I’ve been practicing yoga at home a fair amount these days and not because I’ve unlocked some sort of amazing interface for transcendental yogic virtue. And not even because I’m particularly motivated to advance my yoga practice. Nope, this uptick in yogic activities is thanks to an embarrassingly facile reason: my yoga mat is always out.
Previously, I carefully rolled my mat up at the end of each practice and tucked it back in the closet, only to repeat the process the next time I felt the urge to downward dog. Somehow, this furling and unfurling of a strip of plastic-y foam was a substantial enough barrier to prevent me from doing yoga as often as I’d like.
The time it took to rummage around and fish my mat out of the coat closet–coupled with the requirement of an open bit of floor– meant that, despite my regular practice at my studio, I rarely did yoga at home. But now that my mat remains permanently out? I grab a few minutes here and there on an almost daily basis to refresh my mind and stretch my body. A perfect illustration of the crippling effect of barriers to entry.
It seems like a ludicrously simple proposition to open a yoga mat and yet, there are so many proverbial (and actual) mats that restrain us from doing the things we should do, or that we’d like to do. Humans are creatures of habit and of comfort. Barriers to entry–no matter how seemingly insignificant–constrain us in profound ways. There’s also something to be said of the physical reminder of my open mat. Every time I go into my office it’s there, serving as a silent, calm reminder that I need to take a few minutes to center myself.
When we perceive that an undertaking will be more difficult to accomplish than we feel prepared for, more often than not, we just don’t do it at all. We don’t even get started. Although “barriers to entry” are discussed most commonly in an economic context, we all unwittingly construct these barriers in our own minds and lives. Perhaps it’s feeling too discouraged to start dieting, or too unmotivated to start exercising, or too scared to start managing our finances. Whatever the specific circumstance is, we can almost all be assured that we have–or have had–barriers of our own making thwarting our potential achievement and happiness.
When we moved to our homestead last month, Mr. Frugalwoods and I felt particularly intimidated by the overgrown vegetable garden on our property. It looked like we were hosting the world’s largest (and most boring) weed competition for how strapping and tall the vines, bushes, and small trees (yes, trees) of weeds were. I mean, from a weed analysis perspective, it was a somewhat fascinating case study…
This garden was so tremendously overgrown, in fact, that we didn’t even realize there were raised beds hiding under all that flora detritus. We didn’t have a plan and we didn’t know how to start reclaiming this patch for our own personal vegetable-related purposes. In short, it seemed an impossible feat.
Plus, in addition to this neglected veg patch, we were staring down countless flower beds in need of weeding and myriad other projects that keep popping up on the land. Feeling thusly helpless and overwhelmed, we ignored said veg garden for weeks.
But then I realized that we don’t need to do everything—as I wrote about the other week. And in fact, we don’t even have to do most of it. All we have to do is something. Anything. Suddenly, our next steps were as plain as the snout on Frugal Hound’s face (and that’s a pretty long snout). All we needed to do was our highest priority.
So I ran through our options: spend hours weeding and mulching flower beds? Eh. I’m not out to supply with world with flowers, nor do I have a desire to create the most beautiful ornamental gardens on the block (road? we don’t really have blocks out here per se… ). I back-tracked in my own little brain and reminded myself that my goal–and dream–has always been to grow our own vegetables. So why wasn’t I simply doing that?
Thanks to this mini-revelation, Mr. FW and I commenced battle with the plot of weeds masquerading as vegetable garden. I have no idea when the last time was that anyone tried to beat back these swarthy, invasive thorns, but it wasn’t anytime recent.
Turns out, though, just a few hours of work is all it took to (mostly) transform this erstwhile jungle. We’d built it up as a colossal task in our minds and nearly succumbed to inaction because of our perceived inability to make a change.
In light of our crazy late frost dates (and a few abnormally cold days), we got our starts and seeds into the ground not too far behind schedule. While it’s unlikely we’ll feed the town from our garden this summer, hopefully we’ll harvest at least a few veggies. If our existing (and prolific) rhubarb and asparagus patches are any indication, we have some good soil going on. But even if nary a crop bears fruit, I don’t consider it a loss. I consider it a telling reminder of just how much we’re capable of if only we liberate ourselves from our self-imposed mental shackles.
Small, Incremental Progress
In the case of our vegetable patch, I had to eradicate the mental barrier I’d created of assessing the situation as beyond my capabilities. I was positively daunted by the sheer number of garden beds we’re fortunate enough to have that I ran the risk of not accomplishing a single thing in our yard. Paralysis by overwhelm. It’s a real thing.
This is why we so often neglect making real change in our lives–because it feels far too difficult to start chipping away at a gargantuan goal. And so, we ignore it. We ignore our debt or our overspending or our dysfunctional relationships because, why bother trying to change something so massive and intractable?
But the key is breaking each challenge down, isolating the variables, and getting started somewhere. Small, incremental progress is where it’s at. For me, it’s doing a few minutes of yoga and taking charge of just one of our gardens. Small, incremental progress.
Managing our finances is where so many of us encounter overwhelm because money has a way of seeming not quite real. It doesn’t stare us in the face like a garden full of weeds. And so it’s easy–oh so very easy–to say we’ll start tracking our spending next month. To promise that next month we’ll reduce our grocery bill, that next month we’ll begin to tackle our debt in earnest, next month we’ll commence our extreme frugality regimen.
But it’s far too easy to let time elapse (and proverbial weeds grow) on our most fervent aspirations. What I put to you is that any reduction in friction makes a big difference in how often you’ll do something. Whether it’s leaving your yoga mat open or signing up for Personal Capital in order to track your expenses. Don’t laugh–there’s a great deal of merit in having all of your expenses consolidated in one spot for your review!
In fact, I daresay it’s why so many of us financial writers tout tracking finances as our #1 money management tip. I come back to this advice often because a recurring theme in my inbox are questions on how to get started on a frugal path. My answer is always the same: comb through your expenses one by one. I often recommend Personal Capital for this task because it has the advantage of being both free and easy to use.
Removing Our Barriers
Removing barriers to entry–be they physical (a la the yoga mat of moi) or mental (my garden situation)–is how we begin to move forward. The best antidote to stress and overwhelm is action. Recognizing these barriers and acknowledging their sway over our thinking, and our world view, brings us closer to fulfilling our destiny.
Sometimes the best place to start is, quite simply, anywhere. It’s not always possible to begin things at the exact, right, ideal moment–in fact, waiting for that moment is a surefire recipe for never accomplishing anything. Are Mr. FW and I doing the most crucial, necessary chores on our land? Maybe. Maybe not. But perfection is an elusive and false master. Action, on the other hand, is a constant, cheerful companion.
When we repeatedly deny our ability to do something, pretty soon we make those denials our reality. And when we continually complain and create excuses for our life? Yep, you guessed it–those excuses and complaints become what our life comprises. Living fully, fearlessly, and with abundant hope, on the other hand, transforms our perception of who we are and what we’re able to achieve.