I work with a colleague, Lauren, who gets up at 5.30am every morning and either runs or goes to the gym. I admire her dedication and each week I tell myself that I should start exercising in the morning before the distraction of work sidetracks me and stops me doing something at the end of the day. Of course I’m not a morning person and the morning exercise never happens. And unfortunately, I don’t get any fitter by thinking I should do it.

The difference between Lauren and I is she has created a daily habit which means that every day she is ensuring she exercises. I’m sure she doesn’t enjoy getting up as early as she does and would rather sleep in some mornings but she has a long term goal of completing a half-marathon within a particular time. So she simply does it.

Often we set lofty goals and things we want to achieve but before long the daily grind sets in and it becomes too hard and we quickly lose focus. Athletes don’t get to the Olympics by hoping or by waking up in the morning and deciding it’s too hard and hitting the snooze button. Instead they set up a series of daily habits and rituals that cover everything from when they get up, what they repeat to themselves before a race, what time and how often they train, what they eat and perhaps even the underwear they wear. It’s all designed to create a series of habits to help ensure success and the achievement of their long-term goals.

It’s the same for us mere mortals. It’s often too hard if all we’re doing is focussing on the long-term goal which may seem so far away, particularly when the bright shiny thing we want is in front of us today. However, by setting up a series of rituals and habits we are more able to set ourselves up for success when it comes to achieving our goals.

So if we’re talking money and achieving our financial goals, what habits or rituals can we employ that might help us achieve our long term goals?

  • Have a daily mantra. This might seem silly, but we often carry around money messages in our head that are self-defeating. They might be, “I’m terrible with money”, “I can’t save” or “I’ll never be able to buy a home until I meet my future partner”. Just as a successful athlete or even a successful business person might repeat a daily mantra about how they want to achieve success, why not create a daily mantra about how you want to view money. I’m not talking the Secret here but rather positive money messages that will infect the way you think. Stick them up on your mirror so you see them every day and start replacing unhelpful thoughts with affirming ones.
  • Set up daily rituals. These are the small things you do every day that will help set you up for success. You might be buying your lunch each day from the shopping centre food court and going for a window shop which often leads to purchasing something after you eat. Instead, one of your daily rituals could involve getting up 15 minutes earlier so you can make your lunch each day that you take to a nearby park where you go for a walk after you’ve eaten. It’s all about swapping one habit that is not so good for you for another one that will set you up for success.
  • Keep track. There’s nothing so motivating as a series of small wins on the way to a big win. So keep track of what you’re spending and saving so you can see the effect of your daily rituals. There are many free apps you can use to track your expenses including some free ones provided by the government on the Money Smart website which work on your phone and are incredibly easy to use.
  • Be accountable. There’s a reason why professional athletes have coaches. Sure they might be able to do it by themselves but it’s much easier when there’s someone there pushing them along, celebrating with them and keeping them accountable to what they say they are going to do. It’s the same with the rest of us. It might be a paid adviser, a good friend or your partner – the most important thing is to be accountable to someone regularly to help keep you on track.

There’s nothing like having to turn up once a week or once a month and having to eyeball someone and admit that you didn’t do what you say you were going to do to keep you on track Often we see the athletes on the podium but we don’t see them at training again the next day.

At the recent Commonwealth Games a reporter asked Sally Pearson if she was going to take time off to celebrate now that she had won Commonwealth Gold. She laughed and said she’d eat some Tim Tams and have a day off but then it was back to training and racing a few days later. That’s because Sally understands the importance of daily habits. It’s the unsexy side of success – lots of small and often tedious steps. But once these steps or daily habits are set up, they will help carry you towards successfully achieving your goals.

Melissa Browne is an accountant, adviser, author and shoe addict.

Posted by Melissa Browne – Money Manager (Fairfax) on 11th September, 2014