Facts for Living: Know where you’re going? Know where you’ve been?

By Rebecca McFarland, Frontier Extension Agent

080714-facts-for-living1“How do you know where you’re going, if you don’t know where you’ve been?”

Before you can change your behavior, to improve your health or increase your wealth, you have to acknowledge the problems to your current situation. Trying to make changes without identifying a starting point is like making a plane reservation without identifying what airport you’re leaving from. You have to admit you have a problem before you can take steps to address it – one of the hardest things for us to do as humans.

Denial is common with both health and personal financial issues, even when there’s sufficient visible evidence, like a bulging waistline and increasing credit card balance. Several studies show that even though people said they were “healthy”, they were overweight, smoked, drank too much alcohol, and never exercised. Financial denial is also common. Many people live paycheck to paycheck and never think about planning for retirement, a layoff, debilitating accident, or unexpected expenses.

Awareness of one’s current behaviors and shortfalls in the first of the five A’s of successful behavior change. The other four are: ability, being able to make a change; ambition, a strong desire to change; attitude, a positive state of mind about changing; and action, taking steps to actually change.

Most people have no idea of the amount of calories they consume daily or how many dollars they spend monthly on incidental expenses, such as food purchased at convenient stores, vending machines or entertainment. One of the best ways to increase your awareness is to record everything you eat each day and every time you are physically active for 10 minutes or more. A corresponding financial recordkeeping system is to record what you earn and spend daily for a month or two. Keeping written records, although tedious, has been shown to be an effective way to track current practices and make behavioral changes in eating, exercise and spending. And with all of the technology we have at our fingertips, it is easier than ever to track! There are many programs and apps available. Some are free, while others charge a small fee. USDA has  Supertracker https://www.supertracker.usda.gov. Supertracker has Food-A-Pedia, physical activity tracker, a weight management tool and more.

There are also free apps that you can use to record your daily spending, like CashFlow and Mint. MyMoney.gov and smartaboutmoney.org are websites that have tools and resources to help you track your spending, budget and save.

It doesn’t matter whether you use an app or worksheet to record the calories you consume, the amount of physical activity you engage in, or your daily spending. What matters is that you track your current behavior. Remember, “How do you know where you’re going, if you don’t know where you’ve been?”


McFarland_RebeccaRebecca McFarland is the Frontier Extension District family and child development agent. For more information, she can be contacted at the Extension district’s Ottawa office, 1418 S. Main, Suite 2, Ottawa, KS 66067, or call 785-229-3520, or email [email protected].

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