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Why you're struggling to cut back on your expenses

How to create and sustain any change

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In the summer of 2014, I decided that I needed to become more physically flexible. After many years of exercise (I used to play tennis competitively) and also creating a good habit in my early 20s to combine a balanced diet with regular strength and cardio, I was still regularly getting injured or sick. My research taught me that without regular stretching workouts like yoga and pilates, I stood little chance of being able to up the intensity of my cardio/strength workouts without getting injured. After a quick search on Youtube, I found a suitable stretching workout from Fitness Blender.

Over a year later, I am still regularly following this stretching workout and complementing it with other yoga- and pilates-inspired workouts. When I started, I was already working fulltime at an office, commuting around 90 minutes a day, cooking meals from scratch and working out for endurance and stamina. How did I manage to change my already-packed schedule and how can you do the same?

Recognise that it is better to make regular, tiny changes to your behavior. We all think about how amazing we're going to look and feel once we have our beach body, or look forward to that incredible trip around the world, or the relief we'll feel knowing we've paid off every debt. And we then focus on reaching that goal as quickly as possible. I wanted to be able to do the perfect downward dog, but knew that my muscles were not in a position to do that quickly and that by rushing it, by doing downward dogs several times a day, I risked getting injured again...the very thing I was trying to fix in the first place. Instead, I recognized and accepted that I was better off doing leg stretches and back stretches that would give me the strength to improve my downward dog.

If you want to save money, use the goal as a motivator, but stay realistic about how quickly you'll get there. It can be tempting to pay for nothing except for rent and bills in your first month and feel drained because you've exhausted your willpower to quickly. It'd be better to start by keeping track of what you're spending. That way you're building your awareness of how you spend and you'll have a benchmark for next month on what you can reasonably cut back on without going completely cold turkey. It's a small change that will take some effort but much less effort than trying to cut out every discretionary expenditure immediately.

Commit time and energy without the overwhelm. You will have to commit to regularly working on your change, but it's up to you whether you set yourself a daily or weekly commitment. If you know that you easily get overwhelmed by change then commit to a small amount of time each month. It's far more effective to build your competence with just a small amount of time and energy. Change fatigue is all too common and many of us will experience it unless we create tiny changes over time.

It's not all or nothing. Don't let a small stumble throw you off. It's easy to be a perfectionist and beat yourself up when you miss your commitment from time to time. It doesn't mean that you've failed, but it can feel like it. Try to use the stumble as a chance to learn more about yourself. Did you create an unrealistic target or time commitment? Can you alter your commitment to fit in better with your schedule? Or can you make it even smaller and more achievable?

Remind yourself of the reward and why you're making this change. If it's unclear why you're making this change, it may be that the reward isn't really something you want. Be flexible and adjust your goal to fit your desired outcome or drop it altogether.

Don't compare your progress with others. Ernest Hemingway famously said, "There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self." Resist the temptation to compare your progress with what others are doing. You set the target. You want the end result. You're putting in time to achieve that and the progress of others is not only unhelpful, it's irrelevant.

What change have you successfully created and sustained for a year or more? What tips can you share about your experiences?

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