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

Momentum_Rock

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.

Joe Wilson, Kanye West and the 1st Habit of Highly Effective People

I know what you might be thinking. Why am I bringing this up when the dead horse of Outbursts Anonymous (Joe Wilson’s “You Lie” and Kanye Wests “I’ll let you finish but . . . “)  has been beaten to many times this week? Well, their snap reactions made me think about something I learned a while ago.

In Stephen Covey’s book (7 habits of highly effective people), the first habit is described as be proactive (rather than reactive).

To illustrate, this is reactive

JWKW1st_1 copy

And this is proactive

JWKW1st_2

Mr Covey explains that to move from dependence to independence, the choice  to be proactive is the first step i.e. realizing that we control our actions. Not our environment or our upbringing or our nature. It’s easy to say “That’s the way I am” or “They made me angry” but that does not explain the response. When there is no gap between stimulus and response (reaction), fireworks always result. The point is not that we shouldn’t react at all, but to produce a measured response that reflects thought.

I was reading an article recently where an older man was advising a younger man on marriage (The source of that article is a man talking about his first 100 days of marriage. His wife is also blogging. Very entertaining and eye-opening reads). What the older man does when he senses things getting testy between him and his wife is ask “How important is this to you?” Just 6 words. Yet, those words and the silent moment aftwerwards alone would greatly reduce the divorce rates and breakups that happen. Just taking a small moment to think and then respond always makes a huge difference.

Now this habit is not saying that there should be no response. I have seen and experienced the danger of bottling up emotions can do. It is important to respond, but just as relevant is the thought prior to response. The stimuli for the Mr Wilson and Mr West was a difference in opinion, what’s yours and how do you deal?

Brain image from Wikipedia.

Why Always Trumps How To

Yesterday I read this article at Seth Godin’s Blog. Seth Godin is the author of numerous business and management books. Never really knew much about the guy until I started hearing about his 6 month Alternative MBA program. Anyway, in his post he draws out the hierarchy of success: Attitude –> Approach –> Goals –> Strategy –> Tactics –> Execution and how most businesses and people spend time on Execution but not enough time on Attitude and Approach. How can I have have more money? How can I lose 10 pounds? How can I get As? Obviously, these are all great questions to ask. The problem is they cannot sustain our actions. It’s not a surprise that when there’s a great best-selling idea in the market, people try it for 1 – 2 weeks, then give up. When the next next idea comes up, people jump on that bandwagon again. Why? Maybe the method is the problem. Perhaps, yet an even deeper question is even if the method is intact, is it the right thing for me to do?

I remember when I first began working out because my friend would always tell me to work out with him. He was a very muscular guy and loved going to the gym and talked about it all the time. It became contagious so I would tag along with him and try to learn the tricks of the trade. After about 2 weeks of lifting, I would be disillusioned and would go back to being a hermit at the library once more. This would happen once a quarter.  I would be excited to work out again, but my reason for going to the gym was never strong enough to overcome the difficulty of the situation. I had a high metabolism, so I wasn’t doing it for the weight. I didn’t care about bulking up and I hadn’t seen a difference in 2 weeks (naïve I know) so what was the point?

Then it hit me! (“Eureka!” said Archimedes)

WhyHow_Archimedes

No matter how high my metabolism was, it didn’t mean I was healthy. I still couldn’t run hard on the soccer field for more than 3 minutes without getting winded and bent over. I couldn’t do more than 20 pushups at a time. Basically, even though I looked fit, I just wasn’t. So my attitude changed from wanting to look like my friend to I need to improve my overall physical health. It didn’t mean that it made it easier for me to go to the gym often; I still didn’t like running or any cardio activities. The difference was now my reason held up to the rigors of what I was doing. When I felt too tired to exercise, I thought about the idea of not being able to run around with the kids or being sick due to high cholesterol or high blood pressure.

In connection to this same article, Dan Pink (Al Gore’s former speech writer) delivered the talk below on TED (TED is a really great site of entertaining speakers sharing ideas. There’s a lot of amazing stuff there to check out at your own leisure)

Vodpod videos no longer available.

A direct link to the video is here

The relevant point (as far as this post goes) is at the end where he mentions that there are 3 reasons that motivate us to do things

  • 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

One or a combination of these is what governs our attitudes and actions towards the physical, spiritual, financial, intellectual and social aspects of our lives. However I am finding that execution only succeeds when the attitude is right and strong enough to hold up to this execution.

Thoughts?

Image courtesy of Physics Department Weber State University

Common Cents and My Dad

“A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children” – Proverbs 13:22

I have written about how my dad inspires me to be just like him and better. Some of the lessons that he taught me were hard to understand or grasp or even practice at a young age. Now that I am older and I look back on some of his thoughts, I realize how smart he is.

