How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Embrace the Future

This is a guest post from my friend Mrs. Frugalwoods.

“Just start and do it now.” I repeat that incredibly simple little phrase to myself all the time. It’s my reminder that it’s within my own power to accomplish whatever I want. It’s my cue to tackle big projects and not worry about the fact that I haven’t started them sooner. It’s my impetus to make the changes in my life that I want to see right now – not tomorrow or in a week or a year.

My Journey to Financial Independence

When Mr. Frugalwoods and I made our decision to work towards financial independence and a homestead in the woods by 2017, we started work on that goal immediately. At the time, our end date was more than 3.5 years away. Far enough that we easily could’ve said, ehh, we’ll start saving in earnest next month, or next year. But we didn’t. We hatched a plan the very afternoon of our decision and haven’t looked back since. We changed our spending behaviors immediately and we ramped our savings up to over 71% in the first month after formalizing our goal.

I’m not sharing this to brag about how awesome I am, but because it’s an example of how I’ve been able to evolve into a more confident, action-oriented person. But I haven’t always been like this.

Banish Dwelling

I used to be a dweller (not as in someone who lives in a dwelling, but as in someone who ruminates endlessly on the past). I’d fret and worry and consternate over things that had already happened. Letting go of the past felt like an impossible feat I’d never master.

My tendency to dwell on bygone conversations, choices, and actions (or inactions) would thwart my own progress towards the future. After all, there’s literally nothing I can do to alter events that have, well, already occurred.

Old me would’ve zeroed in on the years during which Mr. FW and I had spent more than we needed to and how much closer to our homestead dream we’d be if only we could go back in time and change those decisions. But new me sees the utter absurdity in that line of thinking.

Previously, I couldn’t just take on a project and boldly charge forward. I had to first agonize about it… a lot. But now, instead of hemming, hawing, and generally panicking over the “right” course of action, when I know I want to do something, I just do it. I don’t wait until the next month, or until the next pay cycle, or even the next day. This holds true for so many facets of life: exercising, working towards financial independence, paying down debt – any of these changes can be enacted today, now!

There’s No Such Thing as the Perfect Time

Waiting for the perfect moment to begin a new adventure is almost as bad as dwelling on the past. Perfect moments don’t exist and striving for that elusive time can just become an excuse. I was formerly guilty of that mentality – “oh I can’t start saving money until all of the stars align and I receive a sign from the universe that it’s the perfect time.” That’s a surefire way to ensure you never actually get started.

Mr. Frugalwoods and I could’ve lulled ourselves into thinking, well, this year isn’t ideal to start an extreme frugality regime because we have a few weddings to go to, and a vacation planned, and some renovations we need to do on our home, so let’s start next year. But that would’ve pushed our dream back and I bet when we reached the mythical “perfect” time a year later, we’d find an excuse for why we ought to delay yet another year in order to hit a more optimal phase in our lives.

If there’s something you deeply and earnestly want, why delay starting work towards it? There’s virtually no chance it’ll get done on its own and it’s unlikely someone else will do it for you (unless it’s emptying the dishwasher – I’ve found that if I delay doing that, Mr. FW will usually do it for me… ). But if it’s a goal really worth having – like early retirement, or a relationship, or a new job – we have to put in the hard work ourselves.

Ok But Honestly, I Did Still Dwell for a Long Time

In all honesty, this dwelling tendency dogged me until recently. By obsessing over stuff that I wasn’t pleased with, or was embarrassed by, I felt like I was in constant battle with myself. I’d replay conversations and scenarios ad nauseam to try and ascertain precisely where I’d perhaps made a misstep. Finding peace and satisfaction felt out of reach for me since I knew – I just knew – there were things I could’ve done better, smarter, or prettier. Part of this was the undercurrent of low self-esteem that many women suffer from over being “less than” the perfect ideals society holds up for us. And part of it was my general anxiety and tendency towards perfectionism.

I also labored under the delusion that after I’d accomplished some goal or another – like say getting a good job or marrying the awesome Mr. Frugalwoods – I’d finally be happy or content. But that wasn’t the case. I just found a whole new set of things to anguish and dwell over. This was turning into a vicious cycle.

What I eventually came to learn is that I had to develop my own internal confidence and security before I was able to truly stop concentrating on the negative and living in the past. It was a combination of good old maturity (I am 31 after all) and perhaps most importantly, figuring out what I want out of life.

