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Finding Freedom Week 40: The Net Improvement Happiness Hack

by Phia @ Freedom 101

Happiness is a funny thing. We all want it. Many actively pursue it. Few truly find it.

It’s an elusive beast. Even when we have it within our grasp, it has the notorious ability to slyly slip through our fingers.

I’ve always been intrigued by the concept of happiness. What exactly is it? How do we define it? Is the emotion of happiness being confused with the state of contentment?

Is contentment what we are all really after? A sense of peace with where we are at, and what we have? Are we even capable of experiencing contentment for an extended period? Or are we hardwired to naturally want more, do more, accomplish more?

I’ve long felt that the secret to experiencing both happiness and contentment, is to be consistently mindful of the happiness equation. The idea that happiness is a direct outcome of our given reality minus our expectations. If we are feeling down, or as though life is coming up short, perhaps it’s not always our reality that is need of adjustment.

Lately I’ve been focussing on a mantra that is proving to be a high ROI happiness hack. And directly impacts the expectations component of the happiness equation.

Net improvement.

Make It Right

I generally like to channel my inner Mike Holmes. If I’m going to do something, I try to do it once and do it right.

Whether it’s picking a paint colour for the master bedroom, designing our backyard deck, or parenting, this approach can often lead to an unnecessary degree of pressure. Along with some serious decision fatigue.

  • Am I sure I’ll like the stair placement on the deck? Will it look weird? Does it have natural flow? How will it look once the deck lighting is installed?
  • Will this paint colour make our bedroom look to cold? Will it work with our future plans for bedroom furniture? Is it versatile enough to go with any accent colours I might decide I want down the road?
  • If we let our son buy a PC with his savings will it be a fruitful experience in consumer research, or foster a video game addiction that results in future depression and teenage rebellion?

No matter how small the job/decision, I hate the idea of wasting time and money on something I might be disappointed with in the future. It’s the intersection of two sometimes tedious personality traits I have. A desire for achieving utmost efficiency, and maximizing outcome.

While these traits can sometimes serve me extremely well, they can also be major detractors when it comes to my happiness equation.

The Net Improvement Approach

Recently, I’ve been faced with a number of decisions that require action and minimal time to get it “just right”. That would create a ton of decision fatigue if I agonized over achieving maximum results at every turn.

Fortunately for me, my brother introduced me to what is now my 2020 phrase of the year.

“Net improvement”.

Assessing the success of our decisions/actions not based on the degree of efficiency or perfection, but instead on the magnitude of improvement.

Evaluating from a framework of: is it better than before? In place of my usual: is it the best it can be?

Despite my underlying perfectionist traits, I’ve surprised myself by readily embracing this approach.

Not only has it removed the pressure of getting it “just right”, it’s allowed me to take satisfaction in small incremental improvements. Whether they were the absolute best outcome, or not.

And not all that surprisingly, it’s had a pretty significant impact on my over all happiness equation.

While minimizing my perfectionism is something I’ve been trying to do since retiring, having the go to phrase of “net improvement” has made it a whole lot easier.

Instead of uncomfortably looking at work I’ve done and saying “well, it’s not perfect, but it’s good enough”, I now find myself looking at my work and telling myself “net improvement”.

The outcome might not have changed at all, but my language, self-talk, and how I perceive that outcome, most certainly has.

So Don’t Aim High???

I am a firm believer in setting stretch goals, and pushing to reach for them. I’m definitely not saying we shouldn’t aim high and challenge ourselves.

BUT, consistently doing it in all area’s of our lives, in all instances, can be the farthest thing from motivating. In fact, it can lead to massive burnout and in many cases, analysis paralysis.

Being selective about where we set those types of goals, and allowing room for incremental improvement in other areas, can instead help us reserve the energy and focus for our main priorities. While still enjoying a sense of accomplishment elsewhere.

Applying Net Improvement to Finance

The language of net improvement isn’t just a happiness hack for day to day life. It can be a particularly effective way for many of us to approach our financial journey.

When pursuing Financial Freedom, it’s easy to get caught in the comparison trap. Or discouraged when we aren’t hitting our highest possible savings percentage. It can make the most devout Freedom Seekers start to question whether or not they are doing this whole Financial Independence thing “right”.

In reality, anytime you’re creating opportunities for incremental financial improvements, you are accelerating your path to Financial Freedom. It’s forward momentum, even when it’s not the fastest path possible.

And those small incremental improvements are worth celebrating. They are successes, and they will compound.

So rather than experiencing a sense of failure or disappointment that we didn’t quite optimize every opportunity for savings, we can embrace, and be proud, of our overall net improvement.

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Maria @ Handful of Thoughts June 30, 2020 - 4:34 pm

Love this idea of net improvement. In my own life I sometimes remind myself that done is better than perfect. Although this may not always be true. Sometimes finishing something and just getting it out there can have great results. And it doesn’t mean that I can’t go back and keep making improvements.

I’m focusing in continuing to make forward progress, even if it is small steps at a time. Here’s to Net Improvement:)

phiafreedom101@gmail.com July 3, 2020 - 10:08 am

Thanks for comment Maria. There’s a quote I often remind myself of “Perfect is the enemy of the good”. For my personality type, it’s important for me to remember that. You and I seem to have a lot in common, so I suspect we share these traits 🙂 especially after reading your Trying to Over-Optimize My Finances post.

I agree, that while my focus is often on efficiency, sometimes net improvement + multiple iterations can provide a path to a much better outcome. Even if it goes against my whole get it right the first time inclinations! We’ll have to keep each other posted on how we do at shifting to a Net Improvement mindset 😉


Michael Baker August 10, 2020 - 2:44 am

Hi, this is my first time here. Very inspiring reading. It’s great that you share your experiences. I read the information about you, I must say that you are cool guys! I am also looking for freedom, financial freedom. I will learn from you.


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