The following post is by MPFJ staff writer, Melissa Batai. Melissa is a freelance writer who covers topics ranging from personal finance to business to organics to food. She blogs at Mom’s Plans where she shares her family’s journey to healthier living and paying down debt.
My cousin is a sucker for those Facebook pages that ask you to pray for so and so who is battling such and such physical problems.
I resisted clicking on any of them until I saw the cute face of Caleb, a little baby who had multiple heart defects. Something about his smile and his mother’s openness in her Facebook postings held my attention.
Even when his condition deteriorated so badly that I felt certain I would be reading about his death soon (at less than 6 months old), I kept reading in the hopes that maybe, just maybe, he’d get the heart transplant he needed. And then he did last summer!
Now little Caleb is 10 months old and home with his family, though he’s not completely medically healed yet. On her December 30th post, his mother shared that it was her eighth wedding anniversary.
She said that she was crying to her husband that they’ll never have their old life back, which was much less stressful than their current one. (However, she’s obviously very thankful that Caleb is still with them.) To which her husband replied, “We cannot make our old life an idol, as something to be attained again, because it may never look like that again” (Pray for Caleb).
That statement stuck with me all day, and then into the next day. Of course, this family has a great adjustment to make to their lifestyle as they learn to care for a medically fragile child who may or may not have delays.
But, even those of us who don’t face such challenges would be wise to heed his words.
We all have to let go of the past to flourish in the present.
Paying Down Debt and Staying Out of Debt
When you’re on a mission to pay down debt, you change your lifestyle radically.
You stop going out to eat. Perhaps you buy used close and drive an old beater car. You cut corners and do without. All of your extra money goes on the debt. Sometimes paying off that debt is all you can think about.
Yet, what happens when the debt is gone? If you haven’t changed your mindset and adjusted to a new normal, you may go right back into debt.
I have a friend who was gazelle intense. She and her family paid down all of their debt (over $40,000) in less than two years. I was so impressed (and, I admit, a little jealous). But just recently she confided to me that she and her husband are back in debt, and not just a little bit of debt. In less than 2 years since becoming debt free, they acquired another $35,000 in debt.
She explained that they felt like they could relax and live it up because they’d worked so hard to pay off the debt. Then, when she lost her job, they figured it was only temporary. They didn’t scale back their lifestyle because they didn’t want to start scrimping and saving again. They didn’t want to feel the pain of the struggle.
To her and her husband, being mindful of their money and saying “no” to things like going to the coffee shop and dinners out as a family was something they could endure temporarily, but they couldn’t accept that this way of life might be a permanent change for them.
They kept dreaming of their old life. They started living the way they had before, and now they have the debt to match.
Losing Weight and Keeping It Off
This phenomenon of temporarily enduring what we perceive as difficult circumstances only to go back to our old behaviors is the number one reason why people fail at weight loss. Time and time again we see people who follow a diet to the letter and hit their target weight. Then, a few months or years later, the weight is all back on, plus more. Kirstie Alley is a celebrity who has regularly lost weight only to gain it all back as has Oprah Winfrey.
Unfortunately, I’m no different in that regard. This past year, I lost 75 pounds following a strict Paleo Auto Immune diet to heal my digestive issues.
I know that sugar is my weakness, and for five months, I had absolutely no sweets. Then one day I thought, “I can have just a little bit.” Well, guess what? There is no having a little bit for me. I thought I could handle a little bit in early October and had my first bit of a sweet then. Now, almost 4 months later, I have had much more than a “little bit” of sweets and I’ve gained 20 pounds back. I know I’ve also delayed my healing.
Last week I finally gave up sugar again. This time I know that thinking, “I can have just a little bit” is a dangerous thought for me. Much like an alcoholic, I can’t have just a little bit. If I do, I open the flood gates and go on a sugar bender.
My new reality is that I can’t have sweets. I have to change my perception of my life. That old way of life is gone. While maybe a long time ago I could handle having only a bit of sweets, I can’t any more. Sweet treats just can’t be in my life.
Try A Behavior Change Just for Day
One of the best ways to accept your new reality is to write down what you want for your life. If you want to be free of debt and have a healthy savings account, perhaps going out to eat, as much as you used to like it, just isn’t right for you anymore. When you’re faced with a challenge, think about your goals and ask yourself if going out for coffee, for instance, will help you meet your bottom line? If not, then know that this behavior, while you may have loved it in your old lifestyle, isn’t a fit for now.
Another thing to do is to use some of the strategies from Alcoholics Anonymous. Those using the AA program can’t think, “I’ll never have alcohol again” because that thought is too overwhelming. Instead, they need to think, “I won’t have alcohol this hour” or if they’re further in their journey, “I won’t have alcohol today.” That’s how I need to know think of sugar. I won’t have sugar today. But string together days of not having it “today”, and you develop a new habit that is better for you and helps you reach your current goals.
Embrace Your New Lifestyle
Finally, don’t look at yourself as a victim. Rather than thinking, “I can’t hire a babysitter and go to the movies with my spouse because we don’t have the money,” think, “I’m choosing to be responsible with my money and do what will help us reach our financial goals.”
Also, remind yourself that you’re changing your life so that you will be financially comfortable for years. You choose this over struggling financially to make minimum payments on your debt. Remind yourself, “I choose temporary discomfort of not being able to do what I want to do so that I have the opportunity to live a better life not just now but in the future.”
How about you all? Have you been able to make permanent life changes? What has helped you to be able to do so?
Share your experiences by commenting below!
***Photo courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/alan-light/251536635/sizes/o/