In what has become an often quoted study, Dr. Roy Baumeister of Florida St. University, turned what we thought about self-discipline upside down. His research showed that self-discipline is actually more like a muscle then a behavior. Meaning that you can actually build your self-discipline, with the proper training. More importantly, just like a muscle, you can also put too much stress on that muscle, in too short a period, of time and cause it to fail.
So What Does This Mean For Your Finances?
The purpose of this post, isn’t to dive deep into this research. If you’re looking to find more, visit his website. The purpose is to apply what we now know about self-discipline, to personal finance.
Below are three practical tips that can help you outsmart and improve your self-discipline.
- Avoid Temptation, When Possible – I like to think of my bad spending habits as chocolate chip cookies. I can walk by them once, without eating them. When I walk by them the second time, it gets a little harder to say no. By the third time, there is no way I’m saying no. As for my spending habits, one of my guilty pleasures is buying books. To not use up my limited self-discipline, I could take a different way home from work, as to not drive by the local bookstore. I might use a program like LeechBlock for Firefox, to block Amazon. The less opportunities I have to spend on books, the less I will spend.
- Set Incremental Financial Goals – If you never lifted weights before, you wouldn’t start by bench pressing 250 LBS. You start small, by seeing how many times you can get up just the bar. Think of your savings goal as a muscle that needs to be trained. For example, your goal is to begin to save 10% of your income in a Roth IRA. It’s unlikely, that you have 10% of income every month lying around for that goal. What you need to do is start small and work your way up incrementally. Maybe 2% of your income is all you can afford. That’s fine. Start with 2% and build your way up in 2% increments. In just 5 months, you will have built up the self-discipline to save 10% of your income.
- Find Small Ways to Practice Self Discipline – Your entire self-discipline, is one big muscle. If you can find small ways to train your self-discipline, no matter what area of life you’re trying to improve, you can train the self-discipline muscle. For example, building up the self-discipline to go to the gym, can actually help you build the self-discipline it takes to save.
Constantly test yourself, by going just beyond your comfort level. If you can run 4 miles yesterday, run 5 miles tomorrow. Likewise, if you save 5% of your income last month, save 7% of your income this month.
You’re either getting stronger or weaker. There is no staying the same.
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Photo by: Tong?