June 27, 2008

Ideas Into Actions

Posted in debt, Finances, life tagged , , at 12:05 am by otherdeb

Recently, I came across a wonderful quote from Jon Carroll:

“Life is harder than that. If it weren’t then everyone who read a self-help book would be helped, and everyone who went to a 12-step program would be sober, and everyone who prayed for wealth would be rich.”

To me, this is a very elegant version of the concept that ideas without actions lead nowhere.

Okay, Deb, that’s nice and New Agey; how the heck is it relevant to anything this blog is about?

Well, anything we want to do or accomplish starts out as an idea. Yep. Anything. “It’d be way cool to climb Mount Everest!” An idea. “If Dave can get out of debt, so can I.” Also an idea. (And, yes, that’s the idea that started my recovery process!)

So. You have an idea. Now what? Well, you might turn it into a goal so that you can accomplish it. This means turning that idea into a set of actions that will cumulatively help you achieve it.

Let’s say you do want to climb Mount Everest. You probably start by looking at the geographical and topological information available, so you get an idea of where it is and what kind of terrain you will be dealing with. You probably start reading diaries and weblogs of contemporary climbers who have attempted it, and books by other climbers who have done so, in order to get an idea of the obstacles they faced and how they overcame them. Depending on your level of climbing skills, you might register for basic courses, or try some practice expeditions on lower peaks that are not as far from your home in order to build your skills and endurance. You’d research supplies and their costs, the going rate for guides and sherpas, and probably a lot of other things that I have no idea about since climbing Everest is not one of my goals. In fact, you would probably spend between six months and a year to research and prepare before travelling to Mount Everest to attempt the climb.

Similarly, I can sit here and maintain I want to get out of debt until the day I die, but if I don’t take action, it just isn’t gonna happen.

So. How do I take action on this particular goal? Okay, I obviously cannot speak for everyone who was ever in debt, especially as to the specifics, but I can start breaking down the goal into smaller goals.

First up would be to figure out exactly how large I hole I dug myself into. This didn’t take nearly as long as I originally thought it would…it took less than a week, making one or two phone calls a day. It was a bit harder to look at the mess without taking a blunt instrument to myself for my stupidity, but I didn’t, and that’s a whole different story anyway.

I then sorted the debts into stuff that had to be handled immediately and stuff that could wait a bit (mostly the personal stuff, but also the student loans).

Then I had to figure out which of the urgent stuff was most urgent, followed by contacting my creditors and working out arrangements to begin paying things off. This was a bit lengthy, as it involved negotiating a couple of reductions, and planning how much of my income I could put towards debt each month. In one case, when the creditor saw I had a real plan, I was allowed to postpone paying a small debt off for a month and a half. In another case, where one creditor had bought three accounts that were mine, I was allowed to pay them off sequentially, instead of having to do them simultaneously. I was surprised, but it made the whole process a lot less stressful.

While all this was going on, I had to set up a support system. This was not to toss money at me, but to listen when times got rough and to celebrate when I achieved milestones. This system also gave me folks to be accountable to when I had promised to do something.

The main thing, however is that I learned how to break a large, overwhelming goal into smaller, more manageable tasks.

See, you can have the greatest idea in the universe, but unless you break it down into smaller, more doable steps and tasks, an idea is all it will ever remain. If, however, you take that idea and break it into smaller bits, you not only can take the risk of actually accomplishing it, but you just might succeed in so doing.

Which would you rather do?


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