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3 Tips for Building Financial Willpower


Self-control can make the difference between financial success and failure, regardless of how much money you make.

Personal finance, savings, self-control

Is it possible to exhibit too much self-control? You may be familiar with the famous Stanford "marshmallow" experiment that focused on self-control and delayed gratification. The studies were carried out by psychologist, Walter Mischel, in the late 1960s and 70s.

In the study, a child would be offered a small reward immediately or a larger reward if they were willing to wait for a defined amount of time before they ate their treat. The interesting part of the experiment was in the follow up with the original kids that went through the study with Mischel. Over the years, the researchers found that the kids that exhibited more self-control were more likely to have better life outcomes, and lead healthier lives.

Defining Self Control

There are many ways that we can define self-control, whether it’s willpower, grit, self-discipline, or delayed gratification. Anyway we would like to look at it, we find that at its core "self-control" calls for expending more energy than is generally called for in our decision making or any given situation that puts two desires at odds with one another.

It seems that there may be no such thing as having "too much" of it either. This is a good thing, as being able to exhibit self-control is linked to: income, savings behavior, financial security, physical and mental health, (lack of) substance abuse, and criminal convictions.

The development of programs that can improve self-control are now the basis of some of the recommendations for interventions on a larger scale in order to reduce costs to society, and save taxpayer money.

The goal here though, is how to take this information and apply it in a way that can bring you closer to reaching your goals a healthy and more financially secure life.

How to Improve Self-Control

Budget. One of, if not the best exercise for honing your skills for self-control and improving your personal finance is creating and sticking to a budget. Budgeting gives you a great opportunity to consider income and all of your expenses. As you dig into expenses, the opportunity to practice self-control generally comes from those items that we tend to call "other" food expenses or group under “miscellaneous.” More often than not, these end up being the non-essential snacks people are buying when they initially meant to go and just grab a few items on their grocery list.

These items also tend to be ones that if you can use them as the target for your self-control, can potentially lead to better health. If your other food expenses, tend to be over processed snack foods or extra pints of ice cream. The benefit of consuming less of these will be two-fold for your budget and your health.

Limiting Beliefs. Another great way to improve your self-control is to work on building a healthy financial mindset by ridding yourself of limiting beliefs. One important limiting belief is that in order to have a healthy financial foundation you need to be making more than you already do. Yes, this may be the case in some circumstances wherein individuals may be living well below the federal poverty level.

However, for the majority of our society, this is just another limiting mental road block. This limits your thinking, because it’s never how much you have, but what you do with it that matters. It’s not how much you have coming in, but how much you keep at the end of the day. Whatever income bracket you fall into, if you spend everything that is coming in, it is entirely impossible to make any progress on your goals. So use this area for practicing your self-control.

Establish a Routine. I prefer doing activities that call for higher levels of self-control earlier during the day. This helps keep the impact of decision fatigue at minimum. Additionally, establishing a routine also helps increase your efficiency and helps reinforces positive habits.

For example, if you enjoy exercising, you may have found that it is much easier to keep going to the gym once you have found your rhythm, versus when you are trying to get back into the swing of things. To this end, over the coming week, find one area that you can practice self-control and build upon it with time.

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