Five frogs on a log

Dr. Al Ousborne recently posed this trick question at the recent national meeting of the Academy of Dental CPAs:

Rick Willeford, MBA, CPA, CFP

Dr. Al Ousborne recently posed this trick question at the recent national meeting of the Academy of Dental CPAs:

Question: "Suppose five frogs are sitting on a log. Four decide to jump off. How many frogs are left?" Answer: "Five. The four who 'decided' to jump never got beyond 'deciding.' Their decision was never turned into action!"

Sounds a lot like the intellectual exercise of "deciding" to lose weight, "deciding" to save money, "deciding" to make New Year's resolutions, etc. Knowledge without action.

Fifty-eight percent of the American population is overweight. (Some would accuse me of being a poster child for that movement.) With their backgrounds, doctors certainly know about the dangers of being overweight, yet 56 percent of doctors are overweight! Did they miss this information in the news? How about the surgeon or nurse who works in the operating room and has seen first-hand the devastation that smoking can cause, yet continues to step outside for a smoke? Knowledge without action.

I actually belonged to a gym at one time. I decided to run "some" laps on the nice padded indoor track. After about four laps, the "conversation" with myself started. "Rick, you're starting to breathe kind of hard. Are you sure this is safe?" My stomach was telling me that if I continued with this foolishness, it was going to throw up. My legs were saying that the novelty of this idea was beginning to wear off. So, my body and I decided that we had run far enough.

I was feeling rather pleased with myself for lasting four laps, until I discovered that it took 22 laps to run one mile! I know that to all you "flat-bellies" out there, one mile is child's play; but, for an overweight desk jockey just starting out, this is a fairly ambitious goal. So, I was determined to build up to 22 laps. I did not want to do anything hasty, so eight laps seemed like a reasonable initial goal. The "conversation" with myself to stop this foolishness didn't go away, but having a specific goal of eight laps added a dose of dogged determination to keep me moving. As I got in better shape, the conversation began later and later in the run, and I finally did 22 laps comfortably. Knowledge with action!

You probably have heard it said that the best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. Why is the game of football - played on a 100-yard field - called a "game of inches?" To paraphrase Dr. Robert Schuller, "Life by the yard is hard, but by the inch, it's a cinch!" Don't bite off so much you become discouraged, but take that first bite!

So, how do you sneak up on yourself to get started? Whether it is enhancing scheduling, improving treatment-plan acceptance, increasing your net income, or saving more for retirement, you need a plan and some goals. Stick with me here: it does not need to be anything cumbersome and elaborate to get started. (How sophisticated was my eight-lap "plan?") First, you need to be uncomfortable enough to be willing to commit to change, and not just "decide" to think about changing.

Have you noticed how much you get done the day before you leave on vacation? Your day did not just happen haphazardly. You approached it with some forethought and a to-do list ... and a sense of a deadline. It wasn't that hard to come up with some goals for the day.

Part of your plan involves keeping score. (If I hadn't counted laps, how would I have known how I was doing?) Forget the "budget" word if that bothers you. Instead, think of goals or projections. Wouldn't it be helpful if your CPA had given you a tax projection for 2004 last September? That would have given you time to make some changes or simply be prepared.

Likewise, why not do a rough projection for your income and expenses for 2005? You know how much your rent, telephone, staff salaries, etc., are going to be. A good guess is better than nothing, so don't get hung up on a lack of precision. Track your progress during the year against your projection. Many of these numbers aren't carved in stone. If you don't like them, change them as the year unfolds. As I found out with my exercise regime, there was nothing magic about 22 laps. I could have decided to run 15 - or 30 - instead. What mattered was setting a goal and getting started!

Raymond "Rick" Willeford, MBA, CPA, CFP, is president of Willeford Haile & Associates, CPA, PC, and Willeford CPA Wealth Advisors, LLC. As a fee-only advisor, he has specialized in providing financial, tax, and transition strategies for dentists since 1975. Mr. Willeford is the president of the Academy of Dental CPAs, a consultant member of AADPA, and is available as a speaker nationwide. Contact him by phone at (770) 552-8500 or by email at rickw@willefordcpa.com.

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