There was a conversation I remember having with him about cars. I don’t remember how we got on the topic, all I remember is him saying “I could drive a Benz like some of my other peers, but I realize that you guys need to go to school and that’s more important.” Thanks to my father, I didn’t have to take out loans to attend my undergraduate. Neither does my sister who’s currently an undergraduate nor the one who will be an undergraduate next year. I don’t think this feat would have been possible without my father’s thoughts about what was important and relevant even before we (the kids) were even born.


CommonC_Peugeot

For as long as I can remember, we have always had two cars: one from the company my dad worked for and the other owned by us. Both cars were Peugeot 504s (Check out the stationwagon above). For comparison, a Peugeot 504/505 in Nigeria is like a Ford Focus in America i.e. a simple and very commonplace car. I never really thought about why that was the car we had or whether we could have driven something else. At about the age of 16, I actually started to notice luxury cars (the BMWs and the Mercedes of the world) and like any other kid, I dreamt about owning one and rolling down the street with a girl at my side (Ah, teenage dreams). Even when my father made the comment above, I wasn’t really thinking about what he was referring to: being frugal.

Many (including me) think that being frugal means being miserly or being stingy and can is too restrictive. It’s easy to think that the only way to have more money is to make more money without also focus on controlling expenses part of the money equation. It’s the reason why I enjoy reading people like Trent (@ The Simple Dollar) and JD Roth (@ Get Rich Slowly), because they talk about the many ways in which being frugal is a healthy and fruitful lifestyle. It’s the same philosophy that the authors of The Millionaire Next Door were writing about.

That Bible verse I mentioned above is one that reminds me of the legacy that my father is bequeathing to my siblings and me. And I am learning now that being frugal actually just means living below your means so that you can dedicate funds to what is truly important. For some that could mean the ability to send your kids to school and for others it could mean no debt collector calls.

For me, it’s a lesson that’s helping me keep my equation balanced so that I don’t fall into the trap of earning more and retaining nothing.

Check These Out – 1st Edition

From this week onwards,  on Fridays, I will put up  links to interesting articles that I have read that also provide tips on finance and development. This could be another avenue to discover other writers and sites. Enjoy!

Pay Down Debt or Invest (@ Oblivious Investor): An article about whether to begin investing first and then pay down debt or vice versa. In simple words “Put money toward whatever option will earn the greatest after-tax rate of return.” For me that means tax-sheltered accounts and debt come first. See the article for more details

Improve Yourself Every Chance You Get (@ The Simple Dollar): This blog is one of my favorite personal finance blogs to visit. In this article Trent talks about how using every opportunity to improve your current circumstances will always yield future returns. I agree, but check it yourself

11 Ways to graduate with less debt (@ MSN Money): This article lists some ways to minimize leaving college with a large hole in your pocket. Tips include Waiting till Senior Year to get a credit card, Getting a Job, Graduating in four years etc. Some things I wish I had learned when I was an undergraduate

4 Ways Students Can Save 1,000s a Year (@ Mint): The first tip the article mentiones is reduce costs of textbooks. A friend of mine just spent close to $500 on 3 books and prices are continually increasing every year. Take advantage of amazon and barnes & noble.  Although sometimes you may not know the book for the class till you start the semester/quarter, sometimes a simple e-mail to the professor will rememdy this. Some other tips in this article include “Replacing Microsoft Office” and “Legging it”.

Free Online Money Tools

Aside from the free personal finance managers mentioned here, there are also some other online finance tools that I use that can be of value to you.

Credit Karma

tools_credkar

A FICO score is what most people refer to as their credit. It’s a number that determines how much interest you will be paying on that loan from the bank or that loan from the car salesman or the interest rate of your credit card and your credit limit. In other words, this number is critical to your credit rating.

Each of the credit reporting agencies  (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) has a different score, but you have to pay each time you choose to see it. With Credit Karma, you get something close to this score for free. The score you are provided is not your true score but an approximation.

tools_creditrep

One feature that it has is a Credit Report Card which grades you based on criteria such as Total Debt, Debt to Income Ratio, Debt Length etc. There is also another feature which allows you to see what effect actions such as opening another credit card or increasing your limit on a card will have on your score. It’s a great tool to check out if you are interested in taking care of your credit.

Networth IQ

tools_netIQ

The most important factor in determining wealth isn’t your income, but how much of that you keep and accumulate. So it is pretty important that in earning more money, you ensure that your overall networth is growing.

