Photo by Emmanuel Schaffner; Wikimedia Commons

Photo by Emmanuel Schaffner; Wikimedia Commons

When you are trying to change a difficult financial behavior, the obvious question you ask is “What is getting in the way of doing the right thing?” This helps you identify barriers and design ways to get around them.

What we often forget, though, is an equally important question: “What is allowing the wrong behavior to continue?” This question forces you to identify the excuses or “permission-giving thoughts” that make your bad habits seem harmless and reasonable.

These excuses set you up for failure, because they allow the bad habit to continue unchecked.

For example, consider a woman who is tempted to stray outside of her monthly budget. Here is a list of potential permission-giving thoughts that may lead her off track:

It’s not really a violation of my budget because it’s extra money that fell into my hands.

I’ve had a busy day at work and I’m entitled to some extra pampering.

I’ll just do it this one time, and then I’ll get back on track.

If I do it just this one time, I won’t need to do it ever again.

I’ll just stray a little outside my budget, and that won’t hurt anything.

Everyone else can spend whatever they want, so I can, too.

I deserve to treat myself.

It can be helpful to make a list of your permission-giving thoughts, and then for each one, challenge yourself to develop a more reasonable response. For example:

Permission-giving thought: I deserve to treat myself.

Reasonable response: I do deserve to treat myself, but I have a problem sticking to my budget and getting my bills paid. So it is healthier for me to treat myself with the free activities that I love. Once I am engaged in a fun activity, I won’t be thinking about my temptation to spend money I don’t have.

Consider the list of permission-giving thoughts (above). Have you heard any others that you could add to the list?