Using the Science of Willpower to Be Better With Money


Getting better with money and achieving your financial goals do not happen through passive waiting, wishing for life to be different, or gimmicky quick-fixes that promise you instant wealth. Living a life of abundance requires a (pocket) change of heart. Thankfully, behavioral scientists have uncovered the secrets of willpower that have the power to transform the way you think and behave in relation to money.

Get ready to learn about persistence, self-efficacy, impulse control, and other topics that will help YOU create the motivation for financial change. If you are a thinking person who is ready to be better with money, this website is for you. Let’s create a community of pocket-changers! Please join in on the dialogue by posting your comments.

Photo by Harald Hoyer; Wikimedia Commons

One of the most common complaints I hear in my change group is that people feel “stuck” or “paralyzed.” They are ready to change a habit, and yet despite their good intentions, they feel unable to begin taking concrete steps.

Here are three ideas that might help to mobilize you into action:

  1. Stop the exhaustive search to understand every aspect of your problem and where the problem came from. Human problems are complex; many times, we cannot know with 100% certainty where an issue came from or what will make it better. The important thing is to choose a solution and try it out.
  2. Stop waiting for the perfect time for change. You can create the optimal time for change by getting all of your ducks in a row and preparing yourself to make things happen.
  3. Stop participating in wishful thinking. Wishful thinking involves the expectation that your desired outcome will occur without you having to be inconvenienced in any way. This rarely works. It makes more sense to be realistic about your goals and then work hard to achieve them.

We’ve all been stuck before. Think about your own financial goals. Are you stuck on any of them? What are you gaining and losing by being stuck? What works for you to get “unstuck?”

Photo by Oren Bochman; Wikimedia Commons

Have you ever found yourself getting hung up on the things you did wrong in the past? “I always give in to temptation and spend my whole paycheck instead of saving part of it.” Or, “I already blew my budget, so I might as well keep on spending.”

At times, your self-disappointment may grow so strong that you start making assumptions about who you are as a person: “I must be lazy.” Or, “I must not be disciplined enough.”

Regret, guilt, shame, and self-disappointment typically get us nowhere. You cannot change the past. And the past does not define what you are capable of in the future.

Your power lies in the present. You can choose to be kind and compassionate to yourself and to interrupt feelings of regret. Here are several things you can do:

(1)    Distinguish between a setback and full-blown relapse. A setback is a temporary lapse, while relapse is an ongoing pattern of setbacks. Remind yourself that setbacks are normal and temporary, and you can easily take small steps to get yourself back on track.

(2)    Borrow another perspective. After you have given in to temptation, ask yourself two questions: If my best friend were beating herself up for having blown her budget, what would I say to be supportive of her? If my best friend knew that I am beating myself up for having blown my budget, how would she gently encourage me to get refocused on my goal?

(3)    Remember the difference between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. People with a growth mindset understand that setbacks are a normal part of the change process, and they can use them to glean important information about the path to success!

(4)    Create a rational response to your irrational thinking. For example, “Just because I blew my budget, it doesn’t mean that I have to continue giving in to temptation.  I can be kind and forgiving of myself and gently redirect my attention back to my money goals.”

(5)    Practice positive self-talk. For example, give yourself a hearty “Good failure, my friend! Failure means that you have taken on a challenge that is worth pursuing and that will be rewarding in the end.”

For an additional way to express kindness to yourself, the “self-apology,” check out this week’s blog post at

At last, the print version (paperback) of Pocket Change is here, available on Amazon.

Every year, millions of people make New Year’s resolutions to save more, spend less, or otherwise become savvier about their financial habits. And every year, most of these resolutions end in failure.

Getting better with money and achieving your financial goals do not happen through passive waiting, wishing for life to be different, or gimmicky quick-fixes that promise you instant wealth. Living a healthy financial life requires real personal change (or a pocket change, you might say!) Thankfully, behavioral scientists have uncovered the secrets of habit modification which have the power to convert your resolutions into action.

The basic ingredients of healthy money behavior include motivation, persistence, and impulse control as well as a basic knowledge of personal finance. Most of us have the basic knowledge about money, but we are at a loss when it comes to strengthening our focus and motivation.

