If we only had five minutes to provide guidance on how to succeed not only with your finances, but with life in general, we’d tell you the three most critical factors to success are:
The first two, especially number one, are hard to “fix” on your own, and we’ll discuss both of them in future blog posts so let’s start with the “easiest” one of the three – your habits.
We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.
What’s below the surface matters most.
Our lives in many ways are like an iceberg. A typical iceberg has 90% of its volume under water and out of sight. One thought that comes quickly to mind is how much this analogy is like social media in that only a very small percentage of our lives are visible online – usually just the good stuff. We, like you I’m sure, have heard the analogy that our social media feeds are like the highlight reel of our lives. Think about it…when was the last time you saw someone posting to Facebook just before getting a root canal or about to go into surgery?!?!
The truth is for most of us our lives are not what they appear to be online. We all have struggles and challenges in life, and much of what drives those challenges is what we do and / or don’t do routinely, in other words, it’s our habits that are one key to success and failure.
Consider it from the perspective of your medical school and residency days. You can probably identify the habits that led to doing well on exams, receiving positive feedback on performance evaluations, and successfully performing procedures, and the habits that led to struggling with all of these.
Back to our iceberg analogy…our lives are like the iceberg with the results being the things we can see above the surface (i.e. medical degree, graduating residency), roughly 10%, and the remaining 90% what we routinely do (i.e. daily habits) hidden below the surface. This leads to the conclusion we have to focus not on the results we want, but instead on the habits we need to develop to achieve the results.
To accomplish our goals we must distill our dreams into daily actions.
James Clear, author of the book titled Atomic Habits writes, “Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement.” In other words, small changes in behavior over time can add up to big results just like small investments in your retirement account can add up to big dollars decades later because of the “magic” of compound interest. For example, a 1% daily improvement will lead to being 37 times better a year later.
Based on this, Clear argues, “Success is the product of daily habits – not once-in-a-lifetime transformations.” Too often we fail in changing our lives because we make drastic changes that are doomed to collapse.
Big Change = Big Challenge = Big Probability to Fail Long Term
We’ve all failed at some point to succeed with a new habit we wanted to develop. One of the reasons for failure is we make too drastic of a change that we may be able to sustain for a short while, but eventually it becomes too difficult to keep up. Think about all those New Year’s resolutions you may have made just a few months ago related to physical fitness.
If you’re like 65% of those surveyed by Inc. you want to exercise more in 2019. We’d be willing to bet most of those people didn’t set a goal to go to the gym for just one hour a week, but probably more like an hour a day for 3-5 days a week. Now this isn’t a big deal if you’re already going to the gym most days of the week, but that’s probably not the case with most people. Many of these goal setters are not going to the gym at all or doing anything physical, and going from sitting on the couch five days a week to a treadmill is destined to fail.
A better approach that is more likely to succeed long term is to start small (atomic is an extremely small thing that is a source of immense power). Small changes are easier to do, and in many cases take very little time or energy, making them more likely to succeed.
Small Change = Small Challenge = Small Probability to Fail Long Term
For example, swapping out the couch one day a week for a treadmill may be a good starting point. As the months pass by adding one more day is not such a big deal, and eventually by the end of the year you will have achieved your goal of 3-5 days a week, and best of all you won’t have to keep setting that same resolution year-after-year!
What habits could lead to becoming a debt-free millionaire doctor?
Are you convinced yet? Do you see the power in habits and how they can positively impact your life? Not yet? OK, let’s look at why many of you are subscribed to this site and want to become debt-free millionaire doctors and how habits are critical to your success (if you haven’t subscribed yet you can do so here).
It’s a common approach that if you want to be like someone you admire you find out what they routinely do and copy them. You, for example, may want to be the best in your field and getting a medical degree is a good start, but another thing you may want to do is find a mentor who you can learn from and ask him or her what led to their success and do the same.
Becoming a debt-free millionaire doctor is no different. We can look at the habits of those who have succeeded with money and copy what they did to get similar results. Here’s 8 habits we found helpful in becoming the Debt-Free Millionaire Doctors (DFMD):
DFMD Habit #1 Know where your money is going each month.
The difference between poor (those who should be wealthy and are not) and wealthy people is that poor people let their money tell them where it went each month, but wealthy people tell their money where to go each month.
Money is a horrible master, but a wonderful slave.
Money will do exactly as you tell it to do (don’t you wish your kids were like your money!), but you need to have a plan to do so. This is the dreaded monthly budget, or as we like to call it, the monthly spending plan. If we had to identify the most critical element to success in becoming debt-free and eventually millionaires, it would be the monthly spending plan. It’s unlikely you will just magically get out of debt until you start taking a proactive approach in managing where your money is going each month.
