Sarah Noelle over at The Yachtless recently posted an article that really resonated with me. She talked about something that I’m very familiar with: her tendency to live for the next paycheck.
“… what I currently seem to be living for is a specific four-minute stretch of time that occurs at my dining room table, in front of a pixelated screen, twice a month. A four-minute stretch of time that is followed by what feels like the longest two weeks in the world. Which is followed by another exciting four minutes! Which is followed by (once again) the longest two weeks in the world. And so on. In other words, it’s pretty much always the longest two weeks in the world.”
The advice that she was offered, and that she offers to us, is to look back and see the progress that’s been made in those two weeks. This is good advice. Tracking progress can be helpful, but there is a pitfall with this method —eventually, you start peeking ahead, thinking about how that next paycheck can help you make even more progress. “Oh, my loan balance is at $53,900; only need to get to my next paycheck and it will be down to $53,600!”
I was stuck in the same cycle until just a few months ago: living for my next paycheck. I built an Excel calculator that incorporated future cost of living adjustments, regular expected raises, the end of the year unused sick leave payout, and how all of that was affecting my biweekly paycheck. The pay calendar was printed out and I was finding different things to analyze almost daily.
But the past few months? That habit has slowly dropped away. Part of that is probably the new job. I’m busier at work and can’t spend my time focusing on the next paycheck. But there’s something else I’ve been doing that has had a bigger impact. I’m practicing gratitude.
Gratitude may be a very trendy idea right now, Leo over at Zen Habits has written about the power of gratitude at least five times, but I have been surprised at how this practice has affected the very thing that Sarah wrote about. It’s helped get rid of the feeling that it’s always the longest two weeks in the world.
It isn’t just the practice of saying thanks that has had such an immediate impact on my life. The important part (for me), has been to take a moment to focus on the feeling of happiness and thanks that comes about when I really feel grateful for something.
I’ve worked a gratitude practice into two parts of my daily schedule:
- On my walk to the bus each morning (the first time I really feel awake each day), and…
- When I’m brushing my teeth at night.
I also use the Gratitude365 app on my phone (paid app, no affiliation with Anxious Money) to mark things down each day that I’m grateful for so that I can look back and remind myself in times when I’m struggling.
These were both times when I had been listening to music or podcasts. Now they are quiet moments dedicated to practicing gratitude.
How has this helped me stop thinking about the paychecks?
It’s a chance to focus on of all of the awesome things in my life. My happiness and positivity have been markedly improved. Why? I’m spending time each day mindfully thinking about specific aspects of my life, and how much I appreciate them. This isn’t just, “Man am I a lucky guy.” Here are a few examples from my log:
- I’m grateful I live in a location where I can be in the middle of a city, but have the ability to walk to a wooded park where I can’t even hear the sounds of the city.
- I’m grateful to have a good friend working at the same place I am, where I can just stop in and see him whenever he’s free.
- I’m grateful for my continuing improvement in my anxiety and mental health. It makes my life better every day.
- I am grateful for my wife’s support. Which is perhaps the 8th wonder of the world.
Devoting time to consider very specific things, focusing on the happiness that they bring you, lends itself to noticing more good things about your life, and taking the time to appreciate them.
It’s much easier to enjoy today instead of focusing on tomorrow. The future is a sexy thing. It could bring ANYTHING (even hoverboards!). But the practice of focusing on parts of how awesome life is now, has this powerful impact of making you take a breath, and enjoying today. This is the feeling that I think I have been chasing for a long time.
I can shake off the bad things easier. When bad things happen, I’m not as shaken up. It’s a weird feeling to have something happen that would usually make me upset, but to instead just be okay. This isn’t always the case, there are times when I’m not particularly gracious. But even in those moments, I’m recovering much more quickly. There are so many good things in my life, and time spent focusing on those is paying off in less attention paid to life’s small annoyances.
Ultimately, I’m really happy with my life right now. Yes, I’m making progress toward my goals. Yes, my paychecks help me get there. Yes, I’m a money geek who likes looking at his paystub and bank accounts after that money gets deposited. But life is good right now. It feels nice to look back at the past few paychecks and spend some time appreciating what those have brought me and what I did to earn them, instead of looking forward to the next one. I’m happy that I’m making progress, not desperate for more progress. I don’t need to have accomplished all of my goals already, it’s good enough that I’m working toward them steadily, because I’m enjoying my life in the meantime.
Last payday, I didn’t realize it was payday until my wife texted me reminding me that we needed to allocate the money. That was a pretty damn good feeling.
I’m grateful for Sarah’s excellent writing and that the article discussed here so clearly outlined the issue with always focusing on the next paycheck. It helped me order my thoughts on the subject and dig into what had changed in my life. Thanks, Sarah!