Willpower is a fascinating thing. Sometimes it seems to alight on some and completely miss others (as I often find myself thinking as I reach for another biscuit while my waif-like friend sips on her black tea). There are still arguments about whether it’s finite and limited, or whether we have a bottomless pit of will. One thing every one tends to agree on is that willpower is like a muscle- use it and it will get stronger. Let it sit in front of the telly and it will soon be joined by a block of chocolate, a half-drunk bottle of wine and a series of abusive text messages to an ex-boyfriend. So what role does willpower play in improving our finances?
Choose Your Battles
Does willpower have it’s limits? Research is divided. Some research suggests that willpower is finite and we will use it up, other research suggests that it’s only a matter of working on it. I don’t know the answer, but from personal experience, I’ve decided to choose my battles. Generally, I seem to find that if I’ve spent all day avoiding the chocolate bar on my desk, I’ll have less energy to resist the urge to buy a dress at the store that afternoon. In other words, choose your battles. Willpower may be endless but somedays energy is not, so why spend it all on remaining sweet to your obnoxious boss? Work out what is important to you, and invest your energy and willpower there. A holiday at the end of the year. Getting rid of credit card debt. Building up an emergency fund. Saving 10% of your income. Advancing in your career (and therefore, maybe, investing your willpower in remaining sweet to said employer). For the rest, try and keep communication honest, actions consistent and your mind free of entanglement.
Support Your Willpower
Just because you have it doesn’t mean you have to use it every second of every day. Give it some support, and automate the parts of your life that you can. Make the saving deduction automatic, so you don’t have to tear it out of your wallet. Ditto with credit card repayments. Spend one morning making delicious lunches and breakfasts, so saving money by eating breakfast at home and a packed lunch isn’t a matter of sacrifice but pleasant.
Research from Stanford shows that even when the will is present, the body may be weak. In this instance, it was a case of showerheads. Participants were given a workshop on energy efficiency and a free energy efficient showerhead. Of 40 participants, 8 went home and actually installed it despite everyone responding positively. What does that tell us? When it comes to finances, a positive outlook is not enough. Exclaiming we’ll change every behaviour doesn’t do the trick either. So make one change, maybe two. People who save on a couple of things are often the ones to end up saving more money than people who proclaim they will only spend $10 a week on non-essentials.
Start By Doing
Sometimes our body is led by our minds, sometimes it’s helpful if we do things in reverse. Instead of swearing to become fit, going out and buying some Lorna Jane and spending days looking at gym timetables, get up tomorrow morning, put on some trackies and go for a run. Instead of writing out an immense savings calculator, start instead by transferring $100 into a bank account. Then write the calculator. Willpower is easier to use when it’s been given a roll on and has some momentum.
Understand The Interplay
The more routine and automation you can get into your personal finances, the easier it will be to achieve sustainable success. But they’re not the end of the story. It is the interplay between good behaviours and routines, and a good dose of willpower that does the trick. You might not even think about buying a dress 6 days out of seven, but on the seventh, it might be a solid kick of willpower that keeps you walking.