here. I’ve had to reexamine my own life in this area too. There was a time when I talked about how important family was to me. And it was and still is. Unfortunately, my actions didn’t match that reality.
How I learned
When we lived in Indianapolis the first few years of our marriage, I was the volunteer extraordinaire. I was a deacon and then an elder at our church. I ran the largest benevolence outreach program for that church. During the week before Christmas, we brought a month’s worth of groceries, clothing, household items, and other needs to some of the largest and poorest families in Indianapolis. We served over seven hundred people. I was on multiple other committees. We volunteered as youth advisors as well.
I was patting myself on the back and full of pride in all I was doing for people. Here’s the problem. I was gone most nights during the week. At least two to three nights a week I was at the church or in the city doing something. My wife and my son were not getting the time and attention they deserved from me. I was too busy serving others and ignoring my own family.
My schedule was running me ragged. I started feeling a fluttering in my chest. It wasn’t constant. But when it came, it was pretty intense. One of the men on one of my committees was a doctor. He took my pulse one day and told me (without hesitation) I had atrial fibrillation and needed to get to the doctor. Sure enough, that’s exactly what I had. I was on medication for about six months to treat it. Fortunately, it was not permanent.
What I learned during that time was that my lifestyle was the biggest contributor to the atrial fibrillation. I was drinking coffee pretty much all day and a couple of glasses of wine at night. Needless to say, that interrupted my sleep pattern. I tossed and turned most nights. I was not getting the kind of sleep I needed.
It was a wake-up call for me. I modified my behavior (a lot less coffee and wine, fewer committees, better diet) and got back on track. I spent more time with my wife and son. That improved our relationship and reduced the stress for all of us, most of which came from my intensity. I’d like to tell you that I changed a lot after this. Though I did change, it took years before my actions matched what I said mattered to me the most.
The other thing I’ve learned over the years (the hard way to be sure) is the importance of being thankful. Doing this takes more work than it should. I attribute this to what I said in the beginning. The 24-hour news cycle makes it hard to focus on what matters to us. If we spend too much time on our favorite cable channel or internet news sites, it can cause us to become more negative. Let’s face it, it’s a lot harder to find positive news stories.
We need to adopt a thankful mindset. A thankful mindset helps us be content in our circumstances and with what we have. In a previous post, here’s what I said about the thankful mindset:
“A thankful mindset helps us be content in our circumstances and with what we have. Scripture tells us, “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.12I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or want.13I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4: 11-13).
In today’s competitive, material world, that’s a hard attitude to adopt, isn’t it? I’ve talked many times before about the wisdom Scripture offers for everyday life. You don’t have to be a Christian to benefit from it.
Seriously, can you see anything negative about learning to be content in all circumstances? Contentment allows us to live with a thankful, abundance mindset.”
Here are some ideas on how to develop a thankful mindset.
Steps to a thankful mindset
- Count Your Blessings – Despite the current problems, we have many blessings in this country. History tells us we have survived much, much worse than what we’re dealing with now – a civil war, a debilitating economic depression, the Great Recession, and two world wars come immediately to mind. Compared to the rest of the world, all of us live in abundance. Most of us have good jobs, families, friends, homes, plenty of food, computers, smartphones, numerous choices for internet, TV and phone services. Often we one car for each driving member of the family. Many of us take vacations every year. We enjoy freedom and opportunity that have people from all over the world lining up to get their piece of the American Dream. We should be more thankful we live in a free land, full of flaws, but free.
- Start small – At the end of each day, think of at least two things that happened that day for which you feel grateful. Things happen every day that are positive. Maybe someone complimented you on your appearance. Perhaps someone let you get in front of them in the line at the store, or, better yet, on the highway (it does happen). Doing this daily creates a habit that will be lasting.
- Think big – Once you develop a habit of gratefulness for small things, expand your thinking. Do you have a roof over your head, food on the table, clothes for every season, car(s) to drive, a job? That’s a pretty good list of things for which to be thankful. If you don’t stop to think about it, you will likely take these things for granted.
If you’re not currently volunteering, I encourage you to think about it. Writing checks to organizations is great, but it keeps us distant from the recipients of our generosity. There are plenty of opportunities. Volunteer at a shelter. Help families winterize their homes. Tutor a student who is struggling. Read children’s books to an elementary class. Volunteer at an after-school program. Don’t know where to start? Google volunteer opportunities for your town. You will find numerous options listed.
Don’t make the mistakes I made when volunteering. Balance is the key.
When money becomes the dominating force in our lives, and the pursuit of it drives our behavior, bad things often happen.
We forget about the essential relationships in our lives. Money and finances are in the top three causes of divorce and marital problems in most polls on the subject. I’ve seen it cause problems with clients. I’ve had many friends whose marriages have crumbled over the topic.
When we are grateful for what we have, we are more generous. Others, in turn, benefit from our generosity when we give our time, talent, and treasures to help them. When others benefit, the people around them benefit. That’s what it means to pay it forward.
In my experience, when we are generous with our time, talents, and money, we are the ones who receive the greatest benefit of all.
Figure out what matters to you the most. Build your life and activities around those things. Take a timeout from the media blitz. Look up from your cell phones. See the people around you. Deepen the relationships that are important to you. How do we do that?
Focus on what matters most and ignore the rest.
This post was written by Fred Leamnsonand originally published on Money with a Purpose.