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Habits, Not Willpower

March 21st, 2013 at 07:21 am

Mr. Money Mustache has an excellent blog post the other day:

A Lifetime of Riches Is it as Simple as a Few Habits?

Text is http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2013/03/19/a-lifetime-of-riches-is-it-as-simple-as-a-few-habits/ and Link is
http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2013/03/19/a-lifetime-of-rich...

{Sorry - link is not working right now - check back later I guess - is a great article}.

This clarified a few things for me.

Firstly, I have often blogged on the theme that I don't feel like I have any extraordinary willpower. I literally do not equate savings with willpower. I never have. So reading this was a bit of a "aha!" I don't have willpower, I have good habits. The End! Big Grin

Secondarily, this clarifies my approach to life improvement. I always approach my life with a "one thing at a time" attitude. While some people thrive on the "Huge lifestyle change" all at once method, and is maybe more crucial if you have to dig yourself out of a big hole (you might have no other choice). I personally like to adapt to one new habit at a time. This is why I roll my eyes when anyone says they have no room for improvement (financially or otherwise). I think I can easily spend my entire life improving my habits. I Feel like there is always always always room for improvement - something to learn. There is never a point where I will stop trying to be more efficient in my finances. If I have accomplished this in the past 20 years or so, I am excited as to what I can accomplish the next 20 years and will keep pushing to improve. But, I have never been interested in a huge makeover/overhaul overnight because I know it would fail in the long run.

I think that though we have always been good savers and debt avoiders (good habits established in our childhoods, with the help of very fiscally sound parents), we have been working very hard on changing our habits since having children and cutting our income in half. Some of it is easy. I don't eat out very much because I can't afford to. The End. It is really that simple. A lifetime of "avoiding debt" habits completely rules it out as an option. I am not going to go into debt to buy things I Can't afford, either.

We still struggle with habits like buying used and using coupons. It still is not the first thing that comes to mind, because we never had the habits that we would "only buy used or with coupons." & we were even loosening up on that kind of stuff when we were both working, before kids. So, it seems to be a constant reminder. I should probably put a piece of paper in my wallet that says "Find coupon/Buy Used." Maybe it's really that simple. It is not always my initial reaction. & so sometimes I don't think about it when I am looking at a purchase that I would be perfectly happy to find used.

This also explains one final disconnect for me. People often equate willpower with good finances and a slim physique. So obviously I am very good with the willpower. Actually, I was raised with horrific eating habits. My nuclear family is filled with obesity and eating disorders. The absolutely only things I did to stay thin were to 1 - marry my dh and 2 - be too broke to eat out all the time. LOL. The End. My spouse was raised with very good eating habits, and that is why he does all the cooking and the shopping. I am afraid that I don't have the willpower to eat well all the time. But, it's almost like hiring a full-time chef to deal with that. & since I can't reach for the credit card, I eat the food that is in front of me. I hope eventually these good habits will overcome the bad habits I was raised with. But I think the bad is *really* hard wired into my brain.

This reminds me of celebrities. Do they have willpower or do they have the money to hire chefs and personal trainers? I feel like I literally have a personal chef. & interestingly, I have exceptional workout habits, established when I Was a child. Which again, people seem impressed I can stick to an exercise schedule so seriously. I can't imagine NOT working out - I just can't function without a good exercise regime and have always made it a priority no matter how crazy my schedule was. Again, it really has nothing to do with willpower for me. For me, exercise is just a basic part of surviving. I am a mess without that habit.

The takeaway? The best thing we can do for our kids' futures is to help them establish good habits. !! Secondarily, let's stop beating ourselves up for our lack of willpower, and let's start establishing good habits in our lives. One at a time. If you can implement one solid good habit every single year, is better than beating yourself up for the rest of your life. & start thinking about how to circumvent your bad habits - maybe there are other ways around them, like a super awesome spouse who has good habits that you don't.

7 Responses to “Habits, Not Willpower”

  1. Nika Says:

    It takes some willpower to establish habits. There is also how you view it.

    I found that viewing running as a part of essential body maintenance (like showering, brushing your teeth or washing your hair) is a good approach. You'd never go "I just don't have the motivation to bathe or brush my teeth anymore" or "I'm too busy to do it". No matter how busy or tired you are, you do it.

  2. ceejay74 Says:

    I think this is absolutely true. If you have the habits instilled young, you don't need as much willpower to keep them going. If not, you may be able to install the habits later in life, or it may be a constant struggle.

    How you feel about cooking/eating well is exactly how I feel about housekeeping. I had NO chores and our house was always a mess, so I don't have any of the habits that lead to a clean house. I'm so grateful to have been given two people who do have more of those habits, because without them it would be a constant struggle. As is, I try to contribute here and there, but I know I only do about a tenth of the work.

    Another thing that can replace willpower or habit: enjoyment. I enjoy eating vegan food, and I enjoy cooking, so it was relatively easy for me to start eating nearly every meal at home when we began our financial transformation. I have also come to enjoy controlling my money; it's fun and I like it more than not knowing where my money is going, so it's been easy to keep up that interest.

    Housekeeping and physical fitness: do not enjoy, don't have the habit instilled, and so I try to replace that with willpower. It's an ongoing struggle.

  3. twest Says:

    Love this post!

    I have always had good money habits from when I was a child but never seemed to have the "willpower" to exercise regularly or even eat well. I have always wondered what my problem is since I do fairly well with money, but am just a slob when it comes to my health. I think your post makes a lot of sense beacuse I learned good financial habits early on but not so much on the physical health habits.

    Thanks for sharing this with us!

  4. MonkeyMama Says:

    @twest - yeah, I think I have seen a comments online like "obviously good financial and health habits go hand in hand." Discipline and such. I always think: ??? LOL.

    @Nika - Fair enough. It's not that I don't believe in willpower, but it's just that I think willpower is often WAY over-estimated.

  5. My English Castle Says:

    Agreed! I always think success breeds success. One small step at a time.

  6. Caoineag Says:

    I have always been a fan of changing things one at a time as well. The one thing that has always boggled my mind are the people who try to change something, fail and then wait forever to try again (like waiting for New Years). If you want to make a change and failed, start again. You don't need a specific time or day to start again. The sooner you restart, the more likely the change is to stick.

  7. rob62521 Says:

    You are so right...having good upbringing certainly helps when children grow into adults. And, you probably have discovered that you are used to making good decisions financially because you have had to. Good post.

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