My Apologies To Gazelle Intensity


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I’ve never identified with the concept of gazelle intensity. My interpretation of it has always been one of extreme frugality, living with no frills for an extended period of time in order to throw as much money as possible towards debt and/or retirement. It always seemed to me that kind of perspective would have people essentially get zero enjoyment out of life while they pay off debt, or save for retirement. I always thought there had to be some kind of balance. I never understood why someone would purposefully and completely deprive themselves of everything.

But over the weekend, with an epiphany of sorts, it suddenly made sense to me.

I’m training for a June marathon, and really need to lose some weight to do achieve my goals. I’ve been doing a half-assed job at watching what I eat. I joined Weight Watchers to try to get a handle on my diet, but I track my eating about one out of every three days, and even then I don’t enter into the online tool everything I eat. I keep thinking that I can eat cookies, chips, hot dogs and any other kind of junk I want. As long as I do it in moderation, I’ll be OK. Obviously, that hasn’t been working out very well for me.

Lost in my thoughts while I was mowing lawn, I came to the conclusion that the only way I was going to really achieve my goal was say, โ€œNoโ€ to it all. No more nachos, chicken wings, alcohol, soda, or any other kind of junk food. Because one chip becomes half a bag, one scoop of ice cream becomes a heaping bowl. I needed to simplify the process, and just deny myself everything for the good of my ultimate goal. Not forever, just until I reach my weight goal, and run my marathon in June. Where I go from there can be decided when I get there.

With a smile on my face it hit me, this is gazelle intensity.

Later that same day, Vonnie and I were going over our finances and discovered a problem. Because we failed to change our tax withholdings, we would likely owe quite a bit on our taxes next year. As I picked up some freelance writing jobs, I really needed to either pay quarterly taxes, or change the tax withholdings for my day job to account for no taxes coming out of my writing payments. Our estimation is that we need to save up about $7000 by next April. We have the resources to do it, but we need to have extreme focus for the next five months.

We need to be gazelle intense in order to avoid incurring more debt to pay our tax bill.

On a previous post in which I wrote about my disbelief of gazelle intensity, a reader commented that gazelle intensity wasn’t a forever perspective, but rather a short interval followed by something perhaps less intense. I didn’t get it then, but I certainly get it now. Both my weight loss and marathon training as well as our need to save a significant amount of money are a both short periods of high intensity focus. Once we are able to pay that tax bill with cash, and once I cross that finish line at my goal weight, we can decide to either back off, or take on a new goal.

Gazelle intensity applies when the achievement of a goal is more important than what you have to give up to get there.

Dropping 30 pounds and running my best marathon ever is more important to me than the taste of sour cream and onion chips. Being able to pay that tax bill in cash by April 15th is more important to us than a mini family vacation, or any amount of material stuff that we would buy otherwise.

I invite you, the EOD nation, to check out a very special edition of I Love You Like a Blogger Roundup this Friday as we begin our march to $7000 in savings to pay our tax bill. Maybe you’ll decide that you need to get all gazelle on a goal that you really want to achieve. If so, feel free to leave comments here, or on Friday’s post. Then give your own updates each week as well.

To all of you who have tried to convince me I was wrong about gazelle intensity. My sincerest apologies. I get it.

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38 Responses to “My Apologies To Gazelle Intensity”

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  1. We have goals and set our time lines for reaching them. Then we make it happen. We don’t need gazelle intensity to reach our goals now, but if we end up needing it, we’ll use it.

    • Travis says:

      I’m glad to hear you don’t need it, Emily….for me it’s kind of a “method of last resort.” As far as my weight is concerned, what I’ve been doing hasn’t been working. For saving for our taxes, it really a necessity. Thanks for reading!

  2. We used it to help us pay off our debt, but you need to find the balance. After being gazelle intensity for over 4 years if we just went back to our old habits we get back in a mess again. So you dial it back, but certainly don’t go all the way back.

