Once we’ve started our journey to wealth and financial freedom, things are usually pretty cruisy.
On one hand, it’s fantastic to have our savings and investing pretty much on auto-pilot. On the other hand, there is a danger of complacency.
The chance that we slip into a less fulfilling life than we might’ve hoped for. We’ll call this “Status Quo Syndrome.” So what is it, and how do we avoid it? I’m glad you asked!
What is “Status Quo Syndrome?”
Aside from being something I just made up, it’s derived from the term “Status Quo.” Essentially, this means: “the current state of affairs.”
In real life, you might have heard a comment like, “he is only interested in maintaining the status quo.”
The Status Quo Syndrome, I suggest, is when people are no longer open to change in their lives. They’re not interested in trying new things and simply want to keep everything the way it is.
When people succumb to Status Quo Syndrome, you’ll hear less-than-convincing statements like…
Health: “My health is okay, but I don’t have much time to exercise.”
Investments: “I’d like to invest more, but my spouse is scared of the sharemarket.”
Expenses: “Our spending has improved, but we like to travel/eat out/insert spending sinkhole here”
Freedom: “We’ve reached FI, but I’m worried I’ll quit and get lazy/miss my job/lose my identity etc.”
Now, I know this all sounds innocent and reasonable enough. But many of these lines are thinly veiled excuses which come with an underlying assumption that change isn’t possible.
The Mindset of Status Quo Syndrome
Many times, Status Quo Syndrome is what’s keeping us from getting the results we really want in our lives. It’s hard to build a satisfying life with this ‘fixed’ mindset. So it’s often a recipe for stagnation and stalled progress.
We begin clinging to the way things are, because we’ve created (at least, in our mind) good reasons why our current situation is the way it is. This gives us the green light to keep doing what we’re doing and avoid change.
There are two reasons for this. Because things are fine in the sense that we’re obviously not dying or going broke any time soon. And secondly, we simply can’t be bothered making changes, because let’s face it, change isn’t always easy.
And we all experience this. I definitely do!
Status Quo Syndrome helps us conserve energy and keeps us comfortable. But unfortunately we’re not better off for it. Instead, we’re stuck. We’re in a vulnerable and often fearful state.
This is the opposite of strength. And we very much need personal strength as part of a good life. Not solely financial strength. Because without personal strength, we’re just a bunch of coddled sooks with money.
Even more dangerous, once in this ‘fixed’ frame of mind, it’s easy to let our standards for ourselves slip. Complacency kicks in. All of a sudden making positive changes seems harder. We become a little too comfortable. Basically, we lose our edge.
This can lead to a lapse in our exercise plan. It can lead to a sneaky rise in our spending, as a sense of entitlement sets in. It could mean we procrastinate longer on things we want to do (guilty). Or it could mean a few extra indulgences in our diet, creating an unwanted boost to our fat reserves!
Progress, or Anti-Progress?
The Status Quo is almost the opposite of progress. In a sense, it is anti-progress. And that’s a problem, because most of us want to be progressing in our lives, in at least some areas!
Now, we don’t have to put tons of pressure on ourselves to make massive leaps. Incremental progress is the key. And again, that comes back to realising the power of small incremental improvements over time. In our health, our finances and all sorts of things.
Here’s the conundrum though. Being content in your life is also a beautiful thing. So, isn’t the quest for improvement the opposite of being content and satisfied?
In a way, yes. But it can also be very healthy. And sometimes there’s a fine line between being content and being resistant to change.
This used to really confuse me. How can you be grateful while also striving for better? Are they incompatible? It hurt my head thinking about it (still does). But I think about it this way…
We can be both content and improving. We can be satisfied with our life as a whole, while still working on becoming better at things over time.
I’m content with my current health, even as I aim to throw a few extra veggies on my plate. We can be content with our finances, even as we find new ways to save from further questioning what we really need.
Life may be great the way it is, but that doesn’t and shouldn’t stop us from doing things better. And despite our efforts, if no improvements occur, that’s okay too. We can still be content.
It’s the quest to become better that makes life such an interesting journey. To look back at what you’ve learned and done over the last ten years and wonder how much more you’ll learn and do over the next ten.
Shooting for ‘Better’
You don’t need to overhaul your life to make progress. Small, consistent steps are often a more sustainable and enjoyable approach.
What about the concept of personal growth? Personal growth can sound intimidating at first. At least it did to me.
But all this really means is trying to improve at what you’re already doing, and stretching yourself a little bit by learning and trying new things. That’s growth.
And it doesn’t have to be all that difficult either. One form of growth can be achieved through reading. This is intellectual growth. By reading, we’re able to expand our mind of what’s possible.
Other forms of growth can be working on our hobbies, improving our finances, getting into better shape, living a happier life with less stuff (minimalism). The point is to make small changes over time, and if after a while we decide our old life was genuinely the better choice (unlikely), we can simply go back to our old ways.
One of the hardest parts of the journey to Financial Independence is the often boring part in the middle, where everything is setup and it’s just a matter of waiting until you reach your goal. So by stretching ourselves with different challenges, this helps keep things interesting along the way.
— Next time you go for a walk or bike ride (you do this, right?), go a little further than you usually do.
— Each night for the next week, try adding a little more veg to your meals and having a little less meat. Better yet, go meat-free for one day (or more) per week.
— This weekend, find 3 items from around the house which you don’t use and donate these to charity. This could be clothes, bags, ornaments, books, dvds, etc. Do this once a month.
— Join your local library if you haven’t already, and start reading some good books. Spend less time reading social media, news sites and other online content this week (Strong Money Australia is an exception!).
— Cut out one car trip this week, by combining errands or delaying the trip. Even better, try walking/riding to the shop to hit your exercise quota as well.
See? There are heaps of ways to make tiny improvements to your life starting right away! This approach can even result in hugely positive financial outcomes.
Like we did, you might see your food spending collapse as you eat less and less meat. Maybe you realise you can actually quit the gym and make your own exercise plan, by riding your bike everywhere and doing bodyweight exercises. And perhaps this makes you fit enough that you barely use your car anymore, allowing you to go car-free or at least car-lite.
With regular small changes, and the expanding mindset that comes with it, it’s not hard to imagine a household ending up with lower annual spending, to the tune of $5,000-$10,000 per year. The nest egg they now need is smaller, so this is like an FI Angel granting another $125,000 to $250,000 to their portfolio.
Not only would they be healthier and happier for it, they’d bring their financial freedom date forward by years.
Beating Status Quo Syndrome is not always easy. We all fall into this trap from time to time. It’s comfortable, yet it makes us weaker.
But by being aware and recognising it, we’re able to take steps to shrug it off. In doing so, we build our personal and mental strength alongside our financial strength.
The simple effort of making small and steady progress in different areas leads to a healthier and more productive life. And one with a greater sense of satisfaction and freedom. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to squeeze in a few extra push-ups.
(Bonus content: I was recently on the Joyful Frugalista’s new podcast – This Abundant Life – to talk all things early retirement. We had a great chat, check it out here!)