Things Are Important Before They're Important

When does something become important?

Consider the life domain of exercise and fitness. For some of my friends and acquaintances, back in our twenties, "being fit" simply wasn't a priority. It just wasn't all that important at that point in life. However, now that they're in their forties and fifties, not being fit is a having a significant negative impact in their lives. Perhaps they've developed high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or maybe they're just not all that happy with how they look in the mirror.

All of a sudden, fitness is important.

Except now they've got 40 and 50 year old bodies that struggle to handle the training required to get fit. Many struggle with obesity--ironically, a stealth product of years of "training" in the habit of not exercising. Many will earnestly begin an exercise program, only to hit a wall of knee, ankle or other joint problems.

Not making fitness a priority turned out to have a cumulative impact. It compounded over the years. Each year it got harder to build a habit of regular exercise and harder to train without injury. Which made it harder still to build a habit of regular exercise.

So, when did fitness really become important?

Apparently, it became important well before you thought it did.

Consider another major life domain: retirement. I'm sure all readers here at Casual Kitchen have friends or acquaintances who didn't really begin thinking about retirement until they were in their forties or fifties--after many years of never really building a habit of saving money.

When someone never builds a habit of regular savings, that person, by definition, runs a high expense line relative to income (think of the exact opposite of my Extreme Savings post). Worse, many of these expenses are likely to be fixed expenses in the form of a large mortgage, car lease payments, other debts, etc. These are difficult-to-escape expenses, and they make adopting a serious savings habit still more difficult. Jacob Lund Fisker calls this "the lock-in" in his book Early Retirement Extreme.

Of course, the cumulative cost of postponing retirement savings is enormous. We've all seen those retirement compounding charts showing how much less a younger person needs to save per month compared to an older person in order to reach a certain money goal. A 25 year old saving $1,000 a month at, say, a 6% average annual return, will accumulate a million dollars by age 55. A 45 year old, however, needs to save $6,000 a month to get to a $1 million by age 55.

That 45-year-old needs to save six times as much every month, without having built any history of regular savings, and with a likely high and largely fixed expense line. A person considering retirement for the first time at age 45 faces a profound challenge--a far greater challenge than the 45-year-old considering exercise for the first time.

So, when did this life domain become important?

Once again, well before you thought it did.

Readers, share your thoughts!

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Owlhaven said...

As a momma, my brain is spinning this idea regarding parenting. When kids are tiny, it can feel easier to neglect things like job training, respect, and delayed gratification. But those skills are way harder to teach when kids' habits become entrenched at an older age...
Interesting article-- thanks!

Marcia said...

Ooh. Owlhaven had a great point! (Says the mother of a 2 year old, who had a complete tantrum/ meltdown last night. For hours. Because he didn't eat dinner and I said "no snacks, eat your dinner."

I can understand the fitness thing. I'm 44. I have been struggling with my weight since having my second baby at 42. I've been "fit" for years (swam, biked, walked through the pregnancies). But wow - I have joint issues now that I never did before.

So even if you are fit, the joint issues will probably happen, and you may be unprepared. For me, they were a sprained knee and achilles tendonitis, so I switched to swimming, weight training, walking and yoga.

If you AREN'T fit I can only imagine how much harder it would be.

chacha1 said...

The one thing we can all count on is that if we don't get run over by a bus, we will get old and die. During the process, our tissues will get stiff, our joints will get sore, and our memories will start to go. These are things that happen to pretty much everybody.

Anyone who wants to live a full life needs to use EVERY physical resource they have. Use it or lose it. If you don't walk, soon you won't be able to walk. And if you don't think, soon you won't be able to think.

As to finances ... well, just as Americans are awfully good at blaming "the healthcare system" for our poor national health, we are awfully good at blaming "corporations" for our poor financial health.

The only way to save money is to spend less than you earn, and put away what you don't spend in a place that will prevent you from easily spending it. Buying something later is not saving. Buying something on sale is not saving. Buying something you can write off is not saving. The only thing that counts as "saving" is Not Spending.

And it's tough, just like working the body every day is tough. That's why most people don't do it.

Little Beck said...

As I think every day since I started yoga half way through my life....."never too late...."

Daniel said...

I hear it. As the saying goes: "The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The second-best time is now."