The Physician Philosopher Podcast

TPP #65: The Difference Between Simple and Easy

There are a lot of things in life that are simple to understand, yet hard to put into practice. This is the difference between simple and easy. For example, when it comes to having a healthier lifestyle we all know that adopting healthier eating habits and consistent exercise routines are going to likely play a part.  

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Yet, for many of us, we find ourselves unable to stick to the routine.  Maybe it is because we chose a diet that wasn’t something we could actually adopt as a lifestyle.  Or we told ourselves that – if we just stuck it out – running marathons is something we could learn to love.  

Regardless of the reason, one thing is super clear.  There is a huge difference between simple and easy.  This perhaps explains why there are entire self-help books on habit formation (James Clears’ Atomic Habits being my favorite).

In this post, I wanted to spend some time exploring a few concepts that are simple to understand, yet often hard to employ.  And then discuss some ways that you can cultivate your goals and then obtain them.

How to Create Financial Freedom

Money is not complicated.  The formula for success looks like this.

  1. Earn a good paycheck.
  2. Spend less than you earn.
  3. Build Wealth with the difference.
  4. Let your money work for you, instead of working for your money.

That’s it.  Money in four steps.  I cannot make it any simpler than this. And it is easy to understand, right?

All you have to do is earn a good paycheck, which every physician does (even those of you in lower paying specialties).    According to the 2020 U.S. census the median family income for 2020 was just under $70,000. Odds are that regardless of your specialty, you ALONE make more than the median household income.  

Now, I totally hear you. You also have a lot more debt due to student loans. The point remains. You make a good income, and if you can learn to spend less than you earn – and save the difference, you are going to find financial success.

For physicians who want to retire by the age of 65, this means saving at least 20% of your gross income.  For physicians who want freedom sooner than this – like I did – this means building wealth with at least 30% of your income.  


50% of Physicians Don’t Save Enough Money…

In fact, a 2016 systematic review of physician retirement planning by Michelle Silver showed that physicians expect to retire by age 60, while they actually retire closer to the age of 69.

You might say, “well maybe that is because they LOVE their job?”  To you, I’d say… being someone who spends their time coaching physicians on how to create work-life balance and to find their dream job… that’s just the case.

And this is born out in other studies, too, like the Comphealth study that asked doctors who planned on working past the age of 65 why they were doing so, which showed that 50% of the doctors were going to continue working because they couldn’t maintain their current lifestyle if they retired.

Putting these two things together, that the average retirement age is closer to 69 for most docs.  AND 50% of the docs who work past 65 do so because they cannot afford to retire means only one thing.  They never mastered personal finance.

Despite earning millions of dollars during their career, they never accumulated enough wealth to retire with their desired lifestyle.  Maybe this was because they spent what they earned.  Maybe it was because they invested in things that didn’t get them to their goals.  Or perhaps it is because they never learned about any of this stuff

The point remains. Just because money is simple does not make it easy.

Cast More Votes in The Right Direction

This highlights the point that making progress in life is often fraught with errors.  Most of us want our paths to be a constant upward trajectory toward our goals. Yet, we all know this isn’t really how it works.

Life is often a three steps forward two steps back kind of process.  And when we shift our focus this turns out to be a good thing.  Far too many hard working doctors (yours truly included) have suffered from an Arrival Fallacy more times than we can count.  How many times do we have to learn the lesson that the next accomplishment or achievement wasn’t the answer we thought it would be?

When we shift our satisfaction in life to the process, is it really a bad thing that the process takes longer to get to our goals?  Isn’t that when we are often the happiest in life? When we are engrossed in what we are doing?  Totally enraptured in the “flow” that Mihali Csikszentmihalyi so aptly described?

So, the question isn’t about how to get to our goals as quickly as possible, but how to stay on the journey ever-present in the moment. Really, the right question is, how can we enjoy each step along the way to getting to our goals?  Even when the going gets hard.  Let’s talk about it!

Number 1.  When You Vote in the Wrong Direction, Choose Curiosity. Not Shame

As we discussed, the process of getting to our goals is really a three steps forward, two steps back kind of process. One that requires consistency, but also recognizes that we are going to make mistakes and experience mishaps along the way.

The question, then, is less about how do we celebrate things when we cast a vote in the direction of the person we are hoping to become.  That is the easy part.  No, the hard part is figuring out how to deal with ourselves when we cast a vote in the opposite direction. One that runs counter to where we are trying to go.

