When I was a two-mile runner in high school, many of the runners complained about aches in their sides from running long and hard. It was just part of the game. If we were going to push ourselves, it was going to hurt. During a race, you can’t just stop and rest a while when it starts to hurt, you have to keep going. Nevertheless, the pain and fatigue affected many runners and their ability to improve their times.
Our track coach offered a solution, he called it “mental toughness.” It’s a concept that stuck with me and has served me well. Sometimes we just need a mental image, a concept, a focal point to help us achieve success. This was the concept for me.
If we apply a little mental toughness to our daily decision-making, then we ought to be able to reduce the cost of living and that will help us accumulate funds necessary to pay down our debt. In many cases, it’s a matter of using mental toughness to overcome our emotional side that often keeps begging us to be less financially responsible.
I need to add that being mentally tough isn’t about taking risks so much as it is about reducing behavior that places us at risk. Here are some examples from my own experience:
My well used car and truck were essentially “beaters” yet I drove them to customer locations where most of the cars were only a few years old and in great condition. I wasn’t going to spend gobs of money on my image. That wasn’t important. Customers or co-workers would observe, “That’s your rig?” or “I thought you’d have a better ride than this.” I would simply reply, “No, that’s my vehicle and it does exactly what I need it to do. It brings me to work and takes me back home again. I don’t need to impress anyone with what I drive.”
While transitioning from bankruptcy back to a life of financial responsibility, I rented a small cottage that was poorly insulated and during the summer it was like a large oven inside. I was able to get the owner to paint the roof white to reflect heat and that reduced the temperature inside to something that was bearable, but it wasn’t a place of comfort. Nevertheless, it was what I could afford, it was a temporary place for me, and I toughed it out.
As part of restarting my life, I rented a cramped apartment in my new town and had to put up with neighbors of all sorts. I’m not a fan of “living on top of one another” but it was what was necessary to help me get back on my financial feet. I would soon leave it all behind, and that helped me maintain the mental toughness necessary to hang in there.
With a heavy financial burden associated with paying off my debts, for many years it seemed that all I did was travel and work and get ready for more travel and work. I had no social life to speak of, and recreation wasn’t something I spent much time engaged in. Again, I knew the situation was temporary, and I stayed committed to earning my way out of a deep financial hole. It required about four years of dedicated effort to get my head comfortably above water, and it was all worthwhile.
The concept of mental toughness can be applied in many different situations, and it can have multiple facets. For me, it involves a plan as to what needs to be done. Some level of sacrifice, knowing that delayed gratification will provide you with benefits in the long run. It’s also about making good and consistent decisions that support the objectives of your plan. Lastly, it includes some level of tenacity, a staying power on your part to see the effort through to the end. Use your own version of mental toughness to:
- Earn more
- Save more
- Spend less
- Spend more wisely
- Dedicate portions of your income to debt elimination
- Resist temptations to spend foolishly
- Stay focused on a brighter financial future
I am forever grateful to my track coach (who just turned 88 last week) for introducing me to the concept of mental toughness. To be sure, it means different things to different people, and I hope that you can make use of this concept as one of the tools in your toolbox of personal finance.