In this book, Dr. Heidi Beckman teaches readers how to use well-tested techniques from the field of psychology to build and sustain positive money habits. She covers topics that range from goal-setting and self-monitoring to personal efficacy and discipline. She also suggests how to design the social, psychological, and environmental context in which good habits will thrive. In this way, Dr. Beckman gives readers renewed energy for healthy money management well into the future.

Effertrux Publishing is pleased to announce the release of the electronic version of Pocket Change: Using the Science of Personal Change to Improve Financial Habits. For those who prefer the print version, the paperback will be released next month. I am happy to be able to share my writing with you and look forward to ongoing dialogue about the ideas and concepts described in the book.

Photo by Ildar Sagdejev; Wikimedia Commons

“When it comes to money, I know what I am supposed to do; I just can’t make myself do it.” Have you ever uttered these words in desperation after yet another failed attempt to rescue your finances?

We know that short-term change is typically easy. You are able to save more, spend less, or be more financially savvy for at least a few days in a row.

But what happens when you pursue better money management for the long term? For many people, that’s when negative emotions such as discouragement, frustration, and hopelessness enter the picture. Eventually, then, the old, unhealthy habits return.

How can you give your persistence a much-needed boost? Like all good stories, the story of persistence has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Different strategies are warranted at different phases of the story. Here is the beginning of the story:

In the beginning, your hopefulness and optimism run high. You have newfound enthusiasm for the financial journey you are about to launch. Two strategies are helpful to you at this phase.

First, you need to make your change effort a bigger part of your identity or self-image. Research shows that if you make your change effort a bigger part of your identity, you will be more likely to make the kinds of decisions that support your end goal. At the same time, any change effort that violates your identity will be doomed to failure.

Second, to stay motivated when you are working on better money management, you have to know in advance that there will be setbacks along the way, and you have to be careful how you think about those setbacks. The easiest way to understand this is to think about the two “mindsets” that are described by psychologist Carol Dweck: the fixed mindset and the growth mindset.

People with a fixed mindset believe that their abilities are unchanging and simply reflect the way they are wired. For instance, they are born with a certain amount of intelligence, athletic ability, and financial savvy, and there is nothing they can do to change this. From this perspective, if you fail at something, failure simply confirms that you lack an ability.

People with a growth mindset believe that their abilities are like muscles, and they can build them up with practice. From this perspective, it is worth it to accept and embrace challenges, because you have the potential to improve yourself and improve your life.

If you want to reach a goal, you need to adopt a growth mindset. People with a growth mindset take risks, accept feedback, and take the long-term perspective. They know that defeat in the present does not necessarily mean failure in the long-term. Instead, a setback is an opportunity to learn and grow and improve. Take a chance, then, and be receptive to the feedback that you receive. You will be more resilient, and you will have more energy for the road ahead.

Stay tuned in the weeks ahead for the “middle” and “end” of the story!

Photo by Dave Dugdale; Wikimedia Commons

Need to work on changing a money habit but finding it hard to get going? Consider increasing the level of tension associated with your poor financial habits.

As a human being, when you encounter a truth that makes you feel uncomfortable, your natural tendency is to ignore it, suppress it, or push it to the back of your mind. However, discomfort can actually be motivating. If you find a way to hold the discomfort in a prominent place in your mind, you can use it in the service of change.

Try calling to mind your moments of discomfort. You know the ones—they are the moments that you are embarrassed to admit to yourself, let alone share with your friends and family members. Have you had to borrow money to cover your monthly bills? Has your credit card been rejected at a store? Do you get calls from debt collectors? Do you ever purchase a “want” when you can’t even cover your needs? Do you spend more than you earn?

Now, as you focus on your moments of discomfort, notice what feelings arise. Do you notice fear, self-disappointment, or dread? Great! These feelings can create a sense of urgency and get you moving toward your goal before it’s too late. Better to experience these emotions now when you still have the opportunity to change your behavior, rather than later when the emotions are compounded by regret.

How do you create a sense of urgency for your money goals? For more thoughts on this topic, check out this week’s blog post at

Photo by Spreadfilms; Wikimedia Commons

This week, reporter Naomi Mannino wrote a comprehensive piece for proposing several links between physical health and financial health. I was honored to be interviewed for the article. Here is a selection:

Regular physical activity can boost your brain power. Much research has proven that regular exercise has cognitive benefits and can boost your ability to plan, focus and multitask, all hallmarks of successful money management. This 2011 review published in the Journal of Applied Physiology entitled, “Exercise, Brain, and Cognition Across the Life Span” concluded that one hour of light aerobic activity at least three times per week and resistance training two to three times per week allowed participants to see benefits. Increasing resistance is a key factor in increasing cognitive skills, according to the review. Beckman says that exercise is also known to reduce stress levels, a well-known trigger in both overeating, smoking, alcohol consumption and compulsive shopping…all of which can cause overspending.

