Pay attention. I am not kidding. Really.

Living Well 3

photo of hand dropping coins into a charity's change can

Small donations add up – for you AND others.

Okay. So can we agree (after Living Well 2) that practicing self-discipline to watch the little things – the little buying decisions – leads to living well for you?

Okay, what about others? Have you ever wished you could do something worthwhile for your favorite charity or your church? You can. Yes, right now. You have ten bucks to spare, don’t you? Ah, that’s what I thought. Ten bucks? Are your kidding? What good will that do?? If you’re like most of us, that’s what you were thinking.

We’re all stuck on the “big stuff.”

One of the oddest quirks of human nature is that we all want to do “the big stuff.” We don’t want to donate the easily affordable $10 to charity; we want to build a new wing for the hospital. We don’t want to write a 200-word article for our scrapbooking club’s monthly newsletter; we want to write a 500-page e-book on scrapbooking. We don’t want to save $3 this week; we want an extra $300 to show up in our checking account after implementing a few new saving habits.

Maybe that’s why Jesus felt it necessary to say that giving just a cup of cold water to someone who needs it will bring us a reward. Talk about a little thing. Notice, he didn’t say we needed to build a dam to provide hydro-electric energy and water for an entire section of a third-world country whose people are dying from diseases that they get from drinking unsafe water (whew) in order to receive our reward. No, just give what we all have – a cup of cold water. A little thing. A very little thing.

Know what I think?

We don’t practice self-discipline in the little matters of life – whether it’s foregoing a $5 latté, leaving those cute sandals on the sale rack, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or racking up philanthropic donations $10 at a time – because WE DON’T THINK LITTLE THINGS MATTER. We don’t think little, painless decisions will get us the Bahama-trip big things we want in life. We don’t believe one of life’s most basic rules, and we do believe little things are inconsequential.

But little decisions ARE important. Little slices of self-discipline are of great consequence. They’re a process that adds up to something big, something we really want – living well.

Living well is an eminently obtainable goal for each of us. Interestingly enough, The Blessed people I’ve known often seem even more caught up in the big-thing mentality than the rest of us. So there. We ordinary mortals may even have an edge in getting this concept. Self-discipline in the little things leads to our growing sense of personal responsibility for living within one’s mean: living well and doing our bit to help others live well.

Tell us a heart-warming story of how you or someone you know saved a little money over time to accomplish _______. (Fill-in-the-blank time again.)

red box with white text of Artistotle's quote about excellence being a habit

Aristotle nailed it: practice habitual excellence.

© 2013 Teresa Layne Bennett

Living Well 2

photo of a pile of pennies, symbolizing our daily "little" decisions

Pennies and daily little decisions ADD UP.

Q: What do self-discipline, living well, and personal responsibility all have in common?

A. Little decisions. Lots and lots and lots of little, relatively painless decisions.

Let’s just take one example. Let’s take Great-Grandpa’s “take care of the pennies, and the dollars will take care of themselves” advice which, incidentally, he stole from previous generations. This time-worn, self-discipline advice was – and still is – spot on.

Yes, inflation has chewed up pennies and spit them out as dollars. And yes, I know you’re much more in-the-know than poor old Great-Grandpa. Bless his soul, he’s just so out of it, soooo unbelievably un-cool, and so clueless. What does he know? That $5 latté you buy every Friday as your pre-weekend treat is of no consequence in the long run, for Pete’s sake. That $50 pair of sandals you bought at a killer sale last spring (the ones that look almost like the ones you already had in your closet)? No big deal.

No? Those 500 pennies you spend once a week on a latté add up to 26,000 pennies in one year – $260. What could you do with $260? If you buy just two pairs of good-quality, but unnecessary, shoes in the spring and two in the fall, all for a very thrifty sale-price of $50 each pair, that’s $200 you could have saved or spent elsewhere. What could you do with $200? What could you do with $460?

Some, depending on their finances, may answer “not much.” Others, perhaps not so flush with cash, will revel in all the possibilities of having an extra $260 or $200 or $460. However, listing the alternative things we could do with $260 or $200 or $460 isn’t the point.

Here’s the point.

When we make hundreds of these kinds of decisions every week, they collectively add up to a great deal of money – maybe even enough for _______. Fill-in-the-blank time. What would ring your chimes? Fill it in. A trip to the Bahamas, is it? $460 might get you a cheap flight. Now for a good deal on a hotel; how much would that cost? Hmmm. What else could I give up for a while?

See how this works? Little everyday decisions about how you spend small amounts of money add up. They add up in dollars. They add up to increasing self-discipline. They add up to the habit of personal responsibility. They add up to living well.

Your turn. Give us another example.

red box with white text of Jesse Owens wrote about self-discipline

Time to ramp up your personal responsibility!

© 2013 Teresa Layne Bennett

Living Well 1

profile view of Teddy Roosevelt facing his statement about what self-discipline is

Pay attention to the simple, “little” things.

Most of us, thank goodness, don’t love money; we love what money can DO for us – allow us to live well. A key component of living well (and one of the most powerful stress-busters known to modern man) is living within our means.

Yeah. Yeah. It’s a sneaky way of backing into the real topic of this three-part, Living Well blog post. But if I had called it what it’s really about – Living Within Your Means – wouldn’t you have skipped it? Yes, well; there you go.

Now that I’ve come clean, just stick with me for a bit. Don’t stop now, because I HAVE GOOD NEWS. Living within your means requires only one thing. Of course, that one thing – self-discipline – is a rare commodity in 21st century U.S. Oh, let’s just tell the whole story. The other dirty little secret: self-discipline is on the same black list – in our society – as personal responsibility.

Are we really clueless –
or just not paying attention?

Why are we so unwilling to make ourselves follow our own rules so that we can achieve our own goals for our own lives? Looks suspiciously like self-sabotage to me. (And why do we snicker at those who practice personal responsibility, following their own rules to reach their own goals for their own lives?)

We SAY we want to live within our means. We SAY we know our mounting debts cause us sleepless nights and ever-increasing stress. We SAY we know stress is bad for our bodies and our minds. We SAY we’ve learned that having more things doesn’t necessarily make us happier (translation: allow us to live well). We SAY we know all these truths, but we live as if we don’t.

I first wrote the material that appears in this set of Living Well blog posts almost five years before I started this blog. Since that time, our country experienced The Great Recession. Life got ugly. People lost jobs, homes, self-respect.

I was hopeful. Yes, hopeful. I was hoping that venturing so near the guillotine would’ve scared our society enough that we’d stop the self-sabotage.

Dang. I was wrong. We’re still doing it. I see it all around me. Shoot, I even find myself shooting myself in the foot, even when I know our economy is still shaky. Again I ask, are we clueless or just not paying attention?

Could it be …?

I’m just thinking aloud here. Could it be that we’ve forgotten that self-discipline consists of tons and tons and tons of little – teeny, tiny, minuscule –  decisions? Have we overlooked the fact that making small AND EASY behavior modifications will help us live better?

Could it be that relatively painless, minor decisions will slowly but inevitably lead us into a more self-disciplined lifestyle and a lifetime of living well? As you can tell, I think so. And I’m not alone. Thousands of generations before us have learned this lesson. Read Living Well 2, if you don’t believe me. And then tell me if I’m wrong.

red box with white text of quote fro Robert J. Ringer

We know this. Now we need to practice it.

© 2013 Teresa Layne Bennett

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