    • Travis says:

      That’s the part I wonder about, Brian…I can see me going along with trying to lose weight, and just saying “NO” to everything – or someone trying to get out of debt, and saying “NO” to all frivolous spending. What does a person do once they reach their goal? Can they achieve balance after being used to the answer being “NO” for so long? I dunno, I struggle with that. But if going extreme is the only way to make progress towards a goal, I’m willing to do it and see if I can figure it out once I reach the finish line.

      • I think you have to look at it as a change for good. When I want to lose weigh I don’t think of in in terms of a diet anymore, because a diet to me suggest something short term. Once the diet is over if I go back to the bad eating habits I’ll gain the weight back. So I need to change my eating habits for good to keep the weigh off. The same can be said for money. Now that we are done with our debt repayment if we go back to the way we spent before we fall back into debt. We are not as intense as were where before, but we are not as lazy as we were prior. We’re somewhere in the middle if that makes sense.

        • I certainly get what you’re saying, Brian…..for losing weight it needs to be a lifestyle to keep it off for good. As far as debt, you have to change your spending habits for good to stay out of debt. BUT, once out of debt you don’t have to be as frugal because you have the money in your budget to use how you choose instead of paying debt. For my training, I will likely not want to be as strict, or be training as hard once I run the race (I’d eventually burn out). I still have to learn a kind of balance for “real” life.

      • JMK says:

        For the question “what does a person do once they reach their goal”? I’d suggest you have another goal ready to go, and a few more ideas simmering for when that one is complete. Money, at it’s simplest is a way of keeping score. You earn dollars for completing your job at work. You then trade those dollars for the things you need or want. The problems always arise when the trading exceeds the dollars earned and you start borrowing against future dollars you expect to earn.
        I don’t look at getting out of debt as an “end”, just another step along the path. It just marks the completion of a goal to no longer owe money for things you’ve already consumed or enjoyed. Once the debts are paid, the money can be redirected to whatever you value in life. Frankly figuring out those priorities requires some serious soul searching, and plenty of discussion if you have a partner. Deciding you needed to get out of debt will in hindsight look like a no-brainer. Going forward, what do you truly value? What do you want out of life (not what are all your friends or the media suggesting you should want). You may opt to add back in a few wants that you’ve truly missed during debt payoff, but you may also find that you no longer covet them after a period of forced separation. Achieving balance and not returning to the old spendy ways may turn out to be a nonissue. At this point I can’t truly enjoy a restaurant meal. It’s not a priority in my life; I can make it healthier and certainly cheaper at home, and all I see is wasted money and I mentally convert that into days or hours of lost early retirement funds. For rough numbers we assume the early retirement years (pre 65 when gov benefits kick in) will cost us $100/day. With that number in mind it’s easy to skip a fancy dinner out, learn to be content with the 3 channels we get free with an antenna, or replace clothing only when required and usually from thrift shops. It’s all a matter of priorities and it never feels like deprivation. I don’t see it as a dinner missed, I choose to see it as a day of retirement I didn’t have to give up. If I manage to reduce or avoid a planned expense it moves up the retirement date.
        We’re targeting retirement in Dec 2020 when the mortgage is done, the retirement accounts have hit the magic numbers and we have our separate travel budget fully funded. So for another 5yrs, 6weeks we’ll carry on saying NO to a whole lot of what other folks think is perfectly normal. And we’ll be perfectly content doing it. Once we reach the early retirement goal we won’t be “done” then either. We’ll simply transition to our planned retirement budget move on to the next goals: regular travel, increased volunteering, gardening, taking up new hobbies and signing up for general interest classes. It that doesn’t keep us challenged we’ll dream up a few more goals to accomplish. I can’t think of anything more dreadful than being “done” when I still have life left to life.
        It think it’s an excellent idea for anyone approaching a milestone goal completion like debt payoff to start planning well in advance for what the next phase of life will look like. I once read a suggestion that while you are in severe debt payoff mode to also create a post-debt budget where you get to play with where the excess money will go once it’s not going being consumed by the debt. Playing with all the options way in advance and testing out on paper the impacts of reverting to wild spending might help avoid it happening in real life.

        • I always appreciate your comments, JMK – you always share such detailed and personal information. I LOVE your advice of having another goal lined up. The absence of a goal tends to lead to freefall into the abyss for me. Thanks for sharing your wisdom!

