What does making your bed have to do with your financial health? Good question!
Habits are important. Good habits are small behaviors that seem so trivial, yet they can reap profound benefits in your life. Take this blog, for example. I couldn’t find any time during the day to write, so I told myself I would get up each day a little earlier and write for the first half hour or hour. That behavior, multiplied by many days, has created blog posts and content.
Habits are Crazy Important
When we’re developing new habits, we underestimate how important small changes in behavior can be or the effects they can have. In many ways, personal finance is a sum of many small behavior changes, multiplied over time, with compound interest.
So the Year of Good Habits Series is a way to hold me accountable for developing, or in many cases, continuing to develop, good habits to help us get to our goal of doubling our net worth in three years.
However, when thinking about good habits, I think it’s important to point out that good habits that improve your financial life DON’T just have to be related to your money. There are many behaviors we can adopt that will help us improve our lives, learn to trust ourselves, and help build more self-discipline. So this year’s list of habits will include both good financial habits and good life habits.
Give It Three Months
Even though we’ve heard the oft-repeated story that it only takes three weeks to develop a new habit, research indicates that it generally takes longer—months to almost a year (here’s a good scholarly article if you’d like some deep reading today). So my Year of Good Habits must take into account that while I may start on the path to habit development, I will not have arrived at making that habit a part of my life until somewhere around the 3-month mark.
And adding twelve new habits in a year is ambitious. I realize this. Normally, one to two new good habits is plenty. Because of human beings’ ability to focus on a limited number of things, less truly is more when it comes to changing big, ingrained habits in your life. Channel capacity, that is, the idea that you cannot hold more than about five things in your mind at one time, is a revolutionary concept once you understand it. If you can get good at accomplishing one thing at a time, in a focused way, you’ll accomplish more than you ever have before. So most of the habits I’ll focus on are habits I’ve already started working on but haven’t perfected or fully incorporated in my life.
Now, with all those disclaimers aside, let’s get to February’s habit. I decided to step back and go really basic this month. So this month’s habit will be Making Your Bed Every Day.
About nine years ago, right after my son was born, I became a Stay-at-Home Mom. I was, frankly, terrible at this job. I’d been an Account Executive at an Advertising Agency for the previous two years, and my job involved skills I was very good at—coordinating with different groups of people to communicate marketing needs and design ideas. I was used to a fast-paced, constantly changing work environment where I worked with adults all day and was highly successful and praised often for a job well done. As a Stay-at-Home Mom, my job was to take care of an infant and clean the house. Let’s just say that these are not my strength areas.
Hubs would get home from work every day and I would be exhausted. The house would be a mess, my son would be cranky, and I had gotten nothing “accomplished” all day. That’s how I felt, anyway. I felt, frankly, like a failure. Pretty much every day. My husband would get home and occasionally complain about the level of chaos that was our house. So one day, I got the bright idea to ask him the one thing I could do to improve my performance as a Stay-at-Home Mom.
Improve My Performance?!
Before you hyperventilate in front of your computer, let me explain. I got this idea from Jack Canfield, the author of The Success Principals, a book about improving your performance. He explained that couples can have better, more honest relationships, when they take time to frankly ask each other what they could do to “improve” their performance in the relationship. This way, couples can talk honestly about little things they can change that would make their partners happier. I had no idea what my husband was going to say (I was thinking he might say, “Shower more,” honestly). But his reply really opened my eyes to the power of simple habits. He said, “could you make the bed every day? If I come in to the bedroom, and the bed is at least made, it will make me feel like my home space is a little less chaotic.”
The next day, I started to make our bed soon after we woke up and Hubs left for work. It was such a simple habit, but made such a profound difference in my day! Why? (Am I overstating, here?). Every time I would walk into our bedroom, I would see the bed, and think, “Wow. I got something accomplished today. Go me! I’m not such a total mess after all!” Inevitably, I would pick up the clothes around the bed and put those into the hamper, so the bedroom was usually completely clean. The rest of the house could be a total mess (and usually was!) but at least the bedroom was an organized haven. That was my reward—seeing our clean and organized bedroom, and the feeling of accomplishment it provoked.
I’m not alone in touting the importance of making your bed each day. This Navy Seal, in a commencement speech, talks about how making your bed affects your success. Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, explains how it makes you happier, and The Minimalists explain how simple habits like these can affect your motivation.
Pick a Time of Day
Over the years, I’ve continued to make the bed. I would say I make the bed 9 out of 10 days a week. Some days, when I’m at work all day, I don’t get to it. This month, I’d like to refocus my efforts to making the bed so that I make it 100% of the time. I’d also like to add a standardized time of day I make the bed. I think I will try to make the bed as soon as my husband leaves for work, at around 7:30.
I usually get up early to write. Then he gets up, has breakfast, takes a shower, and leaves for work. My kids get up at 7, usually while he’s showering, so as soon as kisses everyone and heads out the door, I’ll head to the bedroom and make the bed. His leaving for work will be my trigger. On the weekends, I can make the bed while he’s in the shower (and as soon as the kids are out of bed, because sometimes we get a visitor in our bed!).
This habit is truly simple, but so powerful. I estimate it takes probably 3-4 minutes for me to make our bed, including picking up dirty clothes. But it makes me feel on top of things (same as walking into the kitchen in the morning and having the coffee be ready, since I set it up the night before).
February is a good month for getting back to basics. This habit is a lot easier than budgeting, but since February is one of the coldest, darkest, snowiest months of the year in New Hampshire, I thought I’d keep it simple. The key for me will be getting into the habit each and every day, at the same time. That will be key to my success.
Alright, who’s with me? Making our beds in February! Let’s go!