Is your willpower stopping you from achieving financial goals?

Set meaningful money targets that are underpinned by your values

J37BM7 Beautiful woman shopping fashionable clothes in clothing store.
Powered by automated translation

Do you rely on willpower to achieve your goals or change habits? Willpower is often widely considered as the differentiator between those who succeed and those who do not. But is it a fair judgment?

When I ask people for words they associate with willpower, I hear words such as grit, stamina, the ability to stick it out or do something that you really don't want to do.

It is what we use to push through something hard or overcome resistance so we can achieve a virtuous outcome.

It takes willpower to not spend money when you want to. You need willpower to stay at home when friends are out socialising or not purchase something you want but do not need.

But what if your lack of willpower is telling you something about what you are pushing yourself to do? If you need a significant amount of willpower to push through, is it really the right thing for you?

Willpower and achieving goals go hand in hand. January is a notorious time for making lofty goals to change, including our money habits. And February is notorious for failing those goals.

Year after year, research tells us that few will achieve their New Year resolutions. Eighty per cent of New Year resolutions fail by February, according to US News and World Report. Only 8 per cent of people achieve their resolutions and 25 per cent give up after only a week, 2015 research from the University of Scranton reveals.

It could be a demotivating read to come across these statistics when your willpower is waning.

Financial goals should bring joy to our lives. Isn’t saving for an early retirement an exciting thing?
Carol Glynn, founder, Conscious Finance Coaching

Many people also cite a lack of willpower as the cause of failure to achieve their financial goals.

Financial goals tend to be long-term, restrictive and are perceived to require major lifestyle cutbacks. I am told that to succeed, joy, fun and indulgence must be removed from our lives.

I disagree. Financial goals should bring joy to our lives. Isn’t saving for an early retirement an exciting thing? Isn’t paying down debt and having a date in sight for when you will be debt-free a joyous goal? How exciting it is to save to purchase your own home.

People who are most successful in achieving financial goals are those who set targets that are steeped in their values and meaningful to them. When you set goals that are underpinned by your values, do you need the same level of willpower to achieve them?

If your goals are what you actually want to achieve, not what you believe you should do based on what society tells you or what other people are doing, how hard is it to do the work required to achieve them?

Major change, even when steeped in our values, may still require an element of willpower. But I wonder if what gets us through is willpower? There is another way to approach this.

Common financial habits people want to change are impulse buying and mindless spending so they can instead save more or pay off debt. I hear how they lack the willpower to stop spending online when they feel sad or bored.

Willpower alone will not break the habit. It can be complex but for most, having a reason to break the habit plus a replacement habit they can action, which provides the same adrenalin hit, requires less willpower than simply not doing it.

Replace the pleasure you derive from shopping with something more financially positive. Instead of making the purchase, transfer the amount you were tempted to spend to your savings account or make a debt payment.

Take an alternative action that will make you feel good or proud. You may still have the adrenalin rush or sense of satisfaction but with added financial benefits.

Break down long-term financial goals into smaller milestones and celebrate achieving the milestones with rewards. If your goal has lost its lustre, switch things up.

Reset goals, realign them or add milestones to make them feel more achievable so that you can have fun along the way. Variety and flexibility are key to life and can keep you from burning out.

Find an accountability partner. Did you know that having an accountability appointment increases your chance of success to 95 per cent versus only a 10 per cent when you simply set a goal?

So, when you find yourself digging into willpower to power through your financial goals, ask yourself, what is this resistance telling me?

Carol Glynn is the founder of Conscious Finance Coaching

Updated: February 04, 2022, 4:00 AM