It was also about other people. More specifically, it was about me no longer investing so much time and energy worrying about what other people might – or might not – be thinking about me. When I reflect on how much effort I put into trying to divine what people thought of me, I realize what folly that was! First of all, who cares?! And second of all, I could’ve been doing much more productive things with all that time!

If Mr. Frugalwoods and I spent time fretting over what our friends, co-workers, and neighbors might think of our crazy plan to save a ton of money, quit our jobs, and become homesteaders, I guarantee you we’d come up with a dozen excuses why we shouldn’t pursue this dream. But it’s our dream, and it’s not about what society thinks about us – it’s about what we want out of life. We’re the only ones who can live our lives as we want to – and in the end, we’re the only ones who’ll care how we’ve lived that life.

Things We Can’t Change

As I gained this clarity of purpose, I realized I’d been expressly honing in on the one genre of things I shouldn’t: things I can’t change. I was losing sight of future opportunities and valuable experiences by giving so much credence to things that have already happened. Becoming mired in our personal history can take shape as stressing over debt we’ve incurred or self-flagellating over stupid choices. But what if we only looked ahead? What if we only set our sights on what’s actually in our control – our future?

As I internalized this newfound confidence and attitude, I began to exert my energies on things that actually matter to me and sloughed off the concerns of other people, which I’d been bending to for so long. I need to live my life for myself and in accordance with what my goals are – not within the formula of what society or other people expect of me.

Only Looking Ahead

This quote from Emerson resonates and feels like an apt description of what I’m trying to attain:

“Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.”

What a liberating concept! Instead of beating myself up over doing dumb things yesterday, I can instead turn my attention to charting the path I want to be on tomorrow. I realize this might sound like an oversimplification, but I find a great deal of strength in reminding myself that the past is over and the future is an opportunity.

Admittedly, I still struggle with the demon of dwelling on the past, but I’ve gotten much better about asserting my desires and resolutely moving ahead with my plans. Perhaps surprisingly, frugality is one of the things that enabled me to succeed in this way. Frugality forces me to prioritize, identify what really matters to me, and live my life according to my own wishes. It has truly enabled me to see myself in a new light and has decreased my focus on less important aspects of my life: like my appearance and whether or not people perceive me as “successful.” Frugality has given me confidence.

In reflecting on this transformation, I recognize that I still fail, I still have missteps, I still say ridiculous things, and I still make bad decisions. The difference is that I’m able to just roll with those things. I don’t persecute myself (as much) for my human foibles and I don’t hold myself up to the unattainable standards of beauty, success, and perfection that our culture dangles out for people (and I’d argue especially women) to strive towards. I’m just me, doing my frugal thing, and I’m happy about it.

This is one of the greatest changes I’ve made in my life and, it’s something you can start on today. It doesn’t take any money, fancy equipment, or even another person. All you need to do is make a decision and act on it. Today. What’s holding you back?

Mrs. Frugalwoods writes at about her journey to financial independence and a homestead in the woods with her husband and their greyhound, Frugal Hound.

  • I love Emerson, and this quote is just perfect for me, too. I used to (still struggle with) ruminating on failures and mistakes of days long gone. “If only” or “I wish” are constructions I strive daily to eliminate in an effort to stay focused on the present. I think that this way of thinking has certainly influenced my ability to make decisions today, and consequently, held me back from making real change. But I know I’m making progress in this area and I think it is, in part, due to our focus on financial freedom and downsizing.

    • I hear ya–I still struggle with it myself. But, I think just having an awareness about the tendency to dwell is such a positive step. Kudos to you for making progress and for staying focused on your goals! I agree with you that a serious long-term aspiration really does help with keeping on target.

  • A great quote, and it’s something I try and do. Once I hit the pillow its on to the day ahead, but sometimes it easier said then done. Those creeping thoughts can come back at anytime, but being aware of them is half the battle.

  • In one of my favorite books, Song Of Years, written in the 1920’s, the father of the pioneer family always wound the clock at the end of the day and said, “Day’s over, fresh start tomorrow”. That little phrase has gotten me through many a hard time.

  • What a good quote. I may have to find a pretty picture of it and make it the background on my phone.
    I struggle with moving on from the past, especially with what I call hyper-obsessing about conversations. I’ll replay and replay a conversation in my head ad nauseam. However, in the last few months, I’ve realized I have a pretty bad short term memory. So while I may be replaying and replaying, obsessing and making myself feel bad about a conversation, I’m probably not even remembering it correctly. That’s helped me move forward. Now I have a quote to help remind me too!

