In today’s episode, we’re tackling the third key variable to financial success: the ability to focus.
Today, Episode #003 of Beyond Finances takes a dive into the importance of focus — and specifically, the ability to focus on what you can control. There’s a lot of noise and distraction out there, which means finding financial success requires you to zero in on what really matters. And once you find that, you then have to go a step further and sort through what’s in your power to do something about, and what you may need to let go of.
Jump into the episode here, or check out detailed show notes and takeaways below:
Our Favorite Shareable Moments & Takeaways
- What you should focus on comes down to what’s important to you, and how you want your life to look like.
- You need to find a way to step back from your emotions if you want to respond, and not just react, in the moment. Create space between what happens to you, and how you interpret it or feel about it.
- Little gains compound over time, whether that’s money in an investment account or little habits in your life.
- When you identify those things you can control and take responsibility for, it puts you in a position to clearly understand how you can change your actions moving forward to get the outcome you want (or avoiding an outcome you don’t want). Suddenly, you have more control over how your life goes!
- Financial success is not just about tactics, or the to-dos. It’s about the strategy you apply to your entire way of thinking about money.
Further Reading & Resources Mentioned in the Show
- If you missed Episodes 001 & 002, give those a listen — they build on the themes we talk about in this episode: How to Balance Spending Today with Saving for Tomorrow, and The Art of Being Intentional with Your Money, via Beyond Finances
- We talked about the power that you get to claim when you take responsibility in a few posts: read Eric’s take on recovering from financial mistakes here, and check out Kali’s essay on responsibility here
- Consistent baby steps are much better than big leaps that don’t happen that often. Read more on this idea of “marginal gains” via this excerpt from James Clear’s book, Atomic Habits
- “The Big Rocks of Life,” via Stephen R. Covey
- “Focus” sketch, by Carl Richards (creator of Behavior Gap)
- Tony Robbins: This is the secret to happiness in one word, via CNBC
Full Show Notes
0:27: The third in our trilogy of key factors for financial success: focus! Specifically, focusing on what you can control.
0:35: It’s difficult to start from scratch with this if it’s not something you’re used to doing. There’s a lot of complexity here — but the things we’ve talked about so far (in terms of Balance, Intention, and knowing what you value) will help you figure out where you should focus.
1:01: What you should focus on comes down to what’s important to you, and how you want your life to look like.
1:19: From there, back into what you can control.
1:39: The challenge with this is keeping a broad perspective beyond just the day-to-day. It’s hard to “focus” when you’re talking about a lifetime, or something decades into the future!
1:51: You need to find a way to step back from your emotions if you want to respond, and not just react, in the moment. Create space between what happens to you, and how you interpret it or feel about it.
2:28: Life is messy! Don’t expect perfection — or perfect clarity, or full motivation 100% of the time. It’s about taking actions, failing, succeeding; making adjustments as you go and figuring out what works for you.
2:48: There is no one right answer to figuring this stuff out — you can’t just generate a list of “here are the ideal things to focus on right now” and treat that like your to-do list. But what you can do is simply take one step after another. Identify an area of your money or your life that you’re questioning or feeling challenged by right now. Then, consider what about that situation is within your control or change or do something about, and identify what is not in your control to influence. From there, you need to figure out what actually matters to you and what’s just noise or distraction.
3:16: If you focus on the things you can control, and those things are what actually matters to you, that’s where you can make the most impact.
3:40: In order to focus on what you can control, you first have to have some self-awareness. Without that awareness, it’s hard to determine what is or isn’t within your control. This is where most people struggle.
4:17: “What can I take responsibility for?” is a key question to ask yourself (and might be another way of asking the “what can I control” question). You can find yourself somewhere and ask, how did I get here? What can I take responsibility for right now, and therefore, what can I do now to further myself down this path (or reverse and change directions entirely).
4:55: Be careful if you find yourself making excuses. For example: if someone says, “I had to buy dinner out all week because my boss is terrible and kept me late at work so I didn’t have time to go to the grocery store, and that’s why I went over my budget this week. I didn’t have any choice but to spend all this money and eat unhealthy; it wasn’t my fault.” That’s an excuse! And a good example of giving up your control.
5:41: If you take responsibility in this situation, then you could have stepped up and said, “you know what? This week is going to be really busy and I know my boss is going to do what my boss does and keep me late. I’m going to save money and stick to my nutritional goals — and buy groceries this weekend and meal prep so I have something for when I don’t have time to go shopping this week/don’t have the energy to cook when I get home.”
6:15: Instead of focusing on the thing that you can’t control, which is your boss’ behavior, you can focus on what you can control to set yourself up for a better week.
6:27: This is why it might be tough to get started with this idea of “focus” from scratch — because getting good at focus largely comes when you can learn from your experiences, be reflective of what happened and identify the facts, versus how you might have interpreted something or blamed someone else for a problem you could have claimed your power over and done something to change.
7:04: When you identify those things you can control and take responsibility for, it puts you in a position to clearly understand how you can change your actions moving forward to get the outcome you want (or avoiding an outcome you don’t want). Suddenly, you have more control over how your life goes!
7:26: It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Life is not black or white; we don’t have to make binary choices. It’s not 0% or 100%. We can be somewhere in the middle. Focus on incremental progress. Baby steps, one after the other (not massive leaps forward).
7:54: Little gains compound over time, whether that’s money in an investment account or little habits in your life. Aim for 1% better every day, not nailing it once and then totally falling off the wagon.
