It’s difficult to keep good habits going once you start them, especially when it comes to your financial life. Your financial habits are largely a result of the external influences you have had since you were a child. The way your parents managed their money, the way your friends’ parents managed their money, the lifestyles of the characters in your favorite TV shows, movie stars, athletes, etc. Your individual personality certainly has an influence too, but for the most part, external influences seem to have the most pull.
A habit or an ingrained behavior, then, is a way your brain has designed itself to be the most effective. When you’re presented with a certain situation, for example you’re hungry on the way home from work, if you have always stopped by Burger King to grab a quick bite, your brain designs circuitry to make that an automatic reaction so it doesn’t have to go through the decision-making process every single time you drive home and you’re hungry. So when you finally decide to stop wasting your money on fast food, your brain is going to fight you because you’re messing with its efficiency.
So what does that mean? First of all, it means that your problem overcoming bad habits isn’t necessarily a willpower thing. You’re trying to literally re-create new brain circuitry to replace the old circuitry. Here are some of the things that contribute to making it difficult to overcome bad financial habits:
Starting too many habits at once
A lot of times when we want to make a major change in our behaviors, we set our goals and then we decide to go all out…only to fail after a short time (i.e. my last hundred weight loss attempts). I recognize the need to change and then think to myself, “Alright, I have to start exercising 30 minutes every day, and I have to start tracking all my calories, and I have to stop eating brownies and cookies and ice cream and cake and hot dogs and burgers and…” It’s not really a lot when you think about the basics: decrease your calorie intake and increase your calorie expenditure. The same goes for finance. It’s pretty simple. But when you start thinking about all the things you love (like brownies and ice cream and burgers), and the time it takes to exercise and everything else, it gets overwhelming pretty quickly, and you end up quitting.
Your routine is disrupted
When you’re trying to start changing your financial behaviors, you have to get in a routine to get the ball rolling. The problem comes when things break up that routine. Visitors come in town, you travel for work or fun, or other externalities throw you off your game. Sometimes we even create our own disruptions, rationalizing little things here and there. In the moment, it’s easy to justify because your brain wants to go back to the way you used to be, but when you think about it later, you realize it’s harder than you think and you lose motivation.
You miss a day or two and get discouraged
Jim Gaffigan hit this nail on the head when talking about working out:
One time a joined I health club and I got a free personal trainer session.The guy was like, ‘Alright! Why don’t you tell me what your work out goals are!’ ‘Uh, to not work out. Goals? I’m just here so I won’t eat for an hour.’ Occasionally I do workout, and I’m one of those people that whenever I do workout I immediately have grand plans. ‘I’m gonna work out every day.’
Then the next day I’m like, ‘Well…not every day. I gotta let my muscles breathe a little. I’ll work out like every other day.’
Then the next day I’m like, ‘Eh, I’m happy with the way I look. I don’t wanna get caught up in that beauty culture.’
It’s funny because you’ve done it. We’ve all done it. Every day you miss, it becomes easier to miss the next day. But the opposite is true too. Every day you work the new habit or behavior you’re trying to acquire, it gets easier.
Others discourage you
This one doesn’t come from your brain, but it’s just as common. Your “friends” and even your family could make fun of you and your new decisions. Why? Because they’re a bunch of lameypants and your new behaviors mean either that you don’t go out as much or it throws light on their bad habits and all of the sudden you’re “self-righteous” and lame. When someone says, “You’ve changed,” it simply means you’ve stopped living your life their way. And that’s cool, they can have that opinion all they want while you’re preparing yourself to be a champion.
So yeah, it can be hard. It can take a while to really get into it. It took me a while to really get into budgeting after I started and I really struggled the first few months, but now it feels automatic. every few days I wonder if I need to update the budget, and when the end of the month comes, I start thinking about next month’s budget. Here are some things that helped me when I started and can really help you in any new habit you’re trying to develop. Remember, you’ve got to fight your brain so don’t get discouraged and think you’re just bad at change.
Develop one habit at a time
Don’t try to do it all at once. If you’re struggling to do one thing, try something smaller. This kind of stuff doesn’t come easily to everyone, so take it at your own pace. Once you feel like you’ve got that going, try something bigger. Baby steps.
Recognize the good in what you’re doing
It’s so easy to get discouraged, but this is something you can’t afford to give up. Boom. Pun intended. You’re making good choices, choices that are going to rock your world for the rest of your life. You’re building your dreams and setting yourself up to live them. You’re making positive changes in your life that will help you become happier and more free. So when you start to get down, remind yourself of all the things you’re trying to build with this. Remind yourself that it’s worth it.
Don’t break the chain
“After a few days you’ll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job next is to not break the chain.” – Jerry Seinfeld
You can do it, peeps. It’s all good stuff. Whatever habit or behavior you’re trying to acquire, whether it’s budgeting, cutting down on wasteful spending, or reading this blog (ahem), keep at it. Now watch this video and hug your mom.