Soft Start

I’ve failed a lot in my personal goals throughout my life. I bite off more than I can chew, I dive in without enough planning, or I just don’t have enough information about what I’m getting myself into – all of which can lead to failure or false starts. In many cases, I’ve given up, shrugging off the sense of embarrassment by claiming that I wasn’t that “into it” whatever project or goal. Other times, I’ve left the goal aside for a length of time until I could devote more attention to it, without actually changing my approach the second time around. What usually leads to this repeated outcome is trying to make too big of a change and expecting perfection on the first go. I wasn’t reflecting (enough or period) on what wasn’t working – and would throw myself into the next thing to distract from the lack of immediate success.

I was aware of the idea of practice tests, tutorial levels in video games, and receiving training prior to beginning a new job, but my brain saw each of those as context-specific rather than something that can be applied beyond the singular situation. I also had the expectation of perfectly mastering whatever I was attempting to do in minimal time – which was partially fostered by the culture of my high-calibre schools and partially from the feedback I got from non-parent adults in my life about how brilliant I was at whatever I set out to do. I feel this is something other gifted-kid types can relate to (based on the volume of memes and tweets), and it’s an incredibly difficult mindset to break free from.

Now that we’re all sad and feeling a touch dreary, I want to point out that I’ve found something that does work (at least for me), so there’s hope. Other than planning and reflection, I’ve found that setting myself a mini-scale goal – fewer things to be changed and a shorter time scale – is not only more manageable, but it also allows me to explore different approaches if something doesn’t work before fully committing to it.

We’ll use my first attempt at doing a No Buy Year. In 2021, I was fresh off of looking at my spending from the year before, aghast that I’d been so frivolous with my money. I resolved to curb my spending and there were to be no purchases made other than food. Except, I needed a thick yoga mat for my knees, after a decade of ballet effectively turning my knees to dust. Well, and a new pair of running shoes since I’m taking my fitness more seriously. Let’s not forget the semester-long course I took, since my alma mater was offering it online. Oh, but wait – Le Chateau is having a closing sale, and I could really do with two more ball gowns, five suits, and a handful of work tops. This was all before March 2021, and after I’d gone from too restrictive to “this is justifiable, I guess,” more and more purchases were made until around July. I spent the next six months observing what triggered my spending, what I was spending the money on (… other than just the turtleneck shirts), and listening to podcasts and videos about what worked for others on their No/Low Buy. 50 hours or so later of content, I felt like I had a better idea of what could work, namely, having a set of rules (rather than full restriction), budgets for the allowed different categories, and figuring out what purpose this goal was serving.

For the latter half of October to December, I slowed my spending and shopping, left items on a wish-list for the holidays, and spent less time in stores. I had a few holiday gifts to purchase, but I wasn’t doing my usual “one for you, one for me” approach to shopping, which helped immensely. This also coincided with opening my first credit card, and the last thing I wanted to do was go all out and rack up a huge debt that I wouldn’t be able to pay off (or, as my dad put it “how many months of your entire paycheque would it take to pay off your total credit limit?”).

Trying this goal out twice in the same year – once without much structure, during a high-stress period, then later with research under my belt and a clearer idea of my “how” and “why” – highlighted the difference (for me) between a false start and a soft start. For the former, I went off the rails when the wiggle room for necessity burst open to include anything I could justify to myself, and then I quietly gave up. For the latter, I could already feel the sense of relief of not having to guess at what was left in my bank account on any given day, since I wasn’t spending money on just whatever, nor was I making unplanned purchases.

If you’re doing a Low/No Buy this year and this is your first ever go at it, I commend you. Regardless of real-life setbacks, things being over-budget from inflation, surprises/emergencies, if you’re still at it, that’s splendid. If you’ve taken a pause because now is not the right time for you, I think that’s an incredible choice for recognizing and respecting your needs over fulfilling a goal that you can return to whenever. Whether you’re on day 1, 55, or 365, your choice to try something out and stick with it (or pause) is equally valid.

Lastly, for anyone thinking of tying something new – No Buy or otherwise – I want to encourage you to start small. Even Costco lets you sample snacks before committing to a knee-high box of chicken tenders, so give it a go, one tender at a time (Editor’s note: I should have eaten before writing this).

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