Why financial willpower fails

Piggy Bank photo by Yngvar
Flickr photo by Yngvar

Whether you’re late in signing up for your company’s 401K plan or forgot to call the bank to protest an erroneous overdraft fee, there’s a good chance you’ve lost money for no good reason at some point in your life. No matter how determined any of us might be to take charge of our financial situations, willpower has a way of failing us.

While lasting behavior change can be elusive, research on the limits of willpower is providing a clearer path toward accomplishing goals — financial and otherwise. Ramit Sethi, financial expert and author of the blog I Will Teach You To Be Rich, offers advice on overcoming our internal resistance in a series for The New York Times:

[N]ew psychological research finally acknowledges that willpower is a limited resource. As Stanford psychologist BJ Fogg says, “In the long term, willpower alone won’t work for difficult behaviors. You need to take a different approach, such as changing your environment, removing triggers and taking baby steps.”

This is why people who try to save on everything — coffee, clothes, going out, travel — often fail, while people who focus on one or two areas are able to save dramatically more.

So keeping all of this in mind, what simple psychological changes can you make to change your own behavior, starting immediately?

Start by changing your defaults.

Read more of Sethi’s perceptive tips in the article, and remember, “willpower matters, but you can set up all sorts of systems to overcome its ill effects.”

Has avoidance or lack of motivation ever cost you money? Share your stories and maybe, just maybe, we can learn from each other’s mistakes (…and finally sign up for that 401K).

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