A New Direction

I started ‘writing A Simple Life’ two years ago
Introduction

I have been writing on ‘A Simple Life’ for just over two years. Up until now it has been a blog about saving money, with some ideas about personal development thrown in. I started ‘A Simple Life’ when I discovered FI/RE – financial independence, retire early – as this is what everyone does. Like all other FI/RE seekers I wanted to share ideas about saving money, making money and to monitor my own journey.

As time has gone on my interests have developed into a love of personal development. This culminated in me joining Natalie Bacon’s life coaching programme ‘Grow You’ in February 2020, from which I continue to learn every single day.  

Over the next year there will be some changes on ‘ A Simple Life’
The Way Forward

In 2021 I will be changing the focus of ‘A Simple Life’ and starting to explore more personal development topics. By doing this I want to help you to make positive changes in all areas of your life. I believe that feeling happy and fulfilled is all about examining your life and making positive changes, no matter what life throws at you. Many people blame their circumstances for their unhappiness. I want to share with you how by making simple changes, including having a more positive mindset, it is possible to create happiness without changing anything about your circumstances.

Life should be considered and planned
Living Life in the Precontemplation Stage

I have been a social worker for almost twenty years. I work with people who are trying to make changes in their lives, or those who need to make changes, otherwise their futures look bleak. Unfortunately the majority of the people that I meet don’t think that they need to make any changes in their lives. I would regard these people as being in the ‘precontemplation stage’ of the ‘Cycle of Change’. This is a concept developed by Prochaska and DiClementi (1983). People in the precontemplation stage are unaware of or have a vague recognition of concerns, but at this stage they have not considered that their behaviour needs to change.  

In order to look at a wider definition of precontemplation let’s look at one of the dictionary definitions of ‘contemplation’:

the state of being considered or planned

So precontemplation is a time before you actually consider or plan. Now the reason that I say that the majority of the population live their lives in the precontemplation stage is that they don’t live considered or planned lives. Life is lived on autopilot. Most of us are brought up to think that our lives will follow a certain path and that’s just the way it is. For the majority of people that means school, university/employment, marriage, children, grandchildren, retirement, death.

Do you struggle to get up as you dread the day ahead of you?
Living a Considered Life

Whilst each and every one of those can be amazing (except perhaps the death part!), I want you to make choices about the life that you’re living. Do you wake up in the morning and bounce out of bed, looking forward to the opportunities that the day ahead brings? Are you able to look on the bright side when life doesn’t always go as you expected and accept that there will be good times and bad times along the way?

You may be thinking that the answer to a happy life lies in winning the lottery or making a killing on the stock market and retiring to a beach somewhere. If that’s what you really desire that’s fine, but the answer to happiness lies within you, in the choices that you make, in your attitude to life and in your thoughts. As we all know, particularly from 2020, life is unpredictable and there are many things over which we don’t have any control. What we do have a choice about though is our thoughts. This is the basis of life coaching, or at least the life coaching taught by those who have trained with The Life Coach School .

Many life coaches practise what Natalie Bacon calls action coaching. If you want to lose weight they will suggest diets to follow or if you want to get fitter they’ll recommend exercise programmes. I’m sure that like many people you’ve tried to get thinner at some point and found that the problem is not finding an eating regimen to follow, but actually sticking to it. This is where thought work comes in. Life coaching helps you examine your thoughts about your body, about eating and about weight loss. Once you have the motivation, action is easy. We’ve all heard of people who have tried quitting smoking for years without success, but a scary diagnosis leads them to give up overnight. None of the tips and tricks for quitting have changed, it’s just their motivation that’s different.

Want to manage your time better? Life coaching can help you.
Reasons why you might want to have a life coach
  1. Help you reach/achieve your goals
  2. Control your emotions
  3. Understand your motivation
  4. Improve your relationships
  5. Manage your time
  6. Help you change career
  7. Lose weight

We’ve all heard of therapy, which takes you from dysfunctional to functional. Life coaching takes you from functional to exceptional.

I don’t pretend that I am a life coach and I don’t propose to start a coaching programme here on ‘A Simple Life’. What I do plan to do though is to give you some of that action coaching, i.e. ideas for how to improve your life and also a different perspective to help you perhaps change your thinking about situations. Natalie also has lots of free training on her website and so I’ll make sure I let you know about those, particularly if they’re relevant to the topic of the post that you’re reading.

