It’s a beautiful day — perfect weather, ready to enjoy. You decide to go on a hike, and as you approach the trailhead, you spot that familiar brown sign. “Falls Overlook, 6.5 miles one way.” Your heart sinks a little. A thirteen-mile trip? Seems like a lot. You start to question whether you even want to begin this hike. The waterfall might not be all that impressive anyway.

As much as we love hiking, we still go through that annoying little ritual every time we embark. We pause before starting down the path to ask ourselves, “Is this gonna be worth it?”

That one question can easily give way to a barrage of excuses that can change your mind on just about anything, from hiking and fitness to other important choices, like what you do with your money. But that’s just your mind playing tricks on you. How many times have you done something positive — like heading outdoors, or going to the gym, or saving money — and regretted it? Probably never.

Photo of Ke’e Beach in Hā’ena State Park
Left: Starting our hike from sea level at Ke’e Beach in Hā’ena State Park, Hawaii. Right: Overlooking that same beach a few miles later — a view that was totally worth the effort.

Luckily, there are a few ways you can convince yourself that taking positive action is actually worth it.

Find Proof in Working Through the Math

One of the best ways to reinforce new habits is to use math to prove that what you’re doing will work. When it comes to hiking, you at least get to know how long a trail is before setting off. If you just keep walking at 3 miles per hour, you’ll travel 12 miles in 4 hours — there’s simply no denying it.

Here’s a wellness-related example: Doctors say that 3,500 calories equals 1 pound of fat. If you want to lose 10 pounds, you can do some simple math to figure out how long it will take to reach your goal. Adjusting your diet to cut 250 calories of food each day and adding in daily exercise to burn another 250 calories will cause you to lose about 1 pound of fat per week. And if you keep it up for 10 weeks, you’ll have met your goal of losing 10 pounds.

Photo of us at the gym

The math behind weight loss and financial gain are actually pretty similar. Weight loss tends to boil down to being in a deficit — keeping the number of calories you take in below the number of calories you use in a day. Saving money works the same way — spend less than you earn, and you’ll make guaranteed progress.

There’s all sorts of math you can do to project your financial wellness. Financial independence is actually based on a pretty straightforward calculation: You need 25 times your annual expenses in investments to be able to make work optional for the rest of your life.

Knowing the math allows you to make adjustments to how aggressively you want to cut expenses, save the excess, and invest that money to reach a goal like early retirement. If you crunch the numbers for FIRE, you don’t have to speculate about what will happen over time — it’s a well-defined outcome (especially compared to just trusting that a hike will end with a beautiful vista).

Look to Someone Else as An Example

Any time I see someone my own age or at my same fitness level on a trail, I immediately feel a little pressure release. My brain says, “Well, if they can do it, I can do it.” It gives me confidence. This trick can be applied to other areas of your life too. 

Before getting downtrodden with hopelessness about getting out of debt or saving enough money, look for proof in other people’s success. Seeing that someone else like you has accomplished something similar to your goal can help prove that it’s possible. 

For us, reading that other folks with incomes similar to our own reached financial independence and retired in their 30s was proof enough that we could too. Seeing them do whatever they damn well pleased every day was something that we suddenly longed for as we were starting our first real jobs right out of college. It motivated us to set our own lofty saving and investing goals.

Sometimes though, it can feel like you are expected to be a trailblazer. If the people closest to you aren’t good examples of financial discipline and success, the internet can often fill the gap and connect you with the community you need. There’s a whole world of like-minded folks out there crushing goals like yours. Look at the steps they took to reach their goals, see that it can be done, and stick with your plan to get to where they’re at (or further!).

@tripofalifestyle When you stop playing by the old rulebook, life gets a lot more fun. 💸 — #hawaii #financialindependence #earlyretirement #moneytok #bedifferent ♬ original sound – Trip Of A Lifestyle

On the other hand, don’t let a lack of examples in others be a limiting factor. Sometimes, you really may be the only person walking your path. When that’s the case, feel free to prove others wrong and keep going.

Track Your Progress and Prove Your Success

For me, what’s most encouraging is tracking my progress toward a particular goal. It’s normal to get impatient, especially if your hike doesn’t offer good views along the way, or if you’re just a few workouts into a fitness plan.

I’ve used free apps like MyFitnessPal to track proper nutrition while upping my workout regimen. It helped me see that I was hitting my daily goals, and encouraged me to just stick with it to see the results I wanted.

Tracking your financial wins are just as important. Steven and I have been tracking our net worth since 2012, and that monthly check-in really motivated us to stay the course during our most important saving years. In fact, seeing that number grow each month was enough incentive to make us keep our spending in check and shovel every spare dollar into the stock market.

Enjoy the Effort Along the Way

Eventually, you’ll find the journey — on a tough hike or the path to financial independence — is rewarding in itself (not just for the sake of the end goal). It’s usually not obvious from the outset, but exerting effort is actually just good for the human spirit.

In the beginning, your efforts may feel like a struggle. But once you know what you’re working toward, and you’ve formed habits that will get you there, you’ll actually start to look forward to that effort. You’ll want to work on your goals every day. Ask any fitness junkie.

Once you’ve proven to yourself that the benefits of your hard work will be worth the effort — whether that’s in the form of a hike, a workout plan, or a financial overhaul — you’ll stop having to go through the extra step to motivate yourself. Doing the right thing becomes automatic, and you’re suddenly able to stop obsessing over the details.

— Lauren

Share this and start a conversation: