Andrew Maxfield is director of the Influencer Institute, a private operating foundation that seeks to increase humanity’s capacity to change for good.
Atilano, a new friend of mine in Mexico, smiles while he delivers bottled water from his bicycle to nearby homes and businesses. His is a small business by nearly every standard, yet it is a powerful component of his escape route from poverty. And it’s working.
But that’s only half of the story. It turns out that there are several behaviors besides increasing income that lead a person to the outcome of a reliable financial surplus, and, eventually, to permanently improved economic conditions.
Can you imagine what one of those behaviors is?
You probably already know the answer—and it isn’t an exciting one. The behavior is: regularly write down every amount of money you take in and spend. People who make a habit (the intersection of ability and reliability) of regular financial record keeping know exactly how much they earn, exactly how much they spend, and can therefore take action if there is an imbalance between the two.
Our work with small business mentoring organizations in Latin America verifies this fact: their very poor clients who start small businesses and keep daily financial records manage to escape poverty over time, sometimes rapidly. Those who start businesses but are sloppy with record keeping or neglect it entirely, may never get ahead—and often don’t.
So here’s the rub, and it’s probably familiar: what if an all-important behavior is mundane? What if it’s dull, inconvenient, or psychologically painful?
This is where we can all learn from Atilano. It’s true that the act of record keeping might be tiresome if you view it as taking away from income-generating work, family time, or whatever you’d rather be doing. But Atilano thinks of his kids and the example he’s setting. He reminds himself of the “why” behind the task. Believe it or not, he considers his ledgers a personal diary—evidence of his hard work and dedication to his family. Taken in that light, record keeping can be a celebration of sorts, a happy daily ritual.
Can you think of a way to reconnect the task you routinely avoid to what you care about most? Can you link it to your values and vision and to people you care about?
Finding the thread that links what you must do to the grander vision of why you do it can help drum up the motivation you need to do an unpleasant task. Of course, your personal motivation isn’t everything; you also need skills, tools, and social support—and those factors unquestionably contribute to Atilano’s successes.
However, you and I can take a big step forward in our efforts to influence ourselves and others when we deliberately find meaning in life’s mundane but vital tasks.