As a member of ‘Grow You’, Natalie Bacon’s life coaching programme, I have had the chance to become an affiliate and so will be including my link in my posts to encourage you to check it out. Obviously you can just stick around here and read my posts. Hopefully you’ll still get lots of ideas to help you live your best life.

Until next time, take care and best wishes, Sam.

Developing Relationships

crop smiling diverse girlfriends with exercise books speaking on terrace
Topic of the month

As I have mentioned many times before, I am in a coaching programme called Grow You. The topic of the month for November was ‘strengthening relationships’. Natalie Bacon, whose programme it is, prepares a workbook and a video lesson each month. I thought that I would share with you the thoughts that came up for me when going through the workbook and give you a few ideas if your relationships are something that you want to work on.

Friendships

When it comes to friendships I’ve usually been someone who has a small group of friends or even just a best friend. As I’ve written about before I struggle to find people on my wavelength. For example, as I write this we have just gone into tier four and all my neighbours are complaining about their celebrations for Christmas being cancelled. Perhaps because I am not a big fan of the festive season or because it was so obvious what was coming, I found it hard to have sympathy with them.

silver colored heart lock bridge
I tried to be grateful instead of complaining
Cultivating a positive attitude

Instead of moaning I try to find things to be grateful for. I know it’s a cliché, but I really do believe that we spend too much of our lives moaning. I tried to find the positives in our situation:

  • We have a warm and comfortable home.
  • We have food in the cupboards.
  • Even if we can’t see family we can Skype them

You don’t have to look far to find others worse off than yourself. Complaints about the situation being unfair are still ringing in my ears. Unfortunately the idea of fairness is something that society has created. Life isn’t, and never will be, fair. Most of the time life is random and out of our control. We just like to think that we can control it, but 2020 has made us all re-evaluate that. My belief is that we need to focus on what we can control, which is our own behaviour and accept what we can’t e.g. natural events such as the weather or coronavirus. For me, my work is to develop relationships with others who also have a positive attitude.

white beads on question mark sign
I have realised that I asked a lot of questions
New friendships

Whilst working on this topic I had the opportunity to go on a hike with two neighbours, neither of whom I know very well. One of them lives in a very large house, which makes me feel slightly intimidated, but she is very down to earth and I really enjoyed talking with her and getting to know each other. The other neighbour I found to be quite prejudiced and although I was and still am polite to her I don’t feel that we are similar people or that I would want to pursue a friendship with her.

Both that day and other experiences have made me realise that the majority of people talk about themselves most of the time. Even with people that I really like and feel that I could be good friends with, I have found that they hardly ask me any questions about myself. In contrast I have realised that I ask a lot of questions of people. This is because I want to get to know them. I am not sure whether I come across as nosey, but that is not my intention. I am truly interested in understanding what makes them tick, in learning about how they see the world.

Ryan Holiday talks about this phenomenon in his book, ‘Ego is the Enemy’. He suggests that our lives are films and we are playing the starring role. Everyone else just has a bit part and they aren’t as important as we are. We all like to think that we are special, whereas in fact we are all human beings just trying to find our way in this world.

woman wearing teal dress sitting on chair talking to man
Try to listen more and talk less
A few things to think about and try out
  • Do you ask questions of others when you meet?
  • When you ask ‘How are you?’ do you really want to know the answer?
  • Are you just waiting for them to take a breath so you can jump in and start talking about yourself?
  • How about instead of that try to really listen to what they are telling you?
  • Be interested.
  • Ask questions to help deepen your understanding.
  • Refrain from telling them that their exact situation, or something even worse, happened to you and what you did.

So there we are. My current thoughts about relationships. If you’re interested Natalie Bacon has a free lesson here on how to fix your relationship, which focuses on your relationship with your significant other.  

Making Life Run Smoothly

man and woman walks on dock
at home

We all love going on holiday, but how often do you arrive at your destination only to realise that you’ve forgotten something. One time Mr Simple forgot to pack any pants and we had to stop on the way to buy some. Fortunately they are something quite cheap, but if he’d forgotten a more expensive item or some medication we might have had to turn around and drive home.

