Archive for the ‘Motivation’ Category

The Spending Pyramid: Personal Values and Financial Planning (Part II)

In yesterday’s article, we were able to explore the structure of a spending pyramid a la Robert Pagliarini.


Based on Dan Pink’s lecture on motivation (which I embedded in another article), there are three human motivating factors.

  • Autonomy – The urge to direct our own lives
  • Mastery – The desire to be better at something that matters
  • Purpose – The yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves

As you begin to think about what motivates you in general, you will be able to rearrange the middle portion of the pyramid (in between basic expenses and miscellaneous expenses) to conjure up a picture that aligns with your own values.

Autonomy: Your Money and Yourself

SPPyramid2_1 Image courtesy of Flickr

If directing your life is what motivates you then debt reduction, financial independence and personal improvement will rank high in your pyramid. The most important thing to you is being in control of what happens in your life and blazing your own path. Therefore, neither owing money to credit card companies nor retiring while being financial dependent sit well with you. As such, most of your spending will be directed at your money going mostly into your pocket prior to anything else.

Purpose: Your Money and Others

SPPyramid2_2Image courtesy of Flickr

For some, being financially fit is the means while the end is the ability to serve others and the community. If the realization that there’s more to life than your own needs, then donations to church and charity will rank high on your list. Those who attend church have a set value at 10% (tithing) and will also donate in others ways. Even if you don’t attend a church, you find that donating towards a cause brings about a certain kind of satisfaction. In addition, these donations can also be used for tax deductions.

Another area not reflected in the pyramid is provision for family (both immediate and extended). I told a story of how my father laid the foundation for my siblings and me to go to college. That couldn’t have happened if he didn’t believe that part of his purpose was leaving a legacy to his children.

Mastery: Your Money, Yourself and Others

SPPyramid2_3Image courtesy of Flickr

Sometimes, motivation lies in being better at something for the sake of just being better (epitome of kaizen). Two of the most popular New Year Resolutions in the U.S.A. are managing debt and saving money. Hence it would appear that most people would fall under this category as most believe that finances matter. This belief combined with the desire to understand finance could be a motivating factor for another set of people. Therefore, Goals and Emergency Reserve would rank higher in your pyramid. Goals motivate towards reaching a pinnacle while mastering personal finances starts with being prepared for emergencies. Personal Improvement would also fall under this category as mastering finances would include studying financial matters and learning from others.

Most of the time, personal motivation will come from a combination of two or all three factors and therefore you will find that your values overlap. In the end, the final picture is letting the things that motivate you in life also motivate shaping your finances. Create your own picture and it will lead to spending habits that are aligned with what you think is important.


Get the Ball Rolling: How Physics taught me to get things done

What is the hardest part of embarking on any new project? Usually it’s fear of the unknown. However, when this fear has been overcome, the next hardest thing is actually starting the project. Some people stay in the planning stage forever. Strangely enough, the key is to just begin the project and slowly gain momentum. But, what is momentum?

Momentum – A property of a moving body that determines the length of time required to bring it to rest when under the action of a constant force (Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary)

Momentum is a wonderful term in physics used to describe the relationship between the mass of a body and its speed. If a body is large, it will have a large momentum. If a body is moving quickly, it will also have a large momentum. Using the definition from the dictionary, momentum is related to the amount of time it takes to stop a body that is moving. Once momentum starts to increase, it becomes more and more difficult to stop.  In other words:

Large Body – – – > Large Momentum – – – > Long time to stop motion


Like most scientific principles, this law of momentum is connected to everyday life and human behavior:

Major Project – – – > Major Momentum – – -> Long time to Stop Working

Think about this: Ever been in a situation where you’re just setting up your books to study some material and then someone calls you? Is it more difficult to quit when you haven’t started or to ignore the phone? You might find yourself saying, “Let me finish this paragraph” or “Let me solve these problems and then I’ll call back.”  How about when you decided to start saving up for emergencies? How much easier was it to spend on a whim when the emergency fund was empty as opposed to when you’re a quarter of the way to the goal?

I have been dreading writing my proposal (mentioned in my Goal Report) since I realized I had to do one. This dread led me to continually postpone while I kept thinking about the perfect structure in the back of my mind. Well, I never got the perfect structure I wanted until I began typing. Once I started, my ideas started to take shape and I was able to rearrange and integrate my thoughts better within the structure of the proposal.  The same thing happened when it came to investing. I had been talking about investing since I started graduate school 5 years ago but I didn’t start until this year. I always just told myself I didn’t know enough. Last March, I decided to just plunge in and this forced me to begin to learn more. I initially sought advice from 2 uncles who had been involved in financial markets before and they provided tips on what to look for (one uncle actually thought I had started because I had talked about it so much). It wasn’t until I began investing that I learned the different kinds of mutual funds that were out there and then started looking for funds with low expense ratios.