    • I used to (still do sometimes) do that with conversations ALL the time. Constantly. I can’t tell you how refreshing it’s been for me to break out of that habit. And good point on the memory–I think we all tend to tinge memories with our own inclinations about a situation and create nuance that might not have been there in the first place. Glad you liked the quote :)!

  • “Waiting for the perfect moment to begin a new adventure is almost as bad as dwelling on the past.” – Yes, this is fantastic! I am beginning to learn that each passing moment to try something new is another opportunity that could have propelled me forward. Thank you for the encouragement! It is motivating to see that focusing on your transformation and future has allowed you to overcome dwelling too much on the past.

    • Thanks so much! That’s awesome that you’re seeing every day as an opportunity to try something new–that’s such a wonderful way to go through life. I definitely still struggle with regret from time to time, but it’s much more liberating to focus my energies ahead!

    • Many thanks! You know, it’s funny you say that– “dwell” is the word that Mr. FW and I use to describe it, but I’m not sure how common that usage actually is :).

  • Great post! I need to borrow a little bit of your confidence right now because while I’m making a bold move to get a two bedroom apartment BEFORE I even have a roommate could be a huge risk financially, when my goal is to go the other way. And between now and dropping off the deposit check today I keep having this feeling that I could totally bail on the deal and play it safe, but that’s all I’ve been doing for seven years and it’s gotten me nowhere financially. So yeah, I’m kind of freaking the hell out! :)

    • You’ve got this, T! I think it’s awesome that you’re taking a risk here. Like you said with playing it safe–nothing ventured, nothing gained. I’ll be sending you good roommate thoughts!

  • Great post! I am also a dweller, and I find that if I allow myself to dwell on every little thing, it truly does hold me back from accomplishing all that I’m capable of. “Just start and do it now” is something that I’ve been trying to tell myself lately too. More like “JUST DO THE DARN THING ALREADY!” lol. I’m so much of a perfectionist at times that I get all caught up in the details and then fail to even begin the project, much less finish it. All because I get so paralyzed by worry.

    • I totally know where you’re coming from! I used to be the worst offender of paralysis by analysis and it’s only recently that I’ve been able to move past that tendency. I really like “just do the darn thing already!”–that’s exactly what I need to tell myself sometimes!

  • Love this. The Emerson quote, the stuff about perfect timing, all of it. We’ve been thinking lately that impatience is essential for early retirement in some ways (though obviously patience is key in other ways), and that overlaps some with this. If we aren’t at least a little impatient, we might never take action.

    • Thank you! That’s a great point about impatience–there is an element of it that’s useful in self-motivation. And, it certainly does makes sense in the context of an early retirement plan. I appreciate the thoughts!

  • Great post Mrs. FW! I sometimes struggle with looking too much into the past too, but I’m working on it for sure. As you point out, you can’t control what’s already happened.

  • I think sometimes we look for the perfect moment or the diet talk, I’ll start Monday then proceed to eat until we are stuffed, falling behind our initial intention. Just Start is a great motto to get you moving that’s for sure.

  • As I get older I’ve definitely learned to only stress about things I can control. Why waste time and energy on things you can’t. Instead of spending 50% of my effort on something I can’t control and the other 50% on things I can, I am able to exert 100% of my time and effort on things that matter to me and can shape and impact my future. Great post!

  • Long ago, when we were fretting over the right time to start a family, a wise person told us, ‘there is never a perfect time’. That has stuck with me in most of the decisions we make in life. Sometimes you just gotta jump in!

  • “Previously, I couldn’t just take on a project and boldly charge forward. I had to first agonize about it… a lot.” How many of us can relate to that? What a rich, rich post! The most personal of yours that I have read, and I really appreciate what you have shared. It never ceases to amaze me how people who, in my estimation, are so successful can still self-doubt. But that’s the whole point. Society is set up to make us (yes, especially women) doubt ourselves and to feel dissatisfied. I’m happy that you have attained a huge level of freedom from that trap! And you can bet that by writing about it, you’ll help others attain it too.

    • Thank you so much, Prudence! I definitely feel like we women are especially set up to feel inadequate by our perfection-obsessed culture. Just trying to break free from that has been such a liberating experience for me. I appreciate you sharing your thoughts!