So what’s the answer?

A packing list. Every holiday is going to be slightly different, so when you create one list, not everything on it is going to be relevant all of the time, but you will be able to adapt it. Whether you’re off for a beach holiday in the sun or a week walking in the Lake District there are basics that you’ll need. If it’s the latter you can ignore the swimsuit, but you will need the rucksac. If you’d like to see what’s on my list I’ve created a Freebie here just to give you some ideas and to get you started.  

woman in yellow tshirt and beige jacket holding a fruit stand

Another example where a checklist can come in handy is when buying groceries. I have a master list of all the items that we buy and when I do the shopping order I refer to the checklist and then see if we are running low on that item. Ideally you would notice when you’re getting low on something and add it to your shopping list as you go through the month, but that doesn’t always happen. Maybe you’re in the middle of cooking dinner and although you meant to do it you got distracted. By using this checklist it means that you don’t do your order and after it arrives realise that you’ve run out of something, but didn’t buy it. Alternatively you don’t get to the supermarket, see a product on the shelf, think to yourself, ‘I wonder if we’re running low on that?’, buy two and get home and find there’s already plenty in the cupboard.

How often do you clean the bathroom and then 30 minutes later you’re lying in the bath and you realise that you missed something – the mirror’s dirty or you forgot to check whether there’s a spare toilet roll in the cupboard. So what’s the solution I hear you ask. A cleaning checklist.

To be honest the possibilities are endless and by taking a little time to think about what areas of your life would run more smoothly and then creating a checklist, you can save yourself hours and make life run much more smoothly.  

books business computer connection
at work

I have also recently started to use checklists at work. I am a social worker. For every case there are certain tasks that have to be done. Previously, each time I was allocated a case I would sit and write a list of what I needed to do. Obviously that meant I would create that same list several times a month. Sometimes I’d miss things off, only realising later on that I’d overlooked a task. Basically, I was reinventing the wheel every few weeks. What a waste of time!

Then I came up with the idea of creating a standard list which I use every time. Now circumstances do vary and sometimes I have to add things and other times points aren’t relevant, but on the whole I use 95% of the list. It is such a time saver and I have shared it with several of my colleagues.

I also use checklists when I am writing reports. Every situation is different and there are certain issues that I need to consider; certain questions that I have to ask to make sure that nothing gets missed. Over the years that I have been doing this job I have developed a list of prompts for myself so that I don’t miss anything. There are occasions, usually fair unique situations or something that rarely comes up, where important points are overlooked and when that happens I add that to my checklist so I never forget it again.

So, it might take a little time to write out, but for many tasks you probably already have a list in your head anyway. Maybe you have written lists in the past and thrown them away. Next time you’re planning your packing or creating your shopping list, write it in a notebook and keep it. Next month, when you’re doing the shopping list again, or next year, when you’re packing for that holiday in the sun, you can just open your notebook and there it is, a list, already written for you!

If you need anymore convincing about the usefulness of checklists take a look at this short video by Matt D’Avella.

Creating a Money Mission Statement

Tanja Hester’s great book ‘Work Optional’

If you’re like me, when you discovered FI/RE you wanted to be financially independent as soon as possible and started cutting everything that you could from your budget, maybe to the point where life became miserable. As the saying goes, it has to be more than just getting to the destination, you have to enjoy the journey along the way. How then do you make decisions about what to spend your money on and what you can do without? How do you have enough in your life to make it enjoyable, but avoid spending on things that you probably wouldn’t miss that much? The truth is this is probably going to look different for everybody.

Tanja Hester, in her book ‘Work Optional‘, suggests creating a ‘money mission statement‘. This starts with looking at your mindless spending, which may have come about as a result of lifestyle inflation. If you think back to when you were a student or when you got your first job and compare that life with your life now, how is your spending different? What do you spend money on now that previously wasn’t part of your life? Do these purchases really enhance your life or have they just become a habit?

Tanja goes on to repeat a point which is the focus of ‘Your Money or Your Life’ by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez. Basically, money is a reflection of the time that you spent earning it. If you get paid £20 an hour and you buy a handbag for £100, that cost you five hours of your life. If you look at purchases in this way, as a function of your time on this planet, you may think twice before you click ‘buy’ on that Amazon basket next time.