This is an online tool that helps keep track of your networth (as the name suggests). You manually put in numbers for amounts for savings, debt, assets, stocks etc and then this tool keeps track of how your wealth is growing and changing from month to month. Here’s my current badge below.

tools_netbadge

Tip’d

tools_tipd

Think of tip’d as a digg (link) for finance. For those who haven’t used digg, it’s a site that aggregates links and they are ranked by popularity. In the same way at tip’d, articles from various sources are linked to this site by either the authors or others who have read them and the links are ranked by popularity (the number of tips received). This is useful in that it links you to various finance categories (Business, Currencies, Funds and ETFs, Personal Finance etc) and you can catch up with the latest news within these categories. You can also discover other bloggers and information sources that you can keep track of with an online reader.

Let me know of other tools out there as I am sure there are many that I haven’t tried myself.

Life lived as a Business Model

I’ve heard the phrase “Treat your life as a business” many times and it got me thinking of how this could be possible. How does the way businesses are started and operated translate to life itself?

Establish a Niche

One of the first things businesses do is establish their niche. Sometimes this could be a previously non-existent niche e.g. Twitter and Facebook in social media or continuing an already profitable niche e.g. Operating a Burger King Franchise. Either way, the business defines its niche prior to establishment.

biz_niche

To truly live, we have to establish a purpose. It’s the reason why most success books start by asking what your desire is. Chris Guillebeau in his World Domination Manifesto asked “What can you offer the world that no one else can?” Stephen Covey in 7 habits calls it “Beginning with the end in mind.” This  search for a purpose It’s the reason why The Purpose-Driven Life was on the New York best Seller list for a long time. The answer to this question is the first step to living your life to your fullest capacity. Sometimes purpose is established through the divine, other times it’s wrought through passion, but there’s no denying that this is the first step in living life.

Compose a Business Plan

All businesses need some form of capital to take off. This usually comes in form of a loan, angel investors, family etc. However before this happens, the entrepreneur will be asked to come up with a feasible plan. This detailed plan shows the expected profits, expenses, gains and pitfalls of the business and illustrates what the bank and the investors are getting themselves into.

biz_plan

In the same vein, once your purpose is defined, the next step is a detailed plan on getting there. This is essentially your written GPS with purpose being the destination. I remember stumbling on this guy’s twitter and his description said: “Working on my life, it’s gonna be flippin’ awesome when it’s complete.” It made me think about how our lives are a work of art. Every day we spend on earth is a day in crafting that work and every day that passes without making a dent on that craft is a waste. Your plans at 20 will differ from your plans at 30 or 40, but the plans you make at 20 will get you to 30 while remaining on the right path. It’s even more fun to look at how plans change from year to year with the big picture intact.

Dominate the Niche

Once the niche and plan has been formulated, the next thing the business tries to do is make their name known through focus on quality, great customer service and advertising. All this is done to fill in the niche that has been previously chosen. One of the greatest disappointments is when we live mediocre lives. It’s disappointing because the world is blessed by the achievements of individuals like you and I, and mediocrity erases our ability to share those blessing with others. History is littered with the achievements of great men and women who worked every day to quench their burning purposes as should we. When we live the best lives possible, we satisfy that desire and simultaneously give the world something that no one else can.

Make Profit

The primary purpose of a business is not just to make money, but to make a profit. Souns simple enough, but it’s the reason why business go broke and eventually fail. Essentially resources will be spent, but more has to be made than is spent or this leads to bankruptcy. To do this, the business attempts to reduce costs and maximize sales. Some businesses have taken this too far and have done this as a detriment to their purpose (Enron as a classic example). The businesses that endure realize that reducing costs also involves maximizing resources and not cutting corners.

biz_profit

The most important resource we have is time. It’s the one thing we cannot get more of out of in a day, so we have to ensure that it is well spent while achieving the optimum results. Setting goals and timeframes is one of the ways to do this. This helps ensure that time is being spent well even if means taking a break to refresh the mind and body. When time isn’t operated on the principle of profit, we consistently play the game of catch-up.

Involvement in the Community

Finally, most businesses understand the importance of being involved in the community they are a part of. Pizza places on college campuses sponsor student organizations; department stores perform highway cleanups and so on. Good businesses understand that the people who live around them are their customers and essentially factor in community effort as part of their expenditure. In the same manner, no man is an island. It is important that while attempting to be the best we can be, that we not forget people around us. The principle that “We get what we want by helping others get what they want” is founded on the belief that as we work together with other people, we fill in their weaknesses and they in turn do the same for us. Napoleon Hill calls it the “Master Mind Principle.” Dependent people fail, Independent people partially prosper but the interdependent individual uses personal resources and the resources of others to prosper.

The business of life is a tricky one and can be overwhelming when one has no idea where they are headed. As we make strides in forward progress, we create a life that is worth emulating.

Image 1 courtesy of Arborlawn United Methodist

Image 2 courtesy of Queen’s School of Medicine

Image 3 courtesy of Word Constructions