The Surprising Truth about Willpower and Your Money

When I was growing up I always believed that if I just tried harder at something I could get better at it. Willpower was the answer to any and all challenges.

If you have ever dealt with any form of addiction, like chocolate in my case, you have probably tried at some point to overcome the addiction using willpower.

In the 1960s, Columbia University psychologist Walter Mischel conducted an experiment on children that is now often referred to as The Marshmallow Test.

Walter invited various aged children into a room individually and asked them to sit down in front of a table with one marshmallow. He told the pre-schooler that he could eat the marshmallow right now if he wanted, but if he waited for five minutes, Walter would return with another marshmallow and the pre-schooler could eat two.

willpowerIn the video above watch the faces the kids have as they try everything within their power to resist the sweat smell of the marshmallow, it’s quite hilarious…

Walter observed that of the kindergarteners (age 5), 72% caved in and ate the marshmallow. If they’re in the fourth grade however, only 49% yielded to temptation. By the 6th grade, the percentage dropped to 38%. Such improvement is rational given five minutes is a short time to wait for double the spoils.

More interestingly, Walter discovered in subsequent studies that children who delayed gratification by 15 minutes scored higher in their school exams than children who lasted one minute. And even more importantly, children who are able to demonstrate self-control have a higher Executive Function, which is responsible for controlling planning, foresight, problem solving, and goal setting.

The Importance Of Self-Control

So what do marshmallow’s have to do with your money and wealth?

For many years now you have been taught that self-control or willpower is the key to success.

Building wealth takes time and therefore, you have to make sacrifices now in order to have further gains in the future.

If you continue to rack up big credit card debts on instant gratification purchases, it is likely that you potential for success with money will dramatically reduce. So an element of willpower makes sense right?

Or does it?

The Surprising Truth About Willpower

Over the past week or so I have been reading a book by Benjamin Hardy called ‘Willpower Doesn’t Work: Discover the Hidden Keys to Success’.

While I haven’t finished the book yet, I have read enough to know what the key message is when it comes to willpower.

As the title suggests, willpower is not the solution to your problems. Wait what?

But everything you have been taught has been to try harder, to apply yourself, to have self-control and to will your way to success…

I now know with my own chocolate addiction, and I suspect it is similar for those trying to quit smoking, that willpower alone does not work.

junk foodIf willpower was the answer, why would there be a multi-billion dollar industry in ‘how to quit smoking’ products? There is another multi-billion dollar industry for those looking to lose weight…

The same principles apply to your money. The national credit card debt is growing at alarming rates, despite everyone knowing that increasing credit card debt is not the answer to your money problems.

So if willpower doesn’t work, what is the answer?

The Solution to Willpower: How to Grow Your Wealth

The overarching premise of Hardy’s book is that the environment around you is too powerful, stimulating, addicting, and stressful to overcome by willpower.

The only way to stop just surviving and learn to truly thrive in today’s world is to create and control your environment.

Hardy explains that lasting personal change, high performance, creativity, and productivity can occur only by strategically outsourcing your desired behaviour to goal-enriching environments.

Small changes in your surroundings can lead to big changes…

Without getting too deep into the science and detail, the principle lesson of the book requires an understanding of what is called automaticity. Which basically is where you have done something often enough that your behaviour becomes subconscious. The best example is driving a car.

When you first start out learning, everything you do is forced, you think about every move you make. After enough repetition, driving a car becomes something that you just do, it’s automatic.

BUT, the problem with automaticity when it comes to things like eating healthy, quitting smoking or managing your money, is that you environment contradicts your goals.

We live in an environment that is more and more designed for us to fail…

Snack food is cheap and convenient. Stress is everywhere around us, at work and in the home. Temptation to purchase surrounds us in the streets, on social media, television and obviously in every retail scenario you can encounter.

Overcoming this environment with willpower is doomed to fail. The solution therefore is to change your environment.

Money and Your Environment

Hardy describes the solution as outsourcing your behaviour to a goal-enhancing environment so that your desired behaviour becomes automatic and subconscious.

As you would no doubt have experienced, it is very difficult to say no all the time when people around you are eating junk food.

It’s even harder to exert willpower in your own home when you bought junk food you knew deep down you didn’t want to eat.

This is a huge waste of mental and emotional resources.

changeThe solution, change your environment.

For me, the answer to my chocolate addiction is relatively simple, just don’t have it in the house. By changing the environment, my chance for success sky rockets.

When it comes to money, the principle is the same. Change the environment in which you operate. One solution that I have written about previously, is to leave your credit cards at home when you go shopping.

If you take only money that you have at the time, and shop for only what you need, the opportunity to overspend is removed. You have changed the environment for your success.

Another example, which I teach in my 5 Steps to Financial Freedom course, is to automate your money transfers. By having a plan for your money, that is automated, you have changed the environment for your money.

Automation ensures your money goes where it needs to, including to growing your wealth.

So from now on, give willpower the flick, and instead, change your environment for success, with money and any other aspect of life that you are seeking different results.

Leave me a comment below and let me know how you are going to change your environment this week.

3 thoughts on “The Surprising Truth about Willpower and Your Money”

  1. Heh Nev, that is just as good a solution. The key is the habit, and if that brings you pleasure as well, even better. That pleasure reinforces the habit which results in consistent action. Well done, keep it up 🙂

  2. I don’t like automated transfers, I like the control/pleasure of doing it myself, and the first thing I do every payday (weekly) before I pay anything else is, transfer $250 into my savings account.

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