One of the best accounts I follow on Instagram is Humans of New York. The creator of the project, Brandon Stanton, posts updates several times a week. Each photo comes with a story.
One of my favorite stories he shared was a story about focusing on the work. Even when times get uneasy and tough. The person in the picture, the one telling the story, was then-U.S. President Barack Obama.
Obama talked about his career progress and times he felt defeated. He ran for Congress and got beat, or “whooped” in his words. He had put so much time and effort into running and to lose felt devastating. He felt behind and unsure.
Paying off debt feels like this. Unsure thoughts sweep through you constantly. You think you’re not making enough progress. The pace isn’t fast enough.
I would be making a far-reaching claim if I told you paying off my $21,000 of debt in 18 months was easy. It wasn’t. Although I’m thinking I probably could have whipped it up to seem like it.
I’m not a copywriting headline whiz but I can think of what they probably would have looked like.
See this guy’s one simple trick to vanish $21,000 of debt in 18 months!
I was bored so I decided to pay off my thousands of dollars of debt super fast! Here’s how!
You get the message. When I was paying off my debt, I thought I had to do it within a short timeline. I would make several extra payments and then…my debt would still be there. A little smaller, yeah, but still there, looking like it was never going to go away. For some reason though, while I was in the throws of paying off debt, I thought it was, in fact, a simple linear progress.
My mind thought the debt payoff process worked like this:
Wanting to get rid of debt. Start and do a debt payoff plan. Finish paying off debt and celebrate. YAAA
If only. A debt repayment journey usually takes several years of fighting, hustling, and keeping your head up. Reading other debt payoff journeys, making extra income, all of it can feel good and motivating. However, they don’t stop the ruts from happening. The ruts where you feel uninspired and trapped with your debt, unable to move forward.
Paying off my debt was hard. Really hard and really exhausting. The journey was tedious but I reached the finish line. There are some things I learned about getting into the debt free mindset while paying off debt.
How to get in the debt payoff mindset
Understand your spending triggers
I’ve never been one of those people who has to leave their cards at home in order to not overspend. My spending trigger was more subtle. And you know what people say about subtle, sometimes it can be the most dangerous.
Case in point, one afternoon when I was cleaning and I had to come face to face with the big stack of Amazon boxes I had. I had Amazon Prime at the time, which if you don’t know, offers free two-day shipping. Having Prime caused me to spend a little too much on things I really didn’t need.
Figure out what your spending triggers are. Whether it be eating out, spending a lot on entertainment or whatever. Hone in on it, and prioritize on fixing it as much as possible.
Write down your negative thoughts and why they’re not true
Don’t let your negative thoughts continue to beat you up. You don’t have to pay off your debt in x amount of months or do it like so and so. You don’t have to make goliath payments all the time. And it’s okay to feel down sometimes.
Whenever I thoughts about how I wasn’t doing enough towards debt, I would write down the negative thought and a few examples of why it wasn’t true.
Example: I have so much debt. It’s going to take forever to pay off
Counter-points: I’ve put $1,000 towards my debt
Debt progress charts were my favorite thing for this. Whenever I would pay off $500. I would color in red on this debt-thermometer chart. It was a great way to physically see my progress.
Surround yourself with people who have a debt-free mindset
If I had a dollar for every time someone told me to “just pay the minimums because debt was normal” I would probably have had enough to have paid off my debt. People don’t see the freedom that comes from being debt free.
Surround yourself with debt destroyers. People who realize the clarity that comes from being debt-free.
It’s about the work
This is where the Obama speech about his 1999 Congress run comes in. A debt payoff journey is exhausting. You fell behind and defeated. In spite of it all, you can’t lose hope. Losing hope is the real tragedy.
Remember that it’s about the work. If you let your mind constantly wonder about whether you’re making enough progress or succeeding, then you will get frustrated. Keep it about the work.