In his New York Times bestselling book, The One Thing, Gary Keller argues for a simple truth: “When you want the absolute best chance to succeed at anything you want, your approach should always be the same. Go small.”
He supports his thesis throughout the book by using research, examples, and personal experience. “Extraordinary results are directly determined by how narrow you can make your focus,” he reiterates.
This advice is not new or unique. In fact, the truth has been espoused and modeled by some of the most successful men and women throughout history:
- “Be like a stamp—stick to one thing until you get there.” —Josh Billings
- “It is those who concentrate on but one thing at a time who advance in this world.” —Og Mandino
- “You must be single-minded. Drive for the one thing on which you have decided.” —General George S. Patton
- “Success demands singleness of purpose.” —Vince Lombardi
Those who are most successful in their life endeavors are those who identify, define, and pursue their next most important step without being distracted from it.
I find his advice compelling in any area of life, but especially in our approach to personal finance and making the changes we desire.
Many of us feel the stress of our circumstances and sense that the clock is ticking on our life. We want to budget better, pay off our credit card debt, save for retirement, fund our child’s college, pay off the mortgage, invest in real estate… and we want to do it all right now, today.
The options paralyze us. Or maybe better put, the immensity of what “we should be doing with our money” paralyzes us. And so, too often, we throw up our hands in disgust, deciding that doing nothing is better than failing at everything.
We understand the importance of healthy, life-giving financial habits. We’ve seen their positive influence on the lives of others and we envy the life they live. We desire it to be true of ourselves, but the road looks too long from our Point A to their Point B. So we give up the pursuit before we even start.
I want to offer a new approach for you today. Go small. Choose focus.
Your One Thing
Rather than trying to do everything at once or before the end of next weekend, choose just one step to pursue today and pursue it with blinders on, refusing to be distracted by “everything else you should be doing better in your financial life.”
You don’t have to start with a big step and you don’t have to have everything figured out before you start. Remember, one small step down the right path is all you need to start heading in the right direction.
This truth applies to every positive life change we desire to embrace with our lives. The journey anywhere almost always starts with one small step. As I look back over the past years of my life, I see this theme recurring over and over again:
- The journey of removing most of our worldly possessions began by simply removing the clutter from our cars.
- The accomplishment of running my first marathon started by waking up one day and running one mile.
- The journey of establishing a blog and inspiring others began with one simple post.
- When my wife wanted to learn how to sew, she began by attending just one sewing class at a local church with a few of her friends.
- When my son wanted to make the high school volleyball team, he went out in the driveway with my wife and first learned how to bump.
Some of the most significant achievements in your life can be traced back to one small step in the right direction.
Today I encourage you to choose just one financial goal you intend to pursue. Make it your One Thing—the single most important first step that you intend to take for you and your family.
A next, best step is going to look different from one person to another and one family to another. As well it should—we come from different backgrounds, different starting points, different income levels, and different family/living situations. But the importance of choosing just one step applies to each of us.
One Step at a Time
What is the next best step for you to pursue?
In all my years of discussing financial well-being with others, I have never seen an approach to financial intentionality work better than Dave Ramsey’s seven steps to financial freedom. For that reason, let’s consider these steps to help determine your best, next one. They come from his book The Total Money Makeover.
Step 1: Save $1,000 for your starter emergency fund.
Step 2: Pay off all debt except the house mortgage using the debt snowball (paying off accounts starting with those that have the smallest balances first).
Step 3: Save three to six months’ worth of expenses in a fully funded emergency fund.
Step 4: Invest 15% of your household income in retirement.
Step 5: Save for your children’s college fund.
Step 6: Pay off your home.
Step 7: Build wealth and give.
I encourage you to identify where you are on the list above. What step do you need to complete next? Save $1,000? Pay off debt? Start saving for retirement? Maybe it’s pay off your mortgage or become more generous?
Resolve to complete just the next one thing in your financial journey. Don’t get sidetracked trying to do everything at once.
