Act Now and Change It

So here’s the thing: I’ve been reading some literature on the psychology of influence and persuasion, and one of the things that particularly struck me was this:

A change in behavior leads to a change in attitude

Most of us think it works the other way round. Think about it. If we were normal, rational human beings, we’d wake up in the morning and say “okay I’m gonna quit smoking” or “I’m gonna go on a diet” or “I’m gonna start saving more”, and then we’d go ahead and do it. The thing is, how often does that work? Think about how many unhealthy, fat and broke people there are in this world who’ve ever tried saying those things to themselves, and then failed, even though they know that it’s good for them.

Now, it seems to make sense that by mentally changing our attitude, our minds would cause our bodies to act in the way that we want to act. Mind over matter and all that shizz. But it just doesn’t work that way. By the way, that’s also why campaigns that bombard people with information fail miserably most of the time. I was at a mall once and I happened to see these posters with pictures of decaying teeth and craploads of paragraphs urging you to go get your teeth checked out at the dentist. They were proclaiming that “40% of Singaporeans will suffer from <insert obscure medical term here>”…. yet was that going to scare me into making an appointment right there? Nah. More likely, I’d go “Hmm, that’s interesting..” and then forget about it.

I read about a study where two groups of participants were all asked to watch a bunch of Far Side cartoons. While watching the show, the first group was asked to hold a pencil between their teeth, but ensure that it did not touch their lips. The second group was asked to support the end of the pencil with their lips but not their teeth. Unknowingly, the first group had forced their lower part of their faces into a smile, while the second group had made themselves frown. Amazingly, those who forced themselves to smile felt happier, and found the show much funnier than those in the other group. The awesome thing was, the participants didn’t know they were smiling/frowning. Their bodies were just made to act in a certain way, which caused a fundamental change in their attitudes to the same situation. This wasn’t some scammy trick – the smiling participants were genuinely happier.

Behavior works, even if it’s forced. As long as you start doing something, no matter how small, the effect it has on your psyche is amazing. Which is why I like to blog about specific, actionable steps that you could literally do today if you wanted to. You could go to the bank and set up an automatic savings account today. You could log into your account and set up a monthly savings amount for that trip you wanted to take at the end of the year. Doing something, anything, in the right direction will start your mind whirring towards better financial habits. And once you start doing it consistently, say with the help of a system that doesn’t require any “willpower” on your part, then you’ll fundamentally change your attitude for the better.

Most personal finance articles you find in magazines and newspapers will bombard you with a thousand compound interest charts and tell you “oh hey, if you save like $500 each month you could totally be a millionaire by 65”, or “Guess what, if you cut down on drinking beers you could totally save an extra $200 per month”. Sure, that’s interesting but would you actually go out there and do it? More importantly, would you be able to stick with it? Much of what is written out there is pure informational fluff, with no sticking power whatsoever. They are written to appeal to the masses, not to specifically help you.

Do yourself a favor and take a baby step towards better financial habits today. It could be going to the bank and setting up an account with a better interest rate. Or transferring your excess cash to your guilt-free spending account. Or deciding how much you want to save and setting it up in your automatic savings account (Notice I didn’t stop at “decide how much you want to save” – the key is to do SOMETHING with it). On my part, I’ll keep blogging about how you can take further steps to improve your financial life. Pick a few, act on them, and before you know it, you’ll have a whole new attitude towards your own finances.

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