Do you dream about taking extended time off of work, retiring early, switching to a part-time job, or becoming debt-free?
But then find yourself thinking “That would be amazing, but I could never afford to do it.”? So you shrug the idea off and continue going down the path that is your current life.
I find myself in this thought pattern a lot, which is probably why I’m writing this post. I have to remind myself that there is a way for me to free myself of this “I can’t” mindset.
I call it “Running the Numbers”.
It’s a tactic I use to help me to stop assuming that I can’t reach my financial goals and dreams. And instead, start uncovering a path to them.
In this post, I’ll go over what “running the numbers” is, why it can help you move towards your dreams, and how to do it.
But first, let’s take a deeper look at why freeing ourselves of the “I can’t” mentality is important.
The Trouble With an “I Can’t” Mentality
As I said above, the “I can’t” mentality is strong in me.
I read about people taking mini-retirements or switching to part-time work and automatically think “I would love to do that, but I could never quit my full-time job”.
But why can’t I? Why do I instinctively tell myself that my own dreams can’t come true?
After thinking about this in more detail, I discovered that I use “I can’t” to protect myself.
If I convince myself that I can’t do something, then I won’t disappoint myself when I fail or don’t take steps towards my dreams.
These “I can’t” thoughts are often called limiting beliefs. And they can prevent us from intentionally creating a life we love if we don’t recognize them as such.
And I don’t think I’m alone in feeling like this. All of us have some limiting beliefs that we have to work through.
If we allow these limiting beliefs to take over, then we may not even try to reach for the stars and realize what is truly possible.
And this is the problem with the “I can’t” mentality. We try to emotionally protect ourselves, but doing so blinds us to the possibilities that may be available to us.
Tackling “I Can’t” By Running the Numbers
There are many ways to work through your feelings of “I can’t”. And one of the ways I’ve successfully tackled my limiting beliefs around my financial dreams is through what I call “Running the Numbers”.
Running the numbers is taking the time to put numbers to paper (or a nifty spreadsheet) and figure out what life would look like financially if you pursue your dream.
I’m a numbers person and someone who needs to see the data in order to believe something is possible.
Taking the time to sit down to see what things would look like if I were to actually start living or working towards my dream helps me move towards a “holy shit, this is actually possible” state.
For example, in July of 2020, we didn’t think we could afford to buy a campervan for at least another 6 months. But then a magical thing happened: we went through the motions of what our finances would look like if we bought the van now.
We looked at the cost of new and used vans, got a quote on the conversion, and got quotes from places that were willing to purchase our current car. As it turned out, we could get a van and the conversion to a campervan for much less than we thought, while getting more for selling our current vehicle than we thought.
All of the sudden, our path to owning a campervan became clear and executable at present, instead of months down the road.
This is how running the numbers can be an eye-opening experience.
What are the Benefits of Running the Numbers?
Gain Clarity on How to Achieve Goals
Running the numbers helps you gain clarity. It helps you actually see the path that can lead to achieving your financial goals.
For example, if your goal is to take a year off of work to travel, running the numbers will help you uncover the steps, possible sacrifices and timeline necessary to achieve this dream.
It’s easy to convince ourselves that we could never afford to take a year off of work. So we never give our dream a fair shot.
But if you sit down and actually play out what it would look like to make that goal happen, you may find that you can indeed live that dream.
Provide Evidence That You Can
When you run the numbers, you reveal the pathway towards your financial goals, which is the proof that they are indeed possible.
After you see the pathway, you can’t unsee it. You can no longer tell yourself that your dreams are not possible for you.
You will have turned “I can’t” into “I can”.
Uncover Motivation to Work Towards Goals
The clarity gained by running the numbers will show you the steps you can take to achieve your financial goals. And seeing the steps will fuel your motivation.
When we are in a state of “I can’t”, we don’t see how achieving our goals is possible. But when we uncover the path to meeting our goals, we will be more likely to take the necessary steps to achieve them.
Flip “I Can’t Afford It” to “I’m Choosing Another Path”
There is a difference between telling yourself “I can’t” versus knowing that you can, but you are choosing not to.
Maybe you run the numbers for taking a mini-retirement and see that it is only possible if you forego building that new garage you’ve wanted. But you really want that garage, so you choose to prioritize saving for that instead of your mini-retirement.
After running the numbers, you are no longer in the negative mental state of “I can’t”. Instead, you’re in a positive mental state because you have all of the facts and are actively choosing your path.
Now that we know how powerful running the numbers can actually be, let’s take a look at what running the numbers looks like.
How to Run the Numbers
Running the numbers is going to look different for each of your goals. But the basic premise is to play the scenario out. Not just in your head, but physically layout each step you need to take and how you would carry out each step. And make all the necessary phone calls and inquiries to gather all of the information you need.
Here is a guideline for the steps I follow when doing a “run the numbers” exercise.
State Your Goal and Your “Why”
First, clearly lay out what your goal is. Is it to get out of debt in 5 years? Is it to take a year off of work when you turn 40?
Then think about your “why”. Maybe even journal about it a bit. Get as much clarity as you can. Why do you want to make this goal/dream a reality?
Knowing exactly what you are working towards and why it’s important to you will be your inspiration.
Ask Yourself Why You Don’t Believe You Can Achieve Your Goal
This biggest reason I don’t go after my dreams is because I’ve convinced myself that I can’t.
To work through those “I can’t” feelings, start by listing out the things that you are telling yourself that are preventing you from working towards your dream.
For example, one dream I’ve had is to take a mini-retirement. But I’ve convinced myself that there is no way I could do something like that because of the following:
- I can’t save up enough money to take time off of work.
- What would I do about health insurance?
- What would I do with my house?
- What if I can’t find a job when I want to return to the workforce?
Understanding what is holding you back – what your fears are – is a huge eye-opener. Once you have identified your fears, you can start running the numbers and asking the necessary questions for each step to turn those fears into possible dreams.
Run Some Numbers
Once you know what you want and what is fueling your “I can’t” mentality, you can put some actual numbers to it.
Sticking with my mini-retirement example, one of my biggest doubts is that I could actually save up enough money to take time off of work while still meeting my other financial goals.
To tackle that limiting belief, I have to do the work to see what it would actually take to save up enough money to cover everything I would need to feel financially confident to take a mini-retirement.
First I would need to figure out how much time off will cost. Let’s say I want to travel around the US in our campervan for a year. I would have to run the numbers to figure out how much that would cost. I would estimate the yearly cost for food, gas, accommodations, car maintenance, entertainment, etc.
Once I figure out how much it will all cost, I then go back to my budget/money plan and figure out what it would take to save up the required money. Would I have to forgo another goal like building a new garage? Or would I be able to do it if I simply extended the timeline a bit and took a few more years to save up?
By running the numbers, a path of your choosing will reveal itself.
Actively Chose Whether or Not to Pursue Your Goal
Once you can see the path to your dreams, you then get to actively choose whether or not to pursue that dream.
Because honestly, you may determine that your goal is not as much of a priority as some of your others. And that is ok. Because now instead of being in an “I can’t” mindset, you are in a “I can, but choose not to” mindset.
And this shift in mindset is powerful. You will no longer feel sad about not going after a dream because you know you intentionally choose another path. And since you have made that choice, you no longer have to wonder or dwell on this goal, which helps with peace of mind.
You Got This
So often we let our protective instincts take over and convince ourselves that we can’t fulfill our dreams.
But as we can see, it is possible to tackle those limiting beliefs and start choosing our paths.
Running the numbers is a useful tactic that can help you turn “I can’t” into “I can”.
So get after it and don’t be afraid to dream big, run some numbers, and choose your path.