DFMD Habit #2 Communicate with your spouse.
We find one of the biggest and most common challenges of getting out of debt is getting your spouse on board. The journey to become debt-free is unlikely to succeed if just one of you is working toward it. Short term you may get there, but unless you are both on the same page with your finances, you’re likely to end up back in debt. Make a “money date” with your spouse at least once a quarter to discuss your finances. Talk about your “debt-free dreams” and what it will look and feel like once you’ve accomplished your goal to be debt-free. This can sometimes help get a reluctant spouse on board once they can visualize what it may be like once you’ve paid off all your debt.
DFMD Habit #3 Determine where you want to go and how you’re going to get there.
Starting with the end in mind is key to success in mapping out the daily steps you need to take to get there. You can easily wander into debt, but you can’t wander into wealth, at least not without hitting the lottery! Make goal setting a part of your conversations with your spouse to discuss what you want your life and money to look like 10 years from now, 3 years from now, a year from today, and even down to the next 90 days to start taking small daily steps that lead to big change a decade or more from now.
DFMD Habit #4 Focus on less to get more.
One of our struggles early on was setting too many goals and focusing on too many things at the same time. Think about the act of juggling and you’ll quickly realize it’s far easier to juggle a single ball versus five. Much of the advice you may come across related to finances is that you need to be doing a lot of different things at the same time. The problem is when you focus on a lot in many ways, you’re not focusing on anything. Try keeping your eye on all of the dots below versus just the red one and you’ll quickly get my point.
When you make getting out of debt your only money focus you get to the finish line much faster, and the great thing is you can then turn that focused intensity to other things (i.e. investments, real estate, etc.) and find your way to millionaire status far quicker and with less stress and complexity.
DFMD Habit #5 Get educated on what it takes to win with money.
As physicians you can probably relate to the power of education. Without it you wouldn’t be where you are, but how educated are you when it comes to your money? Reading our blog is a great start to taking control of your life and money. Consider making a goal to read one book a month on life and money issues. The typical millionaire reads one non-fiction book every month. How many books did you read last year?
DFMD Habit #6 Limit your time on social media.
Social media is a double-edged sword in that many great things are available through social media, but also several bad things. Two major downsides to social media are the time trap they represent, and the problem of comparisons social media creates. Interestingly, the average American spends 14 hours a week on social media compared to only 2.5 hours for millionaires. One way to limit your time online is to time-box your social media time. When you set a start and end time to “box-it-in” you are less likely to just keep scrolling away for hours.
DFMD Habit #7 Spend less time watching TV.
Have you ever made a New Year’s Resolution or goal to watch more TV? Neither have we, but many of us spend far too much time watching bad TV. There’s nothing inherently wrong with watching TV. The biggest downside to watching a lot of TV is that it takes time away from other more valuable things you could do with that time. Ask wealthy people if they watch less than an hour of TV per day and most will say yes. The next time you get the urge to pick up the remote pick up a book instead. Also consider time-boxing your TV watching time to no more than one hour per day.
DFMD Habit #8 Think long term.
The final habit is perhaps the most critical of all. A key distinguishing characteristic of wealthy people is they think long term. When faced with big decisions they ask, “How will this affect me in five years? Ten years? Twenty years?”, whereas those who are not wealthy tend to have a “month-end mindset” where they ask, “What will this cost me per month?” or “Can I make the monthly payment?”.
Wealthy people create their future instead of letting it just happen to them. They also focus on today and how their actions today can have a dramatic effect on their tomorrow. Don’t get caught up in a month-end mindset. Getting out of debt and building wealth takes time. Be patient and stay focused on where you want to go and less on where you currently are.
Take an inventory of your habits.
We are truly a product of our daily habits and the great thing is no matter how rich or poor you are you get to decide which habits you will adopt. Another great thing about most habits is that they cost nothing but our time. Look back at the eight habits we just outlined above, and you will see most, if not all, can be done with zero cost to you.
What now? Where do you start? Consider taking an inventory of your current habits to simply notice how you are using your time. Then evaluate each habit to determine if it is helping or hurting you to become what you want to be. We’ve created a DFMD modified version of James Clear’s Habit Scorecard you can download here to start this process.
Stay tuned to our blog as we continue to write about habits and how they are foundational in becoming a debt-free millionaire doctor. If you haven’t subscribed to our weekly email you can do so here. Also let us know what you think about habits and their effect on your life and money.