Thursday, March 18, 2010

Enthusiasm: The Double-Edged Sword

Without enthusiasm, we wouldn’t start anything new. It’s very easy to plod along doing the same thing every day, and it takes some enthusiasm to make a change. On the other hand, too much enthusiasm can cause problems as well. We can see this in personal finances and other areas of our lives.

Take exercise as an example. It takes enthusiasm to get over the hurdle to get started. But too much excitement has its own problems. Those who start a new workout regimen talk as though they invented it, they spend money needlessly on the latest workout clothes, and they overdo things at the start and hurt themselves. Too much enthusiasm often leads to disillusionment and quitting.

Dieting is another good example. Getting excited enough to eat better is a good thing, but too often I hear people decide to make big changes they can’t sustain: “I’m going to skip breakfast and have only salad for lunch.” Big changes like this often lead to extreme hunger and overeating and guilt later on. Modest shifts to healthier foods and increased exercise are often a better path than radical changes made by over-enthusiastic people.

When it comes to finances, people sometimes decide that the time has finally come to really attack their debt by, say, increasing their debt repayments by $1000 per month. This is great if it is possible, but if that doesn’t leave enough money for basic shelter, food, and clothing, then these people are just setting themselves up for failure. Budgets must be realistic.

People who move along at an even keel have an advantage over manic-depressive types in this regard. Instead of alternating high enthusiasm and failure, try the slow and steady approach with modest enthusiasm.


  1. Great advice! I've always had more success taking one step at a time rather than diving headlong into anything.

    Jim Yih likes to put a limit of 3 things to work on at once. I would take it a step further and say that if you can only manage one, choose that one thing wisely and do it really well. Incremental change seems to have more staying power.

  2. "try the slow and steady approach with modest enthusiasm."

    I agree with that suggestion.

    The problem is that those who have the ability to do that are probably already doing it.

    Procrastination is a very powerful force.


  3. 2 Cents: Working on three big changes at once sounds like a lot to me as well. I'll stick to one biggy at a time.

    Mark: You're probably right that many people have difficulty avoiding the manic-depressive-type cycle when it comes to self improvement and finances. However, if we can help people recognize the potential problem when they are in an enthusiastic phase, maybe a few of them will tone it down a little to the point where they can succeed.