Driving to the office recently I’ll admit only 65% of my brain was engaged with the job at hand. The other 35% was pre-processing all the things I had to get through that day in order to make school pick-up in time.
Which is why I took longer than normal to react when the car in front of me inexplicably stopped on a dime. In the moments after I hit the brakes several emotions flashed through my brain:
- Despair because I really didn’t have time to spend in hospital getting broken bones seen to.
- Guilt because my burnt out husband would now have to pick up considerable slack around the house due to whatever injuries I was about to incur.
- Frustration because I’d just gotten fit after a year of dealing with a running injury.
Thankfully, I managed to bring the car to a halt millimetres from the one in front.
What was the difference between me being able to carry on that day with barely a backwards glance vs a great deal of physical, emotional and logistical pain?
When I drive, I always leave a LOT of room between my car and the one in front of me. So much so, Ant (husband) always teases me about it. (‘You could fit a semi-trailer in there Kel.’) That buffer I leave? It’s for situations exactly like the above where something unpredictable happens and having extra space and time to react leads to a more desirable outcome.
This is why I believe if you’re looking for a word to guide your year in 2017 and make it your best ever, ‘Buffer’, as unsexy as it is, is one that would serve you well. What are the different kinds of buffer you can create in your life? I believe there are four:
1. Financial buffer
At the start of 2015 a massive disaster happened in one of the businesses I run with my husband. If it had happened in 2014 our business would have closed because, at that point in time, we had no financial buffer in place. In 2015 we did. And, even though it was devastating to see that buffer wiped out, that’s what it was there for – to protect our business from the unexpected.
My podcasting co-host Carly is a freelancer. In the middle of this year a long-term, two-day-a-week contract she’d had for years ended right as she came back from a month-long overseas holiday and she had no idea how she was going to replace that income. But she had something akin to a ‘Mojo’ account in place (more on that below). That account gave her breathing room to seek out new opportunities without the stress of wondering how she was going to pay for rent or food. Sure enough, she was able to secure the work she needed (and more!) within a couple of months.
Emergency dental work. Jumping on a plane to visit a sick parent. An unusually large electricity bill. There are myriad things that threaten the financial stability of a household, and a survey run earlier this year suggests 30% of Australian households don’t have money in the bank to cope with the unexpected.
So, how do you build financial buffer? The best method I’ve seen is what Scott Pape (The Barefoot Invester) calls a ‘Mojo’ account – a bank account which contains three months’ worth of living expenses. Where do you find the money to put in this savings account on a weekly basis?
- Initially, Scott suggests selling unwanted items on eBay or doing some extra work to quickly build up $2000 in that Mojo account. (See his new book for more – it’s definitely worth a read if you’re always fretting about your finances.)
- Spend less than you earn. (Sounds so simple – but relatively few people do it.)
- Don’t put anything on credit (except a house). (For the longest while I looked at loans for cars, furniture and holidays as a form of forced savings. Unless those loans are interest-free, however (something only the Bank of Parents offers), you might find yourself paying $1500 for a $1000 holiday (or more!) thanks to the interest you’re paying. So – call it old-fashioned. But if you can’t pay cash for it, you can’t afford it right now.)
2. Income buffer
There’s no real way to get around this fact: we live in uncertain times. It doesn’t matter if you have a cushy government job, work for a large multi-national or are a freelancer – chances are you’ve seen peers who’ve gone from rock-solid income to no income in the blink of an eye.
Which is why it’s now, more than ever, important to diversify. This might involve getting a part-time job to supplement a partner’s full-time income, starting a ‘side-hustle’ or offering services that complement the ones you already offer. If you run a business and more than 50% of your income is from one client, it might mean finding another two big clients so that losing that one big client doesn’t cripple your business.
Having buffer in this area means if one source of income suddenly disappears, you’re in the position to ramp up the other areas rather than having to start from scratch.
3. Health buffer
Hat tip to Carly for this idea. You know those days where you’re feeling fine but can’t be bothered making a healthy meal or going for that run? Those are not the days where you skip exercising or eat a whole pizza for dinner. Why? Because the time will come when you get sick or injured and find yourself in a position where you actually CAN’T cook healthy meals for yourself or get exercise.
Sticking to your healthy habits when you’re feeling good will create a health buffer that will get you through those ‘sick’ times faster and make it easier to pick those healthy habits back up again on the other side.
4. Psychological buffer
You know those days where your mind is on high alert from sun-up to sundown, processing the logistics of your day without a break? Where your child shutting a door just that little bit too hard is enough to make you lose your shit? Where you have zero resilience and capacity for coping with the myriad little irritations and annoyances that are present in every day?
Those are the days lacking psychological buffer. Or, as I like to call it, whitespace.
Victor Frankl once said:
Between stimulus and response there is a space.
In that space is our power to choose our response.
In our response lies our growth and our freedom.
Psychological buffer gives us the ability to choose the best response to any stimulus whether it’s our kids fighting, our partner leaving the wet towel draped over the dry clothes (again Ant? Whyyyyy?) or that joker who pushed in front of you at the supermarket.
The ability to choose our response rather than simply react in the moment allows us to be the kind of people we most want to be: patient, kind and most importantly, calm in the face of petty irritations.
So, how do we create psychological buffer?
- Say ‘No’ more than you say ‘Yes’. (If you don’t like saying ‘No’ say, ‘Let me get back to you’.)
- Practice deliberate inefficiency – have pockets of time in your day where you’re able to do whatever you’re doing in a slow and ‘inefficient’ manner. These ‘slow points’ give your brain a break and are mentally refreshing.
- When pockets of time open up in a day, week or month – resist the urge to fill them. (Under schedule your life.)
- Print these words out and put them somewhere you can see them daily:
Why will ‘buffer’ make 2017 your best year ever?
Less stress and anxiety.
More time to be.
More time for the things that give your life meaning.
All these things are by-products of creating more buffer in your life. And a year featuring all of the above? I reckon that might be a very nice year indeed.
If you’re looking for more thoughts and ideas around making next year your best ever, you might enjoy this short and sweet read from me. It’s easily my most popular book to date with 80 five-star reviews on Amazon. Bring on 2017!