Life as a parent is often hectic and the circumstances can make it difficult to stay motivated to reach your goals and financial objectives. Add in work, side-hustles, projects, caring for pets, maintaining our living space and all the rest of these things that need our attention, and it honestly gets barely manageable.
You feel you are juggling all the balls you can handle when suddenly you get a specific call, email or text message for an urgent or unpleasant situation that demands your attention NOW. That’s when you have to drop some of those balls and, despite the best laid plans, often times, your goals and frugal habits are the first to go so that you can keep up with this chaotic life.
Is it possible to stay motivated to reach your goals in such circumstances? I’ve personally been experimenting with various approaches to try and stay motivated to reach my goals when life gets chaotic. I’ve had some success in certain areas, while others are still a work-in-progress. For example, we’re still working on reducing our food costs and I’ve noticed that these tend to go up in stressful or busier times.
This post will therefore be an exploration of the strategies that have worked for me to stay motivated to reach my goals when life gets chaotic and how I’ve applied these to my financial life.
Planning Ahead in Periods of Calm
The first strategy that I’ve been using to help me stay motivated to reach my goals when life gets chaotic, is to take advantage of periods of calm to focus on my goal planning. That is, before I’m in the chaos, when the days are a bit easier and calmer, such as during some days off from work, when the kids are napping or playing quietly.
This preparation does not have to be super complicated. It can consist of journaling or even reading other people’s experience at sticking with their goals. It’s a great time to take concrete actions such as listing your goals & reflecting on how to overcome potential obstacles that may arise with your objectives, and perhaps, reading books on creating and sticking to habits, like the amazing Atomic Habits.
It will become something you can fall back to whenever you need reassurance of where you’re heading. By taking advantage of periods of calm to review these goals and strategies, you’re also making sure that your goals still align with your life at the time.
I’ve applied this both to our mission to reduce our grocery spending, as well as for my objective to consistently train 3 times per week. While I’m in the middle of a grocery aisle with two kids in the cart is not the time to reflect on how I can reduce my grocery spending. Nope, I sat down on a quiet evening and started writing ideas on how I could plan ahead to reach these goals.
Plan to plan
Adulting can feel quite demanding and, as a parent, I simply find that the volume of things to get done is huge and pretty much never ending. It requires additional planning to make room for those small actions that are attached to your goals and this includes taking time out of your weeks and days to plan.
In my post on planning, I go a little bit more in depth on the benefits of planning on a regular basis. Essentially, doing so helps our brains become wired to look for opportunities for success and this allows us to become proactive with potential obstacles that may interfere with reaching our goals.
As such, I’ve integrated my planning into my routine. Every first of the month, I’ll prepare my monthly goal list as well as my bullet journal sheet which allows me to track my consistency with certain objectives throughout month. I then like to take a few minutes either on Sunday or Monday mornings to plan my week ahead. As for my daily planning, I’ll do a quick write up as I drink my morning coffee.
When the real chaos hits
This sounds all nice and easy to plan my day ahead quietly while drinking a nice cup of coffee but what about on the hard days? What about those days which are actually about this chaos?
You know, the ones where I’ve had barely 2 hours of sleep because both kids came down with gastro? It’s 6am, Mr.Mod and I are trying to figure out who will stay home with them while we both have important meetings during the day, all the while being terrified of when our own stomachs will start to feel ill.
Well hopefully the fact that we’ve taken the time to plan ahead during periods of calm as well as made out time in our routine to plan helps us be a bit more on top of things before that chaos hits. When it does though, it’s time to go in chaos mode.
Keep it simple
On those days, you want to stay away from anything that sounds complicated. Remember that idea that planning regularly allows you to see opportunity? Well periods of stress can have the opposite effect.
Studies have shown that stress will cause a person to make more habitual responses than goal-directed choices (source 1 & source 2). This basically means that, under acute or chronic stress, you tend to turn to the easiest, comfortable or rewarding behaviors instead of choosing to perform a particular action with a certain goal in mind.
As such, when you find yourself in the chaos mode, it’s best to keep your next moves as simple as possible. Since I’m probably not going to make the best choices during that day, I might as well limit the number of choices I need to take. This can avoid taking some steps back on my goals by turning to comfortable but sometimes detrimental habits.
For example, making sure to always have some easy meals frozen or fresh greens at home can help me avoid ordering less healthy and more expensive food on a chaotic day.
Stick to the most important items
When you know you can’t handle much, stick to what’s most important for you. These should be the main actions tied to your core values.
This awesome short video by Brian Johnson reviewing Dr. Loehr’s book Toughness Training for Life illustrates the idea of adaptive stress which can allow you to push your physical, mental & emotional life to build strength in any of those three domains of your life. If you want to stay in your adaptive stress zone, you want to stay out of the over-training zone so, in chaotic periods, you do have to let go of some of those balls your juggling otherwise you risk exhaustion.
