Obsession, Motivation and Getting Stuff Done

As I said last post, I’ve suddenly “come back” to FIRE due to the nagging feeling we could be doing more. When I say come back, I don’t mean in the monetary sense. We didn’t stop following the plan we laid down before I stopped blogging. The advantage of set and forget into a Vanguard fund is that it takes more effort to stop investing than it does to start. I’m a big sucker for making inertia work for me!

What I mean is knowing what is going on in the FIRE world. Who is new? Who is still around? (Miss Balance!) How are they going? Where are they at with their FIRE journey? Have there been any changes to the movement, any tips since I was last part of the community?

Coming Back to FIRE

Turns out it’s the old cliche – just like riding a bike. I slowly began by looking up some of the blogs I used to follow, then discovered new ones from the comments. I started reading. And reading. And binging and consuming and generally being a FIRE blog glutton. Then suddenly I wasn’t enjoying it. It began to feel like an obligation. Catching up on three years on some blogs is a lot of posts! I’m a collector by nature, so I feel like I have to read all the things.

At the same time I had been struggling with a lack of motivation around the house. I was fine at work, but I wasn’t doing housework and it was getting me down. I would tell myself to do something, then immediately become oppositionally defiant and refuse to do it. Even worse, the time I could have been spending doing housework was taken up by obsessively reading FIRE blogs which also got me down! Luckily, this situation didn’t last for long. I decided to implement a rewards system.

Task Rewards System

I combined what I wanted to do more of (housework) with what I wanted to do less of in order to enjoy more (read FIRE blogs). I am no longer allowed to just read a blog. Instead, I have to earn the right to read it… by doing tasks. What I have to do to earn a blog post is completely arbitrary. I might get to read one for doing the washing up (half an hour), and I might get one for sending in an electricity reading (5 minutes). I get one for making breakfast for the week, or cleaning out the fridge, taking out the recycling, watering my pot plants… you get the idea. The fantastic thing is that it is working. Sometimes I look around for things to do so I can earn the chance to read another blog post. An unexpected benefit of this is that Mr ETT started doing more around the house too.

Putting away the clean washing earned me another blog post.

There are some tasks that I don’t reward myself for. They are true obligations – cleaning the litter trays, feeding the cats, cooking dinner. I can’t make the rewards too easy, or they won’t be desirable anymore. Having said that, I do reward myself for washing clothes which I assume any reasonable person would consider obligatory – I told you my system was arbitrary!

Habit Rewards System

Another aspect is rebuilding habits that have disappeared during COVID. I have been exceedingly lucky to be able to work from home, but over the last 12+ months I slowly slid into the habit of often working in my pyjamas. I wasn’t going anywhere, no one would see me, and pyjamas are so warm and comfortable. I’ve never enjoyed choosing what clothes to wear. It’s because I see getting dressed as low value activity without the external motivation of work and societal expectations, but still. This is a daily habit I’ve had for 40+ years.

This reward system is a delayed gratification one. If I complete a full week of getting dressed, I earn a “bank” of 7 blog posts I can use if I really don’t feel like completing a task. It wasn’t until the third week I realised that when I set it up, I didn’t even think about what would happen if I missed a day. Do I just lose one post, or do I lose the whole week? I started with the assumption that I would always complete every day. Perhaps I am an “intrinsic” motivation type person, where the reward is simply being able to tick off my day. That’s similar to Frogdancer Jones’ silver squares. Maybe I don’t need the extrinsic reward of extra blog posts.

That circled day was a struggle – awake since 3am. I just wanted to go back to bed!

You can also see that I am hoarding them. Their only purpose is to be used, yet I’m holding on for no good reason. Maybe it is because I’m earning enough through my tasks and I don’t need the extras? No. There’s been times I’ve really wanted to read another blog post and either skipped it or gone looking for a job to earn the next one. I also tend to hoard sick leave and annual leave. This behaviour might be something I need to explore when we eventually reach FIRE and I need to draw down.

At any rate, I’ve now moved on from getting dressed and added daily stretches.

Even Habits Can Fail

So what has this got to do with FIRE? I think it shows the value of doing what you can to make implementation of your FIRE plans as effortless as possible, especially for that long boring middle haul. Granted, COVID has been an extraordinary event, but in it I managed to drop the most basic of habits such as getting dressed. Of course, it’s not sensible to set and forget either (I did manage to keep budgeting and an eye on the markets), but cut future you a break, because you never know when life will change.

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