6 steps to rewire bad money habits
People develop their relationship to money from a young age, and it’s reinforced by family dynamics. By the time they become adults, it can feel permanent. Yet, it is anything but. Thanks to research, neuroscientists now believe that our brains are much more malleable, flexible, and able to shift physically and psychologically than first thought. And encouraging the brain’s neuroplasticity is the key to learning new habits in adulthood.1 Neuroplasticity is “the brain’s ability to change and adapt as a result of experience.”2 In other words, anyone can reshape mental (and physical) habits towards money. Here are 6 ways to try and reshape your habits:
Identify your triggers
Let’s say you’ve developed a shopping vice. You’re spending too much money on things that you don’t need. One approach to curb this is to examine the triggers that lead to a shopping binge. Do you shop before a big date or a job interview to calm your nerves? Is there a favorite store on the way to work?
Stop the physical repetition
Habits are reinforced by repetition. To break a habit, you have to stop doing it over and over. When you feel prompted to shop by a familiar trigger, it’s time to change your next action in the chain of events. If the store on the way to work pulls like a magnet, find a new route. If the problem is compulsive online shopping, add website blockers to your browser to bar the sites that eat up time and money.
Consider a spending fast
Another way to stop bad financial habits is to go cold turkey with a spending fast. For instance, perhaps you always treat your friends to dinner, whether you can afford it or not. For a set period of time, resist the temptation to grab the check when it lands on the table (especially if it’s going on a credit card). Bear in mind that habit formation takes time. Depending on the person, the behavior, and frequency of performing the behavior, it can take a couple of weeks to many months for the new habit to form.3 So if you fall off that horse, keep getting back on it!
Acting on old behavior is usually preceded by old, negative thinking. Often people are hardly conscious of negative thoughts; they simply act on them without examination. By practicing mindfulness, however, we can avoid the effect of mental autopilot.
Mindfulness is the ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.4 If you’re feeling anxious about an upcoming date, for example, perhaps you’re at risk of splurging on new clothes. But if you look at this thought mindfully, perhaps you’ll see you have plenty to wear already. Or better yet, you may imagine yourself enjoying the date, regardless of what you’re wearing.
Envision the bigger goal
Lastly, take the time to write out what you want. Make a plan and add in the financial numbers that will make it possible. Then add visual reminders, like photos in everyday places, to help you see the goal regularly. So, if you want a new home, change the wallpaper on your phone to a photo of a house you love. Or, if you have a once-in-a-lifetime vacation spot on your list, start a travel board devoted to it on Pinterest. If you want a salary bump, put the target number on a Post-it on your bathroom mirror. You get the idea.
Work with a professional
Financial representatives are like coaches for your money. They advocate starting with goals and creating a strategy, often accompanied by helpful techniques. When you have a strategy, know the best practices to follow and have someone to check in with, it’s much easier to break those old habits and form new ones.
However you decide to rewire that brain, remember it takes time, practice and even a little experimentation to undo years of habit. But making a few small changes in how you approach your financial habits could put you on track to be more financially confident. Take the Financial & Emotional Confidence Quiz to follow the path of the most confident working Americans and take the first steps toward reaching your full financial potential. A lot of people have rewired their financial thinking and behaviors with just a little extra optimism, persistence and encouragement. You got this.
Brought to you by The Guardian Network © 2019, 2022. The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America®, New York, NY