The answer to this involves choosing curiosity over shame.  Why? Because shame is a universally unhelpful emotion that never serves us. Nothing good comes from a place of shame.  Only hurt, pain, and spinning.  We are never productive from a place of shame.

So, if we are to avoid the internalization that shame often produces, what can we do instead?  We can choose the curiosity that is produced by guilt.  We can say, “huh, that wasn’t what I wanted to do… I wonder why I did that?”  

This allows the space for self-compassion that we all need, because as I constantly tell my kids “we all make mistakes.”  Expecting perfection is not only unrealistic (because none of us are perfect), it is also harmful.

So, when you spend money you didn’t mean to spend. Or you drink more alcohol than you intended to.  When you get on your phone at home when you promised you would work on being present… don’t shame yourself.  Take that same problem-solving doctor brain you use at work and ask questions. Why did that happen?  What situation was I in when I cast a vote in the wrong direction? What can I learn from this? What can I do differently next time to make it easier to do the right thing?

And this brings me to my second point about casting votes in the right direction…

Make it Easy to Do the Right Thing (And Hard to Do The Wrong Thing)

Life is about friction.  The less friction we have, the easier it is to do something.  So, the question becomes, how do we make it easy to do the right thing and hard to do the wrong thing?

For example, when it comes to money… we often talk about “paying your future self first”. What people mean by this is that you set up automatic processes that sweep money out of your accounts before you even have time to see it and then spend it.

For example, my 403B and 457 contributions are swept out of my paycheck at the hospital before it ever hits our bank account.  Then, when the money does hit the bank account, automatic transfers are already set up for the day it arrives to contribute to my three kids’ 529 plans and our taxable brokerage account.  That money is then automatically invested in our low-cost, diversified index fund strategy that I’ve set up inside each account.

All of this required some work on the front end, but now makes saving money automatic.  It happens without even thinking about it.  The same can be said of setting out workout clothes prior to the morning you plan to work out. Make it easy on yourself. 

The opposite is also true. Let’s say that you are trying to drink less alcohol, or you’ve decided to give it up completely.  One thing that you can do to help the cause is to make it harder to get alcohol.  

Take the alcohol out of your home.  Make it so that you have to be at a social event to have a drink.

Obstacles Are Opportunities

One thing that stops many doctors in their tracks is the possibility of failing. So, when we run into potential obstacles on the way, we would rather not try than to fail. 

We have talked about this before on this show (the importance of flipping the script on failure), but the truth remains.  If you want to learn how to cast votes in the direction of the person you want to become, you will have to learn how to turn obstacles into opportunities.

Changing your paradigm or perspective on obstacles is fundamental to your success.  For example, let’s say you want to become a scratch golfer (someone who consistently shoots par each round) there are few things you’ll likely have to do.  Like get fitted for the right golf clubs, find a good golf coach, create the time in your schedule to take the golf lessons.  Oh, and you’ll have to find a place to consistently practice and play.  You’ll also likely want someone to play with for fun and accountability.

You can look at each of these as just one more thing that gets in the way of your goal. Or you can enjoy the process of learning how to create time in your schedule.  Maybe you could make it fun checking out the various places you might play.  It could be a fun experience getting fitted for clubs.  

Whatever your goal, learn to make a list of things you’ll need to do to accomplish your goal.  And then instead of viewing them as things that are in the way of your goals, learn to consider them as opportunities.  They may be an opportunity to learn. Or an opportunity to prolong a process you enjoy. 

You’ll also have to flip the script on the obstacles that it will “cost too much money” or “I don’t have the time.”  When it comes to not having enough time or money to do things we want in life, these thoughts aren’t facts. They are thoughts. And they aren’t obstacles either. They are opportunities to learn how to create the time and money you need to get better at something you enjoy.  

The Difference Between Simple and Easy

The next time you set a goal, I encourage you to learn how to enjoy the process of becoming.  Stop focusing on the future goal, accomplishment, or accolade.  Focus on the journey.  The process.  Not the end product.

And while you do this, recognize that you sometimes you are going to get it right. Sometimes you won’t.  Even when ideas are simple, they aren’t always easy… but there are ways we can make it easier to cast more votes in the direction we want than in the direction we don’t.

Learn to choose curiosity over shame.  Make it easy to do the right thing (and hard to do the wrong thing). And learn that obstacles are opportunities.

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