So how do you develop your money mission statement to help you decide what you are prepared to spend money on and what you are going to leave on the shelf? Tanja suggests some questions for you to consider. So here’s the questions and what my answers to them are:

My best ever investment
What is the single best thing you’ve ever spent money on?

I have struggled to choose one thing. At the moment I would say Natalie Bacon’s ‘Grow Youlife-coaching course which I joined earlier in the year. It has changed the way that I think about so many things in my life and given me the tools to really examine my thoughts and try to address the challenges that life puts in my path. Previously, I might have said my social work course, which enabled me to have a job that on the whole I really enjoy. The other things that came to mind were major holidays of which I have some great memories.

What ongoing expenditure makes you happiest?

My answer to this was again ‘Grow You’, but I would also include the online Pilates programme that I have discovered since the beginning of the lock down. Both of these are in the category of personal development. One for my body and one for my mind.

coffee magazine
I used to spend a fortune on magazines and didn’t always read them
What do you spend money on that you wouldn’t miss?

As I write, the answer to this question is honestly ‘nothing’, as I have really pared my budget down to the bone. Before I did that the answers would have been magazines, fiction books, facials, hairdressing and clothes. That’s probably why I have managed to go without these over the past 18 months and not miss them too much. On the other hand I have missed holidays, eating out with Mr Simple and friends and good food, which until the beginning of the pandemic were gradually creeping back into the budget.

What would feel like too big of a sacrifice to be worth it?

In my efforts to cut the budget to the bone I have reduced our grocery spending drastically, but I must admit this hasn’t always felt like a healthy way to live. I’ve realized that the food that is cheap is very carb-heavy, such as bread and pasta. I began to miss my avocados at breakfast. We don’t eat out as much as we used to do, but I have begun buying better quality products, such as extra virgin olive oil.

baguette baked baking bread
Even the simplest of meals out feels like a treat at the moment
Could you spend less on the things you value without missing out on the core of the experience?

I found this a hard one. We love meals out, but it’s something we only do rarely. When we do we like to splash out and go somewhere particularly nice. Doing it less often also makes it feel more of a treat. Since March the only food we’ve eaten out was a breakfast baguette and tea and cake, both at local country parks last month. Just those simple treats felt very indulgent.

We have had less expensive holidays over the past couple of years and they have still been enjoyable, but I don’t think that I would be happy if we could never repeat the experiences we had before Mr Simple got made redundant. For example, we did a cycling holiday in Tuscany with Skedaddle. A private car from the airport, bikes and directions provided and bags moved for you everyday whilst you cycled to the next hotel, enjoying the beautiful countryside and leisurely lunches. With holidays like that you’re paying to let someone else do all of the organisation and every so often I’m willing to part with my hard-earned cash for that service.

Was there a time in your life when you enjoyed your lifestyle, but spent less than you do now?

I enjoyed my twenties. After university I worked part time and volunteered a lot. I didn’t have any responsibilities. I didn’t have a mortgage, although I did live in some awful places at times, with neighbours who played loud music at 3am or where I didn’t feel completely safe walking the streets after dark. Holidays were volunteer projects where we worked five days out of seven, cooked for the group and camped. Travel to most of the destinations was by coach, often overnight. Not the most luxurious or a very comfortable way to travel. Would I want to go back to that time? No. I definitely wouldn’t want to rent a property again. I would though like to work part-time, as I did then.

Is there anything you enjoy, but are willing to give up to reach your goal?

As I said above, I have cut my budget the bone and given up lots of things. I see this as a temporary measure until we are financially stable enough to go back to splashing out a bit more on our food budget, eating out and holidays.

crop woman with coffee writing in notebook on bed
Use all of this information to create a spending philosophy
spending philosophy

Finally, combine all of this into a spending philosophy by filling in the following statements:

  • I spend mindfully and without guilt on: Pilates, Grow You, good food, food with friends and personal development books.
  • I spend only as much as necessary on: household bills and clothes
  • I do not spend money on: magazines, expensive holidays and frivolous items that I don’t need

In a nutshell, my philosophy is based on the value that I place on maintaining my physical and mental health.