It is important to note that each of those steps above can be broken into smaller parts. We begin saving $1,000 by saving $100, then $200. We pay off our debts one credit card or loan at a time, starting with the smallest one. We begin saving three to six months’ worth of expenses by reaching one month, then two.
See what I mean? Even the next financial step for you can be broken into smaller steps.
My heart for you is to help you become more intentional with your finances and discover greater peace because of it. Remember Gary Keller’s words: “If you want the absolute best chance to succeed at anything you want, your approach should always be the same. Go small.”
Pick one small financial goal and pursue with all your energy and focus. You can do it.
Great saving tips
Thanks 🙏 sharing and keep us accountable
Always make my lunch and a list before going to the grocery
If nothing else works this keep ours impulse under control
Over budget and spending on extras . Nice posts
Kathy Mecham says
Excellent article! Thanks for the great advice and insight –
Thank you thank you thank you! its really truly help!
Amelia @ TheUsefulRoot says
Great post and timely for me.
“Many of us feel the stress of our circumstances and sense that the clock is ticking on our life. We want to budget better, pay off our credit card debt, save for retirement, fund our child’s college, pay off the mortgage, invest in real estate… and we want to do it all right now, today.” – That is exactly how it feels sometimes for me and can be discouraging. But I have a plan and I can focus on the step I’m on right now which is step 2. Pay off debt! Just gotta focus on that right now! Thanks for the wisdom :)
Lots of common sense here.
One thing… ok
Thank you for the helping me focus and give direction on the next best thing to do: Go small.
I can attest to the efficacy of intentional living because it has changed the way my husband and I think about the things that come into our home and the money that leaves our wallets. This pairing of minimalism and financial responsibility (via Dave Ramsey’s Baby Steps) has strengthened our marriage and enabled us to consciously direct our financial and material lives for the first time.
We will be starting 2020 without consumer or student debt and with a plan for the future. Blog posts like this one help us continue down the intentional-living road with intensity and vision. Thank you!
Congratulations, Holly! Thank you for sharing your story, as you will be an encouragement to so many. Enjoy 2020!
Summer Bammes says
This is just what I needed to finally launch out of bed today–at 1 pm. (Yeah, one of those.) I don’t have to shoulder everything today; I just have to pick one thing and do it.
I hear you. This morning I said to myself “I just can’t face the world today” and wanted to crawl back in to bed.
I wrote down a list of everything overwhelming me. Finances, moving house, decluttering, YouTube addiction, relationship issues, family issues, work anxiety. I believe in God and I know everything will be fine as long as I rely on Him.
I’m just going to do one thing at a time.
Joshua, this is so cool. I just posted a blog yesterday about the “One Thing” based on James Clear’s book “Atomic Habits” (tiny, powerful habits compound). I think there’s “something in the air” about simplifying and starting small. :) Thank you for your post. Great read and always great advice. Love Dave Ramsey and Financial Peace University. That class has been so helpful to our family. Blessings to you!
You are so right about Dave Ramsey. I’ve been a fan of his for years. When I first read his book years ago, we really weren’t in debt. We thought we were, but we really weren’t compared to now. I’m on Baby Step #2 and am almost finished paying off the second debt. . Can’t wait to be debt free, but I have to be patient and keep the debt snowball going.
Congratulations on almost paying off your 2nd debt. Make sure you celebrate (in an inexpensive way, that is), because adding that money will help that snowball go even faster. :) Your patience will pay off!
Danielle Petit says
Thank you. Just what I need at this time in my life. I will work on one thing. All have a beautiful day.
Thank you! May God continually bless you and your family!
Deborah Bartok says
I needed this exactly today. Starting small and laser focus. I look at things globally and have had many mishaps due to overwhelm. Applying my EFT tapping along with this approach:) I’m applying for social security benefits today and couldn’t have needed this article more. Thank you!
As usual, very good advice in this article. I have a very hard time remembering this concept of one thing at a time and do tend to lose focus with overwhelm and end up doing none of it. ADD gets the better of me, but this is a very good reminder that I need to just pick “one” thing. Thanks, for the motivation again,
How excellent articule. Thanks
Excellent, thank you!