At Insider Advice for Today’s Topsy-Turvy Times (which went well, thanks for asking), participants asked how to change the way they behave. That’s an essential but overlooked aspect of mastering our money — and our lives.
We often know what to do (e.g., payoff credit card debt, stay employable, get insurance). We may even know how (or can ask Google). That doesn’t mean we will do anything.
There’s a big gap between knowing and doing. Three steps make the difference: wanting, starting small and getting help.
Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’.
— Viktor Frankl, Holocaust survivor
Without a compelling goal, will you invest the effort needed after your initial enthusiasm wanes? You must want — really want — the outcome. That’s the second of the seven habits of highly effective people: begin with the end in mind. A strong why defeats an inconvenient how.
What do you want enough to take action now? Put other items on your bucket list or balk-it list for the future.
Example: I want to improve my general health now to prevent problems later on. I’m not a morning person but selected a 16 week yoga class which meets on Saturday from 7 AM to 9 AM. Today was week six and I’m keeping up.
If we take on too much, we’re likely to fail. If we take small actions, they soon become automatic and faster. We can then add more.
Do you remember the transition from a trike to a bike? We already knew how to pedal, brake, turn and ring the bell. Now we learned to balance, first with training wheels and soon without. We had scrapes along the way but our desire to ride a bike helped overcome them. Help from our family and friends did too.
Example: In each yoga class, we repeat what we’ve already learned and are taught new items (theory, demonstration, practice). This understand-watch-do process and gradual pace makes progress easier.
Benjamin Franklin and the 13 Virtues
Benjamin Franklin wanted to cultivate 13 virtues, such as Frugality, Humility and Cleanliness. That’s a lot to remember and manage. It’s easy to deplete our willpower and falter. Ben had a solution. He worked on only one virtue per week, which works out to four times in a year. Doesn’t that look more manageable?
Suppose this is the week for Silence (“Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation”). That’s not an excuse to abstain from Cleanliness (“Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, cloaths, or habitation”). Instead, you maintain the other virtues at their current levels, which improve with each cycle.
It’s very easy to break a habit and much tougher to restore it. Think of exercising. Do you remember Newton’s first law of motion? Objects in motion tend to stay in motion. Objects at rest tend to stay at rest. Changing from motion to rest is easy. Changing from rest to motion is tough. Restarting may be toughest of all because we know we failed (even if we have reasons).
We often need a little push or guidance to keep us in motion.
People are good motivators but people are busy. If you can’t find anyone, consider using apps. You likely have your smartphone near you. Your device can remind you, instruct you and track your progress.
Example: Yoga students sign an agreement to attend classes and practice. We get group instruction and personalized tips. Attendance is marked each time. There’s support and monitoring. In between classes, I use the general purpose Trello app to keep track of the instructions.
- Where there’s willpower, there’s a way
- Reach your goals with the Pick Four peer support system
- Quotes from The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People
- The battle between temptation and personal responsibility
- How to change your behavior for good (Psychology Today, Jun 2013)
- 29 ways to successfully ingrain a behavior (Zen Habits)
- 5 steps to changing your behavior (Discovery Health)
- 5 sweet ways to cut back on sugar
- From bucket list to balk-it list
- image courtesy of D Sharon Pruitt
PS Small victories build our confidence for bigger challenges.