So if you’re struggling to decide what to cut back and what to keep or maybe you’ve eliminated too much from your life and feel like you’re missing out how about having a go at this exercise and developing your own ‘money mission statement’?

Your Future Self

I spend a lot of hours planning just a few weeks out of every year

If you’re like me you spend a lot of time planning your holidays, considering every detail of just two or three weeks of your life out of every year. In times when we could travel abroad I used to plan our annual two-week holiday to France in great detail. The areas that we wanted to visit, and then the specific tourist attractions in those areas. I’d spend ages on Google Maps looking at the route, picking out small towns where we could stop for our midday meal and consulting TripAdvisor for the best restaurants for that leisurely three-course lunch. place. By the time the holiday came round I’d have it all typed out in a lovely table, with accompanying leaflets that I downloaded giving ideas for walks and cycle rides. I’d include all the travelling times, the day’s activity and where we were staying that night.  

And then the best bit, implementing the plan and getting to visit and experience all the exciting things on the plan. Occasionally things wouldn’t always go as planned – places would be unexpectedly closed or we’d come across a more interesting place to visit than I’d proposed, but on the whole, we did what it said on the plan. It was great. We didn’t spend hours working out what we were going to do or where to go whilst we were actually in France, as all of the hard work was done beforehand. We just typed the day’s destination into the sat nav and off we went.

What do you want to have achieved by the time you’re old?
What about the rest of our lives?

Now, I love holidays and I’ve certainly missed going away this year, but they are only a small part of most people’s lives. The rest of the time, the 47-50 weeks of the year when you’re not away, just happens. When it comes to that time, i.e. the majority of our lives, few of us take the trouble to consider our destination or what we actually want to do on our journey. We all know the general plan – school, uni and/or job, find a partner, buy a house, kids, grandkids, retirement, death.

The trouble with not making a plan is that you may arrive at a place that you never wanted to be or you end up sitting in that chair in the old folks’ home thinking about all the things that you were going to do, but never did.

It will always end like this, but what about the journey?
Advice from Stephen Covey

Stephen Covey, the authority of ‘The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’, talks about beginning with the end in mind. In order to decide what you want ‘the end’ to be he suggests imagining your funeral. I know it’s morbid and not something most of us want to think about, but bear with me here. Just take a moment to consider what you would like your family and friends to be saying about you after your life is over. What have you achieved? What good have you done in the world? What was important to you? This can help give you some general themes e.g. she loved nature and wildlife, he was an entrepreneur who took risks and made a million, he devoted himself to his family.  

Write to Yourself

In order to begin to me more specific about your future life, what I recommend is writing a letter to the present you from a you in the future. Decide how far into the future you want to go. Imagine it’s 2025 and Covid19 is a distant memory. Describe your ideal life. Consider areas such as your family, home, health and job. If you’re reading this in December and about to make your New Year goals perhaps just take yourself a year into the future and contemplate how you’d like to be living in December the following year. You can make your new life as realistic or fanciful as you want.

As well as activities you can also look at the sort of person you want to be e.g. someone who looks after their health, a person who gives to charity, a non-drinker. You can then use those principles to guide your current choices e.g. cutting down how many glasses of wine you have on a night out. You don’t need to change everything all at once, but just know the direction in which you’re going.

My Future Self

I’ve started to do this recently, looking at the life I’d like me and Mr Simple to be living when we’re retired. Not only does it give you long term goals to work towards, you can also identify things that you can do now. Mr Simple and I met in a walking group and we used to spend one day most weekends out hiking in the years before we lived together. More recently, particularly since we’ve moved to our current home, we’ve spent most of our free time working on the house. When I saw that in our retirement I’d like us to spend time together hiking I realised that was something that I could implement now. We don’t plan to go every week, but I’ve put it in the diary for once a month. So far we’ve managed to do this on two occasions. It was great to see the hills again, although my body’s not used to it now, but it was amazing. It’s particularly good at these times when you have to enjoy the simple pleasures that life has to offer.

Get Started

So, do you want to put as much thought into the rest of your life as you do into your holidays? If you’re not sure where to start I’ve got a freebie for you setting out areas of your life to consider. Just sign up below to get a copy and start planning the rest of your life.

Further inspiration from my favourite life coach – Natalie Bacon’s podcast and future self free training.