I have some exciting news this week! After busting my ass all summer, I have officially written a book. It’s titled Get Money, and it’s slated for March, but you can now pre-order your copy!

Here's what I learned about what it takes to accomplish ambitious, long-term goals, whether it's how to pay off debt or how to write a book.The process of getting my book deal was one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life. There was the “I want to represent you” email from my agent, who read my proposal and thought it seemed promising. There was the whirlwind trip to NYC, where I met with 12 publishers and pitched them my idea. And then there was the contract, filled with fun details about royalties and advances.

Negotiations, auctions, contracts: these were all very exciting things. I felt like a real author. Then came the work and, along with it, a realization: I actually have to write a book. How does one do that?

Suddenly, writing 65,000 words over the course of the next several months didn’t sound exhilarating so much as frightening. I had no idea how to write a book. This daunting pressure felt familiar. When did I feel this way?

Oh right, when I was paying off my student loan. And when I was paying off my credit card. And saving enough money to switch careers. Getting through this book felt a lot like getting through my early financial goals. It was a massive goal that seemed impossible, and I wasn’t even sure how or where to start. Once I turned in my first deadline (still editing now, but the hardest part is finally done), I took a deep breath and a long nap, then thought about what I learned about tackling ambitious goals, whether it’s paying off debt, writing a book, running a marathon, or whatever your own ambitions may be. Anyway, I thought I’d share. 

Ignore the Endpoint

I’ve started jogging. It’s an overrated, awful experience, at least if you’re like me, which is to say, “out of shape.” But because exercise makes me feel better about all of my other unhealthy habits, I continue to jog. Interestingly, I’ve found that if I focus on the endpoint, like a sign in the distance in which I’ll take a break, it’s so much more exhausting than if I just focus on my feet and the steps I’m already taking. I’ll look at a crack in the pavement a few feet ahead and aim for that, then aim for the next crack, and before you know it, that sign isn’t so far in the distance after all.

I did this when I paid off my student loan, too. I was making $25,000 a year, and paying off $12,000 just seemed like a pipe dream. I figured it would take me a few years, and I was also young, so a few years seemed a lot longer back then (dammit I felt so old typing that just now). So instead, I focused on paying $500 or $1,000 at a time and didn’t even think about that ridiculous $12,000 number. It’s a simple perspective shift, but it gives you the momentum and motivation to keep going.

With a book, it was easy to set smaller milestones. A friend told me, “think of each chapter as a long article.” I knew I could write long articles, so I focused on one chapter at a time and ignored the fact that somehow, I had to write 12 chapters and 70,000 words. It worked. Before I knew it, I only had six chapters to go, then three, then just one. Of course, the closer you get to your deadline, or endpoint, the easier it is to keep going. When you’re not there yet, just focus on the small wins right in front of you.

Remember Your “Why”

At the same time, it helps to remember why you’re working toward this lofty goal in the first place. When I’m jogging, gasping for breath and writhing in discomfort, I often wonder, “what the hell is wrong with me? Why do I want this?” And when I spent another Saturday writing, for the fifth weekend in a row, looking at everyone’s amazing Instagram beach photos, I had to ask myself, “why do I want this?” Focusing on the process helps, but when that process is squeezing every ounce of energy from you, that strategy will only take you so far.

My friend Stefanie O’Connell is, pardon my language, a freaking badass at reaching massive, ambitious goals. She’s said she likes to keep reminders of her long-term goals everywhere to help her make better in-the-moment decisions. Over at Medium’s Society of Grownups, she writes:

“To stay grounded in what we want, we have to define what our wants are — and once we do, we need to keep them top of mind. I’ve always been a fan of incorporating tangible reminders of my long-term goals into my lifestyle. Keeping a picture of my dream home on my computer desktop or a printed photo of my ideal retirement locale wrapped around the credit cards in my wallet. So whether I’m shopping online or in store, I always have a visual reminder of my true goals and priorities…”

A while back, Stefanie suggested creating a “dream bio” on a sticky note and putting it on your computer so you’re confronted with your “why” every day. I took her advice and wrote “AUTHOR” in big bold letters on the dry erase board in my office. It’s a title I’ve always aspired to, and if I could just get through that next chapter, perhaps I could achieve it. I also wanted to help other people learn everything I’ve learned about money so they can feel like they have a little more control over it. That was a tall order, but it’s what I set out to do when I spent every weekend at my computer.

This reminded me of the Tim Ferriss advice to ask yourself “If this were the only thing I accomplished today, would I be satisfied with my day?” The gist of it is: pick the one thing on your to-do list that most supports your main ambition. When I remembered that, it was easy to get through each chapter, paragraph, and sentence. Okay, not easy, but easier.

For me, the solution was to focus on smaller milestones but also keep my eye on the prize. It came down to linking the future to the present, asking myself, what do I want tomorrow and how can I make that happen today?

The following two tabs change content below.
Kristin writes about money, travel, and human behavior at Lifehacker, the New York Times, New York Magazine, and Mentalfloss. She's also written for NBC News, Fox Digital, and Scripps Network Interactive. Her book GET MONEY will be available on 3/27/18 with Hachette Books.