Original photo

Original photo

Sometimes when people tell me the story of how they changed a habit, they recall a “moment of clarity” that prompted the shift. At a particular moment, it became clear to them that their old habits weren’t working anymore. The only remaining option was to move forward with a new way of life.

Although it may often seem that there is a single event that kicks your habit change efforts into gear, the reality is that many different change processes were brewing beneath the surface for a long time, and they finally came together to create a tipping point for change.

When other change processes begin to coalesce (gathering information, weighing alternatives, shifting your attitude, and so forth), a moment of clarity can provide a sudden burst of energy:

“I was paying my satellite TV bill online just as I do every month. It suddenly occurred to me that if I keep spending this much money on entertainment every month, I will always be living paycheck to paycheck. It was time for me to do something different.”

“I had been watching my neighbor leave for work every morning for years. This morning I realized that my neighbor is now well past the average retirement age. Then it dawned on me that if I don’t start saving more for retirement, I will be working well into my later years, too.”

How can you harness the energy of a moment of clarity? Try these ideas:

  1. Capture the moment. Grab a piece of paper and write a promise to yourself of what you plan to do. Or create a picture of the future positive situation that you are trying to build. Then put that note or picture where you will see it on a daily basis.
  2. Develop the identity of a changer. Research shows that if you make your change effort a larger part of your identity, you will be more likely to make the kinds of decisions that will support your end goal. At the same time, any change effort that violates your identity will be doomed to failure.
  3. Get specific. Researchers have long known that you are more likely to change a habit when you define a specific goal (like “put $300 a month into my Roth IRA”) rather than a vague direction (“save more for retirement”).
  4. Make your change goal public. Tell trusted friends and family members what you intend to do, and then give them the specifics of what they can do to support you.
  5. Think of change as an upward spiral. Know that setbacks are normal. You may feel yourself going around and around the circle of change, but know that for every circle you make, you end up one level higher on the change spiral.
  6. Expect great things. Remember that moment of clarity that you had? If you interpret the situation in such a way that it generates positive expectations of the future, you actually help to create good things in the future (self-fulfilling prophecy).

Have you had a moment of clarity when it comes to your personal finances? How did you use it in your favor?