The Financial Overweight Smoker

Many overweight smokers know what they need to do in order to become healthy, but do not do it.  Most people that are smokers don’t suffer from a lack of knowledge that smoking is bad for them.  Most people that are overweight already know that there are health risks associated with being overweight.  In both of these cases, a lack of knowledge is not the issue.  Similarly, beating overweight smokers over the head with information about the health risks of their lifestyle isn’t very likely to make them change.  This phenomenon applies to our financial life also.

Why do we avoid making what we know is the right decision?  This apparent paradox is further complicated by the fact that the majority of financial content is focused on trying to intellectually determine the right financial decision.  The unique twist that this revelation uncovers is the surprisingly small share of financial literature that is devoted to helping people actually do what we already know is the right decision.

The Real Problem

Thus, the critical element is not necessarily information.  We already have more information than we can use.  What we need is more discipline to actually do the things that we already know to be the right decision.  We need the discipline to delay the purchase of that new TV so that we can fund our 401k.  We need the discipline to keep our old car for a few more years instead of taking on a new string of low payments.  We need the discipline to save for a vacation, instead of using a credit card because I feel like I “deserve” a vacation.

So where does discipline come from?  Ultimately, it must always come from you.  In the end, we all must answer to ourselves.  However, there must be something that we can do to help build the self discipline necessary to be successful financially.  It is my belief that the best way to learn about building discipline is to study the different ways that people build discipline and stay accountable to their goals.

Discipline

The example that jumps off the page most poignantly is Alcoholics Anonymous.  The hallmark of their success is that they keep each other accountable for meeting their goals.  There is literally strength in numbers when we are trying to build the discipline to change our lives.  Most of us can live with letting ourselves down, but are much more sensitive about letting everybody else know that we have failed to reach our goals.  Thus, the best way to build that financial discipline is to find other people that are also working on the same goal and hold each other accountable.

The basis for this phenomenon is rooted in the fact that many of us are not afraid to let ourselves down because we have low self respect.  In the beginning, it is more shameful for us to let down other people until we have built-up our self respect to the point where we hold ourselves to a higher standard than anybody else holds us to.  In this way, the seeds of discipline are sown.

Thus, the key to our long-term success is frequently rooted in our internal desire to achieve.  Whenever our desire is outside of ourselves, it places power over our behavior in the hands of that external force.  By “in-sourcing” the drive for personal, professional, and financial achievement, it allows us to tap into a vast spring of discipline, energy and enthusiasm.  It is the way in which we use this fountain of creative energy that will define the path of our future.