If you’re wondering how to make change happen in your financial life, you’re in good company. Americans are behind with our personal finances, and to get on the right track, we need to change our behaviors.
We need to learn many of life’s lessons through personal experience. I think many of us need to make some of our own money mistakes.
Once it happened that a mother was fed up by how much sugar her son was eating. She heard the Dalai Lama was going to be in a nearby town, and she thought he could convince her son to stop, so they went to see him. After waiting in line, it was their time to visit with the Dalai Lama and the mother said, “Please tell my son to stop eating sugar.” The Dalai Lama looked at her, then at her son, then back to her, and said, “Come back in two weeks.” The mother agreed, and they went on their way.
Two weeks later, they returned. When they got to the front of the line, the Dalai Lama got down on one knee in front of the boy and said, “Stop eating sugar.” The boy nodded his head. While glad, the mother was confused and said, “Why didn’t you just tell him that two weeks ago?” The Dalai Lama looked up at her and said, “I needed to make sure I could stop eating sugar.”
Just because something is easy to say, doesn’t mean it’s easy to do. “Stop eating sugar,” and “Spend less money than you make,” are two good examples of this. My goal is to give you what you’ll need to make changes in your financial life when you’re ready to do it.
I’ve been helping people make positive changes for over 20 years in my work as a financial advisor. I’m honored to be named to Investopedia’s list of the top 100 financial advisors many years running. That being said, I’ve made a ton of bad financial decisions over the course of my life, so I speak from experience on many of the things I’m going to talk about. I share that because I want you to know that I’ve been there. Wherever you are, I want to help you get where you want to go.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
- Decide you’re ready to change
- Recognize the behavior you want to change
- Determine the resources you’ll need
- Figure out how any required new learning
- Address any limiting beliefs or feelings
- Get clear on your desired future
- Find someone doing what you want to be doing
- Create your goals
- Start working towards your goals
- Track progress and overcome resistance
- Create beneficial habits
Let’s get started.
Decide you’re ready to change
All change is a story of commitment. Without commitment, we just have something we’d like to do. Something that would be nice to have. With commitment, we’ve decided to do something.
Commitment is required because change is hard. Humans follow predictable patterns and habits. Breaking or altering those patterns and habits is a difficult thing. Think about inertia; an object in motion (or at rest) will stay in motion (or at rest) unless acted on by an outside force. To put it more plainly, you’re going to keep doing what you’re doing unless something changes.
And even when it changes, the change is temporary more often than not. Meaning, we make minor changes but end up backsliding. A good example is the classic Yo-Yo diet where you lose five pounds, gain it back, and repeat this process over and over again.
While the first step is deciding to change, a lot more is required in order to make your desired change “stick.”
Recognize the behavior you want to change
You’ve decided you want to get good at money. You’re doing to get out of debt, start saving and investing, and working towards your goals. The next step is to identify the behaviors you’ll need to change. Here’s a list of the most common mistakes people make with money:
- Not paying attention to cash flow
- Not keeping a household budget
- Living paycheck-to-paycheck
- Not paying off credit card balances every month
- Not setting goals
- Not having clear priorities
- Not having a plan
- Spending to much on cars
- Spending to much on housing
- Eating out to frequently
- Not planning for major purchases
Do you identify with any of those? Do you do any of those things?
Once you’ve identified the behavior(s) you need to change, you need to call them what they are; problems. In order to break free from vicious cycles or negative behaviors, we need to accept the reality that what we’re doing is problematic and limiting our potential- because that’s what they’re doing to us.
When we live paycheck-to-paycheck, it’s a giant problem. We’re stuck in a rut and unable to proactively work towards our most important financial goals and priorities. And because money has time value, the longer we wait to pursue those goals and objectives, the harder they become to reach.
Once you name your problem, it’s time to solve it.
Determine the resources you’ll need
What will it take to solve your problem? What tool, key, skill, or knowledge is required? What outside help (if any) will you need?
Some problems require a tool like a budget. To solve others you may need a new account like an IRA. Others still may necessitate someone to help hold you accountable to certain behaviors.
The next step is to determine what you’ll need to change your behavior to solve your problem.
Figure out any required new learning
Once you know what you need, you’ll need to figure out how it works and how to fit it into your life.
I could give you the greatest guitar in the world, but if you didn’t know how to play it, it wouldn’t matter. In order for a tool (or instrument) to be effective, the user must know how to operate it.
Whatever your solution is, it’s gotta fit into your life. We’ve all got a ton of stuff going on, and have many demands on our time. If you’ve got a full-time job and full plate, enrolling in a University course on personal finance will not be an effective solution. The proper solution for you and your situation is the one that you’ll actually follow through on.
Address any limiting beliefs or feelings
Do you want to do this? Do you know how to do it? Are you afraid to do it?
