Finance Stoic 20 – Pause, reflect, cool down!

The soul is like a bowl of water, and our impressions are like the ray of light falling upon the water. When the water is troubled, it appears that the light itself is moved too, but it isn’t. So, when a person loses their composure it isn’t their skills and virtues that are troubled, but the spirit in which they exist, and when that spirit calms down so do those things.

Epictetus, Discourses, 3.3.20-22

Today’s question was what would happen if I took a second to cool down? 

What might happen? Wow, this was both a good question and a good lesson.

I want to tie this into a desire for frugal living and the lifestyle choices I try to make.

When I fall off the wagon and make a purchase that is not frugal, do I give up on my frugal mission?

Do I go back to a life of frivolity?

Too often, when I slip-up on a goal, I let my mind resume controlling my actions.  Do you?

I tried, I say, and I couldn’t do it. I am a failure so I should just give up and accept who I am.

But, wait. Doesn’t that sound like a fixed mindset?

Wouldn’t a better response be to pause, take a step back, and assess the situation unemotionally using the facts and logic, unaccompanied by self-doubt?

I ought to ask myself why I purchased the item using the five why’s technique to get at the true root cause of my behavior, which is the only way I will be able to correct it in the future.

5 Whys is an iterative interrogative technique used to explore the cause-and-effect relationships underlying a particular problem. The primary goal of the technique is to determine the root cause of a defect or problem by repeating the question “Why?” Each answer forms the basis of the next question. The “5” in the name derives from an anecdotal observation on the number of iterations needed to resolve the problem.

Once I understand the root cause of the purchase, I can ensure that I do not repeat the same behavior in the future when I am met with the exact same triggers. For example, let’s assume that the frivolous purchase was fast food and beer on the way home, which is both bad for my health and finances, because I was stressed at work. Next time I am stressed at work, I will know that I should avoid walking by a beer store or Burger King so I don’t repeat my mistake. It is recognizing that my mind isn’t fixed. I can learn and grow from my mistakes. Mistakes are lessons.

Once I have understood my mistake and how to rectify it in the future, I can re-examine my performance on my frugality journey. I would first compare my performance against what my goals for the year were. Wait, you do have SMART goals for the year, right? Next, I would compare my performance against what my performance was last year. Have I improved year-over-year?

Knowing how I am performing over the prior year and my current year plan is a better barometer than my one mistaken fast food and beer binge and will likely reaffirm that I ought to continue with my frugal journey given the successes. That said, for some reason, I can let something so small re-take control of my actions.

Remember, control is everything.

Control your mind. Don’t let it control you.

Digression start

The practice of Stoicism and application to my practical path to FIRE could not have come at a better time.

Mrs. Stoic and I are going through a really challenging time with the construction of our new home.

We are about 50% behind schedule, which means we are living for another year in a two bedroom apartment with our two beautiful boys.

We are about 30% over budget, and construction effectively hasn’t even commenced, which means that I am likely going to add one to two years to my FIRE date.

We have had meetings with our builder over and over and all we here is we are behind scheduleWe are over budget and I am doing my best to not allow my mind to be clouded by what’s happening. To maintain my focus, to stay positive.

It’s hard. There are moments where I give in and have thoughts and feelings that I should not. Where I feel we are being harmed and then I read more on Stoicism, I write in my daily journal, I meditate, I exercise, and I am able to realize that the only harm that can come to me is the harm that is in my own mind. The home issues are what they are, there is nothing I can do about it and once we are in the home, eventually I won’t even remember the debacle that was the build process. It will have disappeared from my mind like smoke and dust.

Digression over

Just writing that digression was sufficient to lift my spirit and remove a lot of the anxiety and pain I was holding onto.


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