The most important things in my life are: my kids’ needs, my health as this can allow me to be there for my kids, my partner & his health. Obviously our jobs fall into play since we still depend on that income right now and I’ve got a pretty good work-life balance in my job right now and flexibility when times are busier at home. Then I guess the other things such as our extended families, pets, friends, financial health and finally my projects & goals all take on various levels of priority depending on the circumstances and the type of chaos we are facing.
Therefore when things get chaotic, I tend to remind myself to focus on if the most important things in my life are covered. Basically: are the kids & ourselves healthy and safe. Then move on to the next level of priority to see how much else we can add on our plate.
Add more recovery activities in your day
In the video mentioned above, there’s a good portion that discusses the importance of mastering the art of recovery. This is a huge idea and I could explore this further but for the sake of keeping this post short-ish, let’s simply focus on the importance of supporting stressful periods in our lives with additional recovery.
If you’re experiencing more stress, you’re going to want to balance it out with some of the activities that help you regain energy. This can be simple, a nap, a walk, a quick meditation. I’m continually experimenting in order to identify such activities in my life.
Some of the things that help me recover can require more energy and time input which I might not have as much of in chaotic periods. Ironically, these are often activities that align with some of my goals such as: hitting the gym regularly, reading, writing for the blog, decluttering and more.
In order to still be able to fit these recovery and goal oriented activities in my life during busier periods, I’ve used the James Clear’s concept of lowering the scope and sticking to the schedule. For example, if my kids are at home sick and not at daycare, I’ll do exercises with the dumbells we have at home and other body weight exercises instead of hitting the gym like I normally would before starting my work day
There’s plenty of ways to get creative to reduce the scope in many areas, however the chaotic time is not always the best time to reflect on these ideas. That’s why the initial steps of planning for obstacles when things are calmer are really important.
Be kind with yourself
This one is a rather simple yet sometimes difficult idea to put into practice. When you’re facing stressful situations, don’t waste some of your limited energy and mental space on beating yourself up for not progressing as you would like with regards to your goals.
I’ve found that practicing mindfulness and meditation regularly has increased my capacity of catching myself when my internal dialogue is taking a rather negative path. However, the more stressed and tired I am, the harder it seems for me to recognize and stop this pattern. This is definitely still a work in progress area for me especially when life gets chaotic and will likely continue to be something I need to work on all through my life.
Applying these strategies to my finances
In my financial life, planning ahead happens anytime I am reviewing my spending, creating budgets and setting some financial objectives. I do these types of activities during quiet and undisturbed periods of time, when my mind is calm and I can allocate all my attention to these tasks.
If I’m rushing through my last month’s spending simply to fill out my tracking sheet, I’m definitely not in a mindset to gain insight on spending that has varied or where I may be falling short on some of our goals.
Making time for my financial plans
In a past post, I’ve detailed out how I approach my yearly savings planning with a detailed week by week worksheet. While I create this sheet every December or early January, I’ll make sure to update this sheet every week I am paid. I try to do this early in the week (I have access to my pay-stub electronically the Monday before I will be paid), that way I already know any actions I need to take once the paycheck hits my bank account.
The day I get paid will normally be the day I send funds into my investment accounts and do a quick check that the money in my checking and savings accounts are matching what my savings track sheet projected.
My last month’s spending tracking is simply done whenever I have a quiet moment as early on in the month as possible. I’ve been procrastinating on this task these last few months but always get it done before the end of the month since I find it a pain to look further back at my spending on the trends page in Mint (which reminds me I have yet to add our September spending in my tracksheet).
As for bills, as soon as our credit card statements are published, we immediately send the balance to the account. This also cues adding the bill amount into my yearly savings plan worksheet.
My finances in times of chaos
In times of chaos, in my financial life I’ll keep it simple by focusing on the most important things: making sure I have money in my checking’s account and that my bills are paid.
In order to lower the scope but stick to the schedule, I’ll still prepare my spending tracking before the end of the month but I’ll set quick reminders in my google calendar to consult my expenses spreadsheet to review changes when things are calmer.
I’ll also check my paychecks in advance then set reminders to send money to my investment account on payday and other reminders to review my savings sheets to add missing information a few days later.
Know your limits
Finally, running on chaos all the time is simply not sustainable. That’s when you will end up finding yourself in unhealthy situations which can lead to chronic fatigue, exhaustion, burnout, etc. It’s really important to pay attention to the signs your body, mind and emotional state are sending you when you’ve been facing stress for long periods and to not ignore these.
Obviously this does not consist in any way in professional financial or health related advice. Consult the right professionals where needed.
How do you manage to stick with your goals & financial objectives when life gets chaotic?