Those are three powerful questions which will help you make the changes you desire. We’ve addressed the want as well as the how to, now it’s time to face the fear.
What will happen to you if you make these changes? What will your friends and family think? What will social media think? We all have fears and insecurities. In order to make the changes you want, and to have the life you want, you’ll need to take them head on. I’ve found the following questions extremely beneficial and encourage you to ask them of yourself:
- What is the worst thing that could happen to you if you made the change?
- How likely is that to happen?
- What is the worst that has happened to others in this situation? How often did it happen? How did they deal with it?
- What is likely to happen based on your experience and the experience of others? How would you respond?
- If the worst did happen, then what would you do?
- Based on this discussion, what do you need to do to put this worry behind you?
Whenever I’m worried about what will happen when I make a change, I go through these questions and I’m reminded that I’m great at making mountains out of molehills. Humans are great at worrying about things that have very little chance of actually happening.
Get clear on your desired future
Are you running away from something, or towards something? While avoidance of pain is a powerful driver of behavior, it’s essential we have a bright future to be moving towards and excited about. And certainly, a future free of financial worry and filled with peace of mind is exciting. But don’t take my word for it.
What is it you want? What will your life be like when you’ve overcome your negative behavior and solved your problem? How will that feel? Put that feeling in a bottle and remember it when you’re having a difficult time. That bright future is available to you!
Find someone doing what you want to be doing
From 1886 to 1954, athletes could not run a four-minute mile until Roger Bannister did it. A little over a month later, it was done again. One year later, three runners did it in the same race.
When something seems impossible, it’s really hard to do. When we believe the thing we want is attainable, our odds of achieving it are greatly increased. Just as other runners we’re inspired by Bannister’s breakthrough, you and I must find actual examples of others who have done what we want to do.
Whatever you’re trying to accomplish, research and find someone who has done it, or is doing it. It needn’t be someone you’ve met, you just need to find a real-life example.
Create your goals
One of our human superpowers is our ability to create the futures we want. We start by visualizing the lives we want, making plans for making it our realities, and then putting those plans into action.
No doubt you’re aware of the importance of setting goals. But like we talked about earlier, just because we know something is beneficial doesn’t mean we actually do it. This was true for me for years. I knew the value of goal setting, but didn’t seriously do it until I was 35. Today, I can tell you the profound impact it’s had on my life.
To help you in your goal-setting process, you can access our Goals course for free.
Each step in the goal-setting process is important. In order to take action, the steps must be clear and actionable. Make sure you understand precisely what you must do daily to reach your goals.
Start working towards your goals
A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. This age-old wisdom that’s as true today as it’s always been.
Procrastination is one of the worst forces in the universe. When we procrastinate, nothing happens. Nothing is created. The reason our goals must be broken down into actionable steps is because we want to avoid falling victim to procrastination.
There will be many days when you won’t “feel like” pursuing your goals. We need to make the pursuit as easy as we can on ourselves. Make sure the steps towards your financial goals are easy to understand, and easy to execute.
Track progress and overcome resistance
What gets measured, gets managed. While progress towards important goals can feel slow and cumbersome, we need to track our incremental progress. Make sure you record your starting position and track your progress on a monthly basis.
For example, if you’re working to get out of credit card debt, an important part of your planning process will know your total amount of debt. From there, you’ll know how much you can afford to be putting towards the elimination of your debt on a monthly basis. Every month, review and write how much debt you’ve paid off, and how much is remaining.
As you’re progressing towards your goals, you’re going to encounter resistance. It will come as internal and external resistance. It’s going to happen.
Whenever we do things contrary to the ways we’ve been doing them, others (including ourselves) will notice. Your mind and body will try to pull you back to your predictable pattern, and so will your family and friends. When this happens, remember back to that feeling you had when you thought about how great your life will be once you’ve solved your problem and accomplished your goal.
Remind yourself of why you’re working hard and making sacrifices. Tell friends and loved ones that you appreciate their support/concern, and that you’re working hard to get better and improve your life.
Create beneficial habits
I’m a giant fan of self-discipline. I also know that it’s a muscle that can be strengthened over time. With that in mind, as you’re getting started, you can’t immediately rely on self-discipline.
To position yourself for success, put structure in place that will help you accomplish your goals. That can come in the form of automating certain aspects of your finances, or finding an accountability partner who can help you stick to your plan.
Over time, your self-discipline muscle will get stronger, and you’ll develop beneficial habits. But until you get there, put structure in place to help you stick to the activities and actions you need to be taking.
Making real and lasting change is hard. Keeping your bright future top of mind will help you weather the storms, break bad habits, and overcome your problems. When you focus on making incremental progress, you’ll position yourself for long-term success.
You’re someone who is capable and deserving of having the life you want. Get to work.
If you’re ready to take control of your financial life, check out our DIY Financial Plan course.
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