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Do you have trouble focusing? In school, were you admonished to “sit still” or “pay attention!” Do you lose focus and change obsessions frequently or are you often tempted to tinker with your investments? Fidget toys may be the solution you need!
I was a restless child. It was difficult for me to sit still, and I found most classroom environments both somehow boring and distracting. I was driven to be successful in school so I created systems for dealing with this myself. I had patterns of movement for my toes inside my shoes (TFI still laughs that my toes never stop moving) and doodled constantly.
These systems helped me sit still and, contrary to common perception, focus on whatever was happening around me. I quickly learned to tell teachers, and later college professors, that my doodling was a listening strategy.
Other students that didn’t have these strategies were often lectured to pay attention or focus. For those that simply couldn’t, school was a rough place. They were in trouble and/or struggled academically.
Fortunately, current practice recognizes that some students (and adults) need movement to support learning. Enter fidget toys!
What Are Fidget Toys? (AKA Fidget Tools)
Fidget toys, sometimes known simply as fidgets, are tools that help manage attention, reduce distractibility, and support listening.
For some students with identified disabilities, fidget toys are critical supports. This is particularly true for students identified with attention deficit disorders or sensory needs. Fidget toys help these students maintain calm and actively listen.
Fidget toys come in a variety of forms, sizes, and uses. Examples include squishy toys (quiet – no squeaks!), puzzle cubes, bendable objects, and stress balls. They can be as simple as pipe cleaners or very complex.
The idea is that a student uses to learn a fidget toy to manage attention and limit distraction of self and others. This is why “fidget tool” is often a more accurate designation. A ball that is thrown in the air or toy that is used to bother other students is not a successful fidget.
When the correct fidget is chosen it helps a student self-regulate, attend to instruction, and form stronger relationships with others. (Other students hate being bothered all the time too!)
If a student is able to move their hands constantly, or focus part of their mind on an object, they can often attend to instruction more completely. It may seem counterintuitive, but I know first hand that if I am doodling, I will hear and retain dramatically more of what is happening around me. My doodling was a form of fidget.
The use of fidget toys has become accepted and intentional in recent years. Teachers who are skilled at using fidgets often have calmer classrooms with fewer distractions and more engaged students. We even use them effectively in our adult learning sessions to lower the “distractor” use of phones / laptops.
How Does This Apply to Personal Finance / Financial Independence?
All fields have challenges with distraction. While those of us seeking financial independence are often very intentional with our finances we can still be distracted.
One real challenge on the path to financial independence is the period of waiting in the middle of the journey. New FI-seekers are often consumed with setting targets, finding savings hacks, and making significant life changes.
Yet, once you’ve taken most of the big steps and started automating your savings and investing, it’s easy to hit the doldrums. You’re suddenly in the grind while you wait for your automatic savings and compounding over time to work it’s magic.
It’s easy to get distracted or suddenly want to “optimize.” There are two risks here. You could simply be distracted by a new obsession and fall off the path. Or, you might decide to constantly tinker with your investments.
While continued improvement is good, for most people, tinkering with investments leads to less than optimal results!
Are there fidget toys of personal finance that you can implement to help you stay focused on your long term goals?
Fidget Toy Options for FI Enthusiasts
Hey, if you just want some actual physical fidget toys related to money, here are some great options!
These likely won’t lead you to greater focus on your financial goals, but I thought I’d have some fun! Also, if you do struggle with attention in other environments you can use these AND broadcast your money obsession to others.
One very common fidget for many of us is checking phone applications for the most current numbers. It may be harmless for some and can be a useful distraction as long as it doesn’t lead to tinkering with your investments.
It can also lead to lower productivity. Remember, a fidget tool is beneficial. A distractor is not.
Yet, if checking your numbers helps you keep your eyes on the long-term goal, then it can be an effective fidget. Personal Capital and it’s net worth tracking capability (affiliate link) may be particularly useful. You won’t find your net worth changing that fast (except in the case of big market swings) but as long as you aren’t actually using their investment services you can’t actually adjust your investments within the application.
From another perspective, PC may be harmful for you rather than helpful. Josh Overmyer wrote a great post about why he deleted Personal Capital partially because he didn’t like its effect on his mind.
Effective fidgets are personal to each individual. There was a time when checking my net worth number frequently was an effective focus tool for me. It isn’t anymore. While I haven’t deleted Personal Capital, I have returned to checking my net worth quarterly by spreadsheet.
Your banking app, budgeting tool, or net worth tracker may be the fidget you need. Just don’t let it be a distractor. If you are susceptible to panic in market downturns DO NOT make a habit of frequently checking your investment returns in any form.
Speculation Funds – The Fidget Toys of Investors
Some people can’t help but tinker with their investments. Some people acknowledge that index fund investing is the wiser choice or that they don’t have the time to do adequate research on stocks. Yet, they can’t stop themselves from trying to hit that 10Xer or beat the market.
An effective tool here is to create a small fund, separate from your main investment strategy, that allows you to indulge those distractions. For a more experienced investor this may be several percent of your overall investments. For others, it may be a pot of just a few hundred or thousand dollars to actively invest.
By creating this separate fund, you can “fidget” with a non-significant portion of your finances. Meanwhile, the majority of your investments are following your stable long term plan. You’ve managed your distraction – a perfect fidget tool!
Short-Term Micro Goals
Everything is automatic and it’s just a matter of time until we reach FI. Waiting is required. As someone who is both easily distractible AND a relentless optimizer this is a dangerous period. Doodling won’t help here!
My personal choice of financial independence fidget is seeking out and pursuing short term goals. I can acknowledge their overall impact is relatively minor, but each contributes in a small way to the long term goal.
Examples include learning about travel hacking, implementing meal planning, and grabbing bank account bonuses.
Each of these has an impact of a few thousand dollars. That’s not insignificant, but the reality is they won’t dramatically accelerate our FI timeline. Yet, each requires some of my focus and I can feel progress.
This helps me manage my tendency to distraction. We’ll continue to seek out short term micro goals while making progress on our overall goal.
This isn’t a tangible item, but it’s an effective fidget tool!
What About You?
Many students don’t need fidgets. The same is true for FI enthusiasts. But for some of us, effective use of intentional tools to manage our attention allows us to calmly pursue our long-term goals.
How do you keep your attention from wavering or prevent yourself from constant tinkering? Is it simply not an issue for you, or do you have other effective fidget tools? I’d love to hear about other examples.