  3. I sort of get it but I don’t think there was every a time where I committed to gazelle like intensity for something. Or maybe I have and just didn’t know it? For instance I trained for I think it was two months with volleyball pros once and it was terrifying and they killed me and seemed sometimes upset I was in the program, but I stuck it out five days a week for that time. I’m not sure that was intensity or just the desire not to quit. I think it is OK in the short term, but I do think there is a very high risk of burnout associated with it, so I guess just proceed with caution! ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Travis says:

      Definite chance of burnout, Tonya….and I thought about that. The thing that popped in my head is something I saw recently about motivation vs. discipline. Motivation gets you started, but is fleeting. Discipline is what keeps you going – discipline will get me to the gym at 5:00am, or to save instead of spend even when I want to make a different decision. I’m willing to give it a shot!

  4. I read something in the Harvard Business Review that it’s easier to commit to something 100% of the time than it is to commit to it 98% of the time. That really stuck with me.

  5. Kathy says:

    I’ve heard Dave Ramsey speak often of gazelle intensity and it definitely does involve deprivation. Rice and beans, beans and rice is his saying, along with you don’t go into a restaurant unless you are working there. However, the final part of his plan is something that a lot of people can’t understand and that is “live like no one else today, so tomorrow you can LIVE like no one else.” That means that the gazelle intensity should be short term so the long term is fantastic.

    • Travis says:

      I’ve heard that phrase before as well, Kathy, but I find myself sometimes saying “what if I don’t make it until tomorrow?” But I guess you can’t really live your life like that…..

  6. scarr says:

    I have been paying off my student loans with gazelle intensity since last April, and by December 2015 I will (hopefully) be making my last payment. My husband and I are living off of about 50% of our take-home income so the rest can go toward paying off student loans (full disclosure – we both are contributing about 15% pre-tax monies into retirement accounts). For us, sacrificing for two years is worth it to be free from debt. We want to buy a house eventually and having the burden of student loans on top of a mortgage is just not something that works for us.

    Whatever plan keeps you motivated and moving forward will always be the right plan ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Travis says:

      Great example, Scarr (GREAT to hear from you, by the way!), glad to hear things are going well for you. I want to focus in on your statement “sacrificing for two years is WORTH IT to be free from debt.” When achieving the goal is more important than what you have to sacrifice to get there…….am I right? Thanks so much for sharing!

  7. I admit I’ve never been a huge fan of deprivation programs only because I’ve seen them backfire too often. But I will also say one of the big reasons they do is because people’s commitment to them is somewhat shaky. Meaning they want to get out of debt or whatever their goal may be, but they don’t know why beyond the fact that they should. And not having a concrete reason why to deprive yourself, makes it much harder to do and not burnout. But if you realize it is a short period of time and the reason why is so crystal clear and the payoff so important to you, then gazelle intensity can work magnificently. It sounds like you’ve reached that point, Travis and I wish you luck!

    • Travis says:

      The goal, and the reason for it is definitely crystal clear. I’ve reached a point where I’m ready to make the sacrifice to make it happen…..I’m excited to go for it, Shannon!!!! Thanks for your support!

  8. Maria Nedeva says:

    Travis, I never got the gazelle intensity thing either. Still don’t. What you are describing sounds to me to be ‘the focus of a hunter’ rather than the ‘awareness of the hunter’. Now this I do understand – I always said that while paying off the debt I had the focus of a tiger that has spotted a pray (the debt).

    • Actually, with gazelle intensity, the debtor is the prey, and our debt-matrix society (banks, credit card companies, and ads all bombarding us with messages to borrow and buy now) is the hunter. It’s interesting to consider it the other way around, but gazelle intensity as Ramsey describes it involves the focus of the prey to escape.

      • Travis says:

        It’s interesting to see a different perspective, isn’t it Prudence? That’s what’s so fun about reading about methods to achieve goals….different interpretations can lead to a completely different way to attack something!