What have I learned?  The way to overcome the lethargy of beginning a new project is to just start (Nike slogan comes to mind here), no matter how small the actions are. You want to save $1000, start by saving 2%-5% of your income today and slowly increase that. You want to improve your cardio rate: start by jogging for 5-10 minutes a day. You want to start investing:  there are mutual fund companies that begin at $25 and others at $50 per month for mutual fund accounts. It takes time to get the ball rolling, but as time passes with you chipping away, it becomes a lot harder to stop. Take a step today, it may be in the wrong direction but you won’t know unless you step.

Embody your goals

I find myself continually chasing my dad’s achievements. I look at all he has done and it drives me to be him and one day one-up his accomplishments. He has single-handedly made it possible for me to get educated here in the states and is doing the same for my sisters. He has sown the seed that every parent wants to sow for their children: opportunity to make their way in life and I am yet to meet someone that I think works harder than he does.

If you got a chance to ask Tiger Woods what his goal, he would tell you, “To win more majors than Jack [Nicklaus].” If you were to ask a Christian what their goal was, they would (or should) tell you, “To be like Jesus.” Benjamin Franklin said “Imitate Jesus and Socrates” What do all these 3 statements have in common? Each individual’s goal is embodied by someone. Not just anyone successful person, but someone who has been successful in the area they have chosen to conquer.

When we set out to achieve, it’s very easy to think that we are reinventing the wheel and doing something that no one has ever done before. We make statements like “That happened to them, but with me it’s going to be different” or “These aren’t the olden days, it’s 2009 and things are different.” Is that really the case though? Yes there are new niches that crop up here and there e.g. Mark Zuckerberg’s success with Facebook, but even he is doing what Bill Gates did decades ago with Windows. There’s not much happening today that someone didn’t already blaze a trail.

Have you ever seen that graphic of a cat looking in a mirror and seeing a lion? It’s a future picture of where you want to go that keeps you on that path. Sometimes it can be hard to see or visualize where you want to go, but when you look at someone else who has “been there and done that” it makes the goal real and keeps motivation alive and burning.

Embodying goals not only provides motivation from the accomplishments of that role model, but we are able to see and learn from their mistakes. This is another reason why history books are still relevant today. We get to see what got Nelson Mandela through those nights he spent in prison. We get to study the actions and regrets of Abraham Lincoln and how this led him to be continually considered one of the best Presidents the United States has ever had. We get to see how hard Thomas Edison worked and lived the principle that “Genius is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration.”


Sometimes our embodied super-heroes don’t even have to be people entrenched in history. It could be a parent, family member , teacher, guardian. These are tangible pacesetters who we have actually interacted with and been touched by in one way or another.

Even better, you can be your own competition. Just this past week, Usain Bolt broke records in the 100m and 200m. If you have ever seen him race, you will notice that he is consistently watching the sidelines to see if he has broken the record in the race. He doesn’t even concern himself with the people he is running against, but rather with breaking his own times because at the end of the day that will ensure a win.

In life just as in sports, records were made to be broken. In the end, knowing your goals get you started on the path to continual improvement, but your hero provides a tangible mark to pursue. So Superman That Goal and then pursue it.

Disclaimer: I don’t endorse Souljah Boy

One Small Step to your goal = One Giant Massage for your Morale

Why is it so hard to stay motivated? I think sometimes it’s because we don’t give ourselves enough time to savor the small victories. For instance, at the beginning of the school term you have decided you want to get an A in your math class. So the first mid-term arrives and you have gotten an 80%. Not the A you expected, but a step in the right direction. So instead of focusing on that and taking time off to watch a movie, you are already worrying about the next text and assignment due. Basically, rather than give your morale a “Red Bull”, you are pounding it with worries.

No war is won in any single battle, but by a series of victories. After each victory, the general will tell his troops to celebrate. If they are on home turf, they go home to their wives and families. If they are away, they take the night off and celebrate. The general realizes the importance of troop morale =and knows giving them that time to savor the victory. This is also true in life. Celebrate avoiding that store when it moves you closer to saving some money. Celebrate that mid-term goal when it moves you closer to that A in the class. Celebrate making it through a week of cardio workouts when it moves you closer to being a fit person.


Sometimes we’re already thinking of the next step and we miss the chance to give our morale the boost that it needs. Of course this doesn’t mean that celebrating at the detriment of ruining the overall goal. After all it won’t make sense to save money by not buying new clothes and then going out to spend another $25 on food and drinks.

Another way in which small victories can have an effect is to go back and review them. Make a mental note because this way you are not looking towards an external source for motivation, but at yourself and your track record. Think about the times that your small efforts in another area of your life and how that made you feel.

Constant reminders like this help towards moving ahead and staying on the task. Give yourself a pat on the back. Now excuse me while I go and celebrate writing 2 articles last week :-).

Picture obtained from

Stay ready so you don’t have to get ready

Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity

Enough Said