Check out the full article: Can 10 squat-thrusts per day improve your bottom line?

Which do you think is easier: boosting your physical fitness or your financial fitness?

Photo by Diane Selwyn; Wikimedia Commons

Last week, I described stage three (preparation) of the stages of change model. Stage three is when people intend to take action soon to change their money habits, but they need to get all of their ducks in a row and to make a specific plan of action.

What are the strategies or self-challenges you can use to move from stage three to stage four (action)?

If your starting point is stage three, you will focus on making a plan for the future and solidifying your commitment to change. You can start by making a list of the benefits of change and keeping it with you wherever you go. For example, if you are attempting to save more money, write a brief list of the reasons you are saving (the reasons that have the biggest emotional impact) and put copies of it in crucial places like the inside of your wallet and the side of your computer monitor.

Your next step is to create a strong, positive image of your future self. Key questions to ask yourself include:

  • After I have been successful in making this change, how will my thoughts be different? My feelings? My behavior?
  • What will my new behavior free me up to achieve or become?
  • In what ways will my life be enhanced once I have mastered this change?

To solidify your commitment to change, set a date that you think is a reasonable date to launch your change plan. Make your commitment public. Public promises are more powerful than private pledges because they enhance your sense of accountability and may help you garner social support for your efforts.

Create a concrete plan of action. What specific steps will you take to reach your goal? What obstacles or barriers may arise that you will have to overcome? Make a list of all of the strategies you will use to cope with anticipated barriers to change.

Identify the conditions that will create the greatest temptation and threaten to take you off track as you work toward your goal. Then design a specific rule that defines how you will act under those conditions.

Enlist the support of the important people in your life. Share your change plan with them and tell them specifically how they can be most helpful to you. You’ll know you have completed the preparation stage when you have made a firm commitment to a detailed action plan.

When you have changed a habit in the past, what has been the most important preparation task for you?

Ducks in a Row by Sabo123; Wikimedia Commons

I’ve been walking you through the stages of change, or the stages that mark your readiness to transform a habit.

This week, I introduce stage three, which is called preparation. It is when a person intends to take action soon, but she needs to get all of her ducks in a row and to make a specific plan of action.

By the time a person reaches this stage, she has resolved the ambivalence of the previous stage. The balance has tipped solidly in the direction of change. Before jumping into action, though, she needs to work out the logistics of change.

For example, consider a woman who plans to live on a new household budget. She runs the numbers, devises a couple of versions of a budget, and consults with other members of the household before choosing a plan. Her energy is invested in taking the small steps that she believes will help her make the new budget a success.

Next week, we’ll look at the strategies you can use to move from stage three to stage four.

Do you see any evidence of stage three behavior in your life?

Photo by Nonie; Wikimedia Commons

Last week, I described how you can get stuck in the second stage of change (contemplation). In this stage, you can think of multiple reasons why you should change a given money habit. But you can also think of multiple reasons why you don’t want to. Procrastination and feelings of ambivalence are common.

What do you do if you’re stuck in stage two? Imagine what the future will be like if you do NOT succeed at personal change. Key questions to ask yourself include:

  • What will happen if I continue along my current path?
  • What will my future look like if I do NOT make progress in this area?
  • What aspects of my problem generate feelings of disappointment, disgust, or distress inside of me?
  • How much power and control does my problem behavior have over me, and what positive things am I missing in my life because of it?
  • What positive things will I miss out on in the future because I am refusing to change this behavior in the present?
  • How do I fail myself by refusing to change this habit?

After you’ve painted a detailed picture of the future that focuses on the negative aspects of the problem, design a forward-looking appraisal of how much healthier and happier life will be when you have completed a change. Imagine how you will think and feel about yourself after you change. Picture yourself feeling good about your habits because your behavior is now aligned with your deepest values.

You’ll know you have completed this stage when you have developed a personal conviction about the value of change. Now you are ready to move on to stage three.

Have you ever let procrastination get in the way of a personal finance task? How did you resolve the problem?