    • Travis says:

      I do agree with Prudence’s description of Gazelle intensity (although it could mean something different to different people), I like how you take an aggressive, take charge perspective, Maria. Even though I only know you from one brief meeting, and interacting with you online, it doesn’t surprise me that is the way you approached eliminating your debt…..or that you were so successful in doing so. ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. Sassy Mamaw says:

    As you are seeing now, Travis, the gazelle intensity is something short term. Even Dave says if it’s going to take more than two or three years to get your debt paid off, you don’t want to stop investing in your 401k for that long. You (and I) had such a huge mountain of debt at the beginning of our journeys, gazelle intensity wasn’t realistic. Just set the fun stuff aside for a few months, and get it done. I’m so glad you discovered the issue now, instead of finding it in April!

    • Travis says:

      That’s the plan, Sassy Mamaw…..take some time, knock out the goal, and then reassess what we want to do next. Looking forward to sharing my march towards $7000 with the EOD nation….this is going to be FUN! (did I just say that?)

  10. Epiphanies are so cool : ) I understand your paradigm shift, and I respect your willingness both to disagree and then to change your mind. No need to say sorry! All the best putting aside that $7,000, and good luck with the food. It’s my weakness too.

    • Travis says:

      As a person moves through life, their perspective and approach to solving problems may evolve. I still believe that a person needs balance to be successful long term (I don’t think anyone would disagree with that), but using a period of high focus intensity is just another tool in the toolbelt to be used in the right situation. Life is all about learning and bettering ourselves – it’s what makes life so interesting!

      I would have loved to have seen the look on my face when the light bulb came on while I was mowing lawn. ๐Ÿ™‚

  11. Good stuff, Travis! I got murdered on taxes last year, unexpectedly owing $7k+ due to the blog, botched withholdings at my wife’s three jobs, and me not staying on top of stuff throughout the year. Thankfully I had about that much in my business account, but it cleared me out! Despite paying quarterly taxes and having some additional taken out of my paycheck, I still forecasted a large shortfall as of a couple weeks ago. To make up the difference I have even more coming out of the paychecks, even more going in as a quarterly payment this Q4, and saving as much of my side hustle $ as possible. Not quite gazelle intensity, but I think it’s close. I think I’m warming up to the concept too!

  12. Michelle says:

    I think that Gazelle Intensity just means “extreme focus” how you manifest that focus is up to you. Dave Ramsey talks about it in a way that I’ve begun to feel is a bit negative (as noted by a previous commenter. Dave uses extreme deprivation instead of extreme creativity, etc) I have used extreme focus to manifest things that I wanted such as: living in Paris for 6 months, traveling around the world with Up With People, and getting my degrees. I am about to rest soon and then tap into that energy again for some upcoming goals. I love it!! Because when I meet my goals it’s an awesome feeling.

  13. Abigail says:

    Two months before FinCon, I found out my pants didn’t fit. And I really didn’t want to buy new ones. So I buckled down on my diet and exercise. I managed to fit in them comfortably at the conference.

    Unfortunately, now my intensity is nowhere to be found. But I’m off sugary snacks — a promise to my husband who was quitting smoking. I hope this will get me back to eating better. And not wanting to kill everyone around me. Time will tell.

    • Nice work on achieving your goal, Abigail…once you’ve reached a goal it’s hard to keep motivated. Another reader in a comment further up suggested that once a goal is achieve to line up another goal….could that work for you too?

  14. $7,000 tax bill! Ouch! I know you can do it though. I’m really glad you identified that situation now so you can start saving vs. waiting until you did your taxes to do it!

    • Travis says:

      Admitting you have a problem is the first step towards fixing it, right? We’ve got to get our focus on, and get it done. thanks for the support, Holly!

  15. Tennille says:

    We have spurts of Gazelle intensity, but being a single income family it only happens in spurts as I don’t want my husband working himself “to death”. As a stay at home mom I try to make our lives as frugal as possible, I see it as my job to save us every penny I can.

    • Travis says:

      That sounds like the definition of Gazelle intensity, Tennille – you’re highly focused for awhile, intensely working towards your goal. Then you back off, take a breather and get ready for the next round. Keep going, Tennille! Thanks for reading!

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