I’m going to Starbucks.”
I said this to myself in the middle of tax season.
Normally, this wouldn’t have been a big deal; but I was 3 months in to my strict goal of paying off my $30,000 student loan within a year.
And in order to achieve faster results, I had to say adios to things that stood in the way of my goal.
*cough* Starbucks *cough*
So there I was, going back and forth with myself on should I buy my sugar-free vanilla Americano or stay in my chair and continue painstakingly crunching numbers?
“Yeah….I’m grabbin’ coffee.”
I walked out to my car, threw open the door of my Toyota Celica, and buckled up. Then I grabbed my wallet and opened it up. There stood my budget. I had taped a mini version to my debit card, annoyingly placed so I had to physically remove it if I wanted to swipe my card.
It was a pain. And that was the point.
My budget being taped to my debit card was a subtle reminder of the bigger goal I was working 70 hours a week for- #debtfreedom.
I looked at it for a second, sighed a defeated sigh, and did the walk of shame back to my cubicle.
Taping my budget to my debit card prevented me from being derailed on my plan. In hindsight, I know a $3.00 Americano wouldn’t have ruined my get out of debt plan. But this was my way of showing to myself that I was all in on my plan. I was fully committed to the bigger goal.
Why this worked
Let’s talk about why taping my budget to my debit card worked. How did this ridiculously simple step prevent me from messing up my plan?
To understand this you have to understand a bit about psychology.
We have a limited amount of willpower.
We make decisions all day long. It’s exhausting. And by the time we get to things that require a higher level of willpower – like saying no to eating out – we are too tired and cave in allowing our existing habits to prevail victoriously.
If you understand this principle, that willpower is limited, then you can start to understand how to exercise willpower at the right time. We have triggers and rewards. We are constantly creating triggers in our lives. If every time you have a bad day (trigger), you go to the bar and get a drink (reward) you are experiencing the trigger and the reward. This trigger-reward relationship is what causes us to build up habits that aren’t necessarily serving us.
After doing some digging, I found out what my trigger and reward was during my quest for the Americano.
Trigger: Boredom and frustration
Reward: Getting out of the office and buying coffee
I wasn’t actually wanting coffee. It was just an excuse to step away from my cube and mentally unplug from a daunting task. I easily could have taken a walk around the block a few times and gotten the same reward.
How does this relate to willpower?
Well, think about it this way. Our brains LOVE to be on autopilot. It’s a survival technique. Our brains want to reduce the energy spent exercising willpower and decision making. It reduces the time it takes us to make a decision by building up habits.
In order to disrupt our patterns, we have to have a reminder. Something that makes our brains stop, reengage with the decision making process and go about our day.
That’s precisely why taping my budget to my card worked.
It was out of the norm. Budgets aren’t normally found on debit cards.
It shocked my brain just enough, forcing me to break the autopilot habit I had been developing over the past year.
Visual cues are barriers that disrupt behaviors
Ultimately, you have to find what works for you. The budget on my card was enough of a pattern interrupter that I was reminded of my goal and forced to make a decision- do I stick to my plan or do I break my plan?
You have to put visual cues in your way. A lot of people will remove “remember this card” feature from their computer to force them to manually enter the card number in for every online purchase.
Find a way to place barriers between yourself and actions you don’t want to take.
One of my friends will write her checking account balance and tape it to her debit card as a reminder that she may not be as ballin’ as she feels.
Do what works best for you. But remember, you can’t rely solely on self-control.
What are some patterns you need to interrupt that are getting in the way of your goals? Drop them in the comments below and let me know. 🙂