  • As I stated before on Twitter, I loved reading this post! I actually just listed to a podcast, “Happier with Gretchen Rubin, ” that talks about a “just do it now” philosophy. She calls it the “1-minute rule.” If you have something to do and it takes less than one minute, JUST DO IT. Like if you come in the house, hang up your coat instead of throwing it on the couch. Or if you walk by the laundry room, throw the clothes in the dryer. Simple tasks done and out of the way, instead of nagging at your brain that you still have those things to do later. Now, this obviously is about small projects, not the big projects you mention above, but I think both have the same end goal: If you want something done, do it. And the sooner you do it, the better you’ll feel, sooner. Also, while I think I’ll be able to start mastering the art of “doing it now” right away, I think the banish dwelling idea is going to take some time ;) Glad to hear you’re doing better with it though! Great advice and insight as always!

    • Thanks so much for your kind words! I totally agree that the “just do it” philosophy can apply to projects big and small. Sometimes just tricking myself into getting started on one tiny thing is all I need to jumpstart my productivity. That sounds like a great podcast, I’ll have to check it out–thanks for the recommendation!

  • As someone in their 50s, I have learnt not to dwell. I am still annoyed that I let other people give me the feeling I should be a certain way and for not being myself, which is what I’m learning to do now.

    Just do it! Be you and don’t listen to what others think (assuming you’ve made informed decisions!!).

    • I’m such a fan of the do your own thing mentality. It has been so freeing for me not to focus on what other people may or may not be thinking about me. That’s wonderful that you’ve mastered the art of not dwelling! I consider myself a work in progress on these fronts, but it’s great to at least be working towards it.

  • I LOVE that quote from Emerson!! I used to be a dweller as well and the fact is that it just doesn’t get you anywhere. As I have gotten older, I have gotten better about letting things go and focusing on the future and while it’s not always easier, I do feel better when I focus more on the future than dwelling on the past.

    • Absolutely! It really does yield a more positive mindset on the whole. Feeling that we have agency over our futures is much more gratifying than focusing on the past that we can’t change!

  • Thanks for the though-provoking post and congrats on living authentically! I went through a similar reframing during college, and I learned to “fly by those nets” that society/religion tried to fling at me (Joyce). Frugality and riding my bike have been huge confidence boosters and have definitely helped transform me into an action-oriented/can-do person. I feel lucky as a woman that I don’t care about my physical appearance since that pressure is very real for a lot of people. Also don’t care or try to divine what people may or may not think about my career/life choices. However, I still put too much pressure on myself to do things to the best of my ability when a lot of things could be done with a lot less effort and be completely fine. I also have a tendency to overanalyze, which doesn’t result in inaction, but is generally not a good use of my time. Work in progress!

    • I completely sympathize with the tendency to overanalyze–that’s definitely something I’m guilty of from time to time. I love that you don’t care about your appearance and that frugality has given you confidence. I really do believe that self-assurance is a wonderful by-product of living an honest, frugal life. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences!

  • This was really well written. I certainly understand dwelling on the past, but anybody reading this (including Mrs. Frugalwoods) should remember they’re probably light years ahead of most people.

    I for one am looking forward to homestead posts in the future.

  • Mrs. Frugalwoods, it’s so great to see you here! Thank you so much for this post. I am also a “dweller” and I HATE the way it robs me of the present moment. I also get caught in that trap of replaying conversations and interactions in my mind, obsessing over something “bad” or “wrong” that I might have said or done. For years my husband and I have referred to it as me “getting on the bicycle” – spinning my wheels, not going anywhere, just getting more and more worked up about something that is usually nothing. He’ll say to me, “Dev, get off the bicycle!” I’ve gotten much, much better over the last few years, but still sometimes get caught in that state of paralysis on a new project. My mind says “If you don’t do anything, you can’t mess anything up, right?” But that is no way to live. A good friend of mine often says, “The best time to do most things is now” and that little mantra has helped me a lot. I will definitely be saving that Emerson quote. I love the idea of letting go of my “old nonsense” – thanks for another insightful post. I always come away from your writing with new perspectives.

    • The bicycle is a perfect analogy! It’s definitely a wheel-spinning exercise to replay the past–that’s a great way of describing it. I very much like your friend’s advice and I completely agree. Thank you for your kind words too, makes me so happy to hear you enjoyed reading.

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