I have an expression that I like to live by: The dreading is worse than the doing. This came to me one day when, for the umpteenth time, I realized that the thing I was spending so much energy dreading was actually not that bad when I got around to doing it.
We all have something (or things) that we know we should be doing, but don’t do. We think that the consequences of taking action are too scary, so we push it down and let the dread mount. From my experience, what people often dread the most is addressing their finances. More specifically, people fear confronting their spending and past overspending — aka the dreaded debt.
It’s scary to look at that balance, because it’s not just about the numbers. It’s also about the shame of past and present money habits. We feel bad about ourselves for running up our credit cards and living beyond our means, making mistakes that we are now paying for, and making purchases we can’t really afford. Although this can be painful to confront, the shame will only increase if you pretend the problem doesn’t exist. By dreading and not doing, you not only feel guilty about the original issue, but also now about your procrastination.
The best fix for the shame feelings is to actually face the problems. Yes, plural. Not only do you need to address the quantifiable debt, but you also need to follow the problem to its source. Were you overspending because it made you feel better in the moment? Were you bailing somebody else out? Did you give in to the desire to keep up with the Joneses?
The best way to approach an overwhelming problem is to break it down into a series of steps. To start, write down a debt or other financial obstacle that you are dreading on a blank piece of paper. Next, write down your reason — as best you can — as to why the dreaded thing came to be. With these small actions, you’ve already taken your first two steps.
Another important step is to understand clearly the numbers you are dealing with, which may require reaching out to a professional for help. Many CPAs, attorneys, financial planners, and credit counselors offer a free consultation — take advantage of the free advice! You may be surprised what comes out of a 15 or 30-minute conversation with an expert. No matter your debt, the professionals won’t judge you. Instead, we truly respect those who seek help. If a professional can’t help you, we’ll usually provide you with the right resource. This alone can be invaluable.
Planners, especially, excel at taking inventory of your entire picture and breaking down tasks into manageable steps. I once worked with a client who had a near six-figure personal debt. Together, we made a list of her debts, including payments on a brand-new $50,000 car, and came up with a timeline and strategy to pay them off — including physically cutting up her credit cards.
Paying off debt is not a turnkey solution: What works for one person may not work for the next. My advice for finding out what works for you is simple: try it, experience it, and then evaluate it. This week, take an actionable step to face your debt. Whether you create a spreadsheet of your debt balances, interest rates, and payments, or reach out to a professional to see if they can help you create a strategy, commit to it for the next seven days. If it works, keep it going. If not, try another step the next week.
After taking a step, assess how you feel. Do you feel kind of proud of your newfound momentum? Do you feel a little lighter having shared this burden with a professional? Was it as bad as you thought it was going to be?
We waste so much of our precious life energy worrying about solvable money issues. When we can be real about the issue, and take just one important step, we gain power and can move forward in surprising ways. Remember the wisdom of Lao Tzu: “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
Addie McHale is a member of the DailyWorth Connect Program. Read more about the program here.