Posted by Tim Stobbs on September 5, 2008
Ok, let’s face it changing habits is really hard to do some days. If you are used to turning leaving on the lights when you leave the room or running the water when you brush your teeth it takes some getting used to to stop doing that. The same also applies in personal finance as you get used to looking at your spending habits and asking do I really need to buy this?
So how do you change a habit? Basically in my mind there are two main drivers motivation and willpower. The rest is bulkly a personal thing. Some people can use little sticky notes and others just give themselves metal slaps every time they fall into their old habit. I’m not going to deal with those parts of changing a habit.
Motivation on the other hand is universally required. People need a reason to change otherwise the brain likes its habits and wants to keep them. So what to use? Well there are the ususal suspects: greed (money), lust (for something else your going to do after you change the habit), noble (I’m saying the planet), selfish (I’m going to eat better because I want to have a six pack rather than a keg), or envy (gods I wish I could live that cheap).
You might have noticed I didn’t use very nice sounding words about motivation except for noble. Why? Because let’s face it your brain is hardwired to look out for yourself second, right after your offspring. It’s your genes being completely selfish saying they would like to live forever and they are only doing that if you keep alive long enough to have kids and make sure they grow up. Even after kids your genes are still in the habit of wanting to keep going. I assume life is merely addictive. There is nothing wrong with being selfish, greedy, lustful, or having envy. All completely natural emotions, it is how your use them that matters.
So feel free to play games with yourself. Offer up selfish reasons to change that habit, be greedy and learn about taxes and keep more from the government or save on your power bill. Or even use a combination of motivators to make the change. Get creative and find what works for you. Hack your brain and find out what make you tick.
Then you need to dig out your willpower, or as my wife likes to call it stubbornness. I’m not sure what causes this in people, but the level of it does seem to vary some what. Some people give up very quickly on things while others seem to likely to almost kill themselves rather than give up. Case in point I’m brutally stubborn at times and so is my oldest son. It’s rather like watching two tectonic plates crush into each other.
The point is to use what willpower you have and keep trying. You might fail to stop your old habit a few times, that is ok. This will likely happen, but if you can keep pushing the new habit for about a month you will at that point got used to the new habit and find it easier to do.
So what works for you to change a habit?