8:45: The whole concept of “taking responsibility” can feel weird at first, because it’s very easy to take this as, “well, great. Now everything is MY fault” instead of it being someone else’s problem! But being responsible for yourself gives you more power and agency in your life — a very good thing. It puts you in charge… and maybe even in more control.
9:38: To do this well and to become an effective change-maker in your own life, you have to be real and honest with yourself.
9:47: People often avoid this because it makes them feel “wrong.” Like there’s something to fix. Nobody wants to be at fault for things in their lives (which is why we’re great at blaming everything and everyone else). But asking yourself “what could I have controlled or done differently?” is not the same as saying “what was I at fault for,” or “what did I do wrong.”
10:27: There’s always a reason or an excuse for why something went a certain way. We can continue to make up those reasons or excuses, and feel very “right” in our beliefs and therefore be happy that we were right… but that does nothing to move us forward. That doesn’t change the fact you’re still in the same position as you were before. That’s not action-oriented.
11:15: Something to think about and begin asking yourself: where is it that you’ve done certain things that put you at a disadvantage, or subjected you to something that wasn’t ideal? And then, where have you done things that actually created an opportunity for yourself? Those are the things to think about and try to understand.
11:43: The stock market is a good example to dig into. Investing is something you need to focus on if you want to grow wealth. But you cannot control the stock market itself.
11:58: All you need to do here is identify that fact: no, you can’t control the market itself. So what can you control? What is it about the investment process we can control? We can control how much we save, how much we invest in different parts of the market, we can control our contributions and asset classes, we can control how we rebalance, how long we stay invested — there are so many things we can control so we just need to identify those and then focus on getting those actions right.
12:29: If we can do this, then it doesn’t matter what the stock market’s doing… which is good, because we can’t control it anyway.
12:35: Again, it’s not about placing blame — how silly would it be to say “ugh, stock market, it’s your fault I am where I am with my finances!” (Although, some people actually do this… and doing it doesn’t change their situation!)
12:48: Instead of using your energy to point blame at others or yourself, the more effective thing to do is look at, what action can I take that’s productive, proactive, and will move me forward in the direction I want to be in.
13:09: These are all good ideas — but what we haven’t gotten to yet is, how do you identify the things that are actually in your control?
13:28: It’s not necessarily obvious (or immediately obvious) as to what’s in your control, and what isn’t.
13:56: When it comes to identifying what’s in your control and what’s not, it’s as simple as asking questions. Ask yourself, “what can I do right now?” and then literally make a list of every possible thing you can think of — no matter how ridiculous or outlandish!
14:28: The point of this? Play with possibilities. Brainstorm.
14:38: Once you see what all you could possibly do, then go back and ask yourself, “what’s reasonable for me to do?” And of what’s reasonable, what can you do right now?
14:50: What we want to do here is identify the big rocks in your situation. Those are the things you need to focus on first.
15:41: In addition to identifying the big rocks… it might also be helpful to identify the sand, or the stuff you’re currently focusing on that doesn’t really matter or make an impact and is more of a distraction from what’s truly important.
16:24: An example of sand: worry. Worry is definitely something you can do, but it’s pretty useless. If you focus here, you abandon everything else you could actually be doing that’s productive!
17:05: It does take effort to figure this out. The answers aren’t always immediately apparent, and that’s okay (don’t panic if they’re not immediately clear!).
17:11: And you may realize what you need to do — but feel uncertain about how to do them. That’s okay! You can always ask questions, study, research, learn.
17:56: What you can control is a lot different than how to do it. But you can always ask, or seek out information, to get to “how.” Don’t let “how” block you from moving forward.
18:27: Carl Richards of Behavior Gap has a great sketch that helps illustrate a lot of what we’ve been talking about.
19:09: To determine where to focus, consider what you value, what’s important, and from those things, what’s your top priority?
19:26: You can see how all these things — balance, intention, focus — are really intertwined and connected. They all work together to help you find that way to live well today while still planning responsibly for tomorrow.
20:02: It’s not necessarily achieving an ultimate goal. It’s about progress along the way. That’s where happiness comes from.
20:25: If anyone was wondering why the podcast was named “Beyond Finances,” these three episodes should give you a window into the reason — we’ve talked about money; we’ve touched on it. But what it takes to be better with your money is not necessarily “do X, Y, and Z with your cash,” or “invest in this specific way.” These details are important… but the bigger, deeper stuff is what we’ve been talking about. Balance. Intention. Focus.
20:59: Financial success is not just about tactics, or the to-dos. It’s about the strategy you apply to your entire way of thinking about money.
21:07: What we hope these 3 conversations set up for you is that strategy you can use to be financially successful, to be wealthy, and to live your life the way you want to live it. That’s what we mean by Beyond Finances. It’s not about how to budget or how to save — we’ll get into those, but you can’t do that without setting up this framework to operate within, to get all the details right.
22:03: There is no one right answer to the big financial questions — like how much do I need to retire. There’s no way to figure that out in a vacuum, or to get a generic, simple answer that will apply to your specific situation.
23:30: Those simplistic, generic answers don’t take into account your perspective about what you value and where your life is going and what you envision your future to be.
22:39: The things we’ve been talking about over the past 3 episodes are what you need to start the conversation with in order to build the structure and make the best financial decisions for you and your life. That’s what we’re committed to helping you do with this podcast and moving into the next episodes that move away from big-picture ideas and start digging into the details. We hope you stick around and join us next time!
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