Conditioning Your Financial Muscles for Change
By Joan Sotkin
Everyone wants more money. But if tomorrow you received a substantial raise or inherited $100,000, would you know what to do with the excess?
You may think having more money will make things easier, but that's not necessarily the case. Changing your financial position means making adjustments in your attitude and lifestyle that you may not have anticipated. Take the example of Sharon, a former client of mine who had gotten herself into significant debt. With the help of a credit counselor, Sharon devised a plan to gradually eliminate her credit card debt, stop using credit cards, and keep better financial records. For three months, she faithfully followed the program and delighted in the progress she saw—but in the fourth month, she started slipping behind in her payments and twice borrowed money from a friend. Ashamed, she stopped keeping track of her spending and within six months was back where she had started, increasing her debt, avoiding financial tasks, and only vaguely aware of her expenditures.
What happened? Sharon slid back into old habits because she hadn't developed the muscles she needed to effectively manage her money. Money muscles are like physical muscles—if they're not used regularly, they atrophy. If, like Sharon, you aren't accustomed to handling surplus funds, your muscles in that area may be weak, leading to poor money management or ill-informed decisions that cause you to lose your newfound stash. So preparing for prosperity must include not only making or attracting more money into your life but conditioning the muscles you'll need once it arrives. To bolster your money muscles, it's essential to become familiar with what I call the Identity Factor.
The Identity Factor
The Identity Factor, an internal mechanism that protects a person's concept of who they are and their place in the world, is where resistance to change often originates. If you're used to just getting by, suddenly having more than enough money can easily threaten your sense of self and activate the Identity Factor. When this happens, people typically either procrastinate or revert to old behaviors, protecting their familiar lifestyle at all costs—proving that even desired changes, when they finally do occur, can leave us feeling alienated, unsafe, and confused.
When Sharon first called me after reverting to old spending habits, she was disappointed in herself for sabotaging her progress. Once she understood she had been protecting her old identity, however, she realized her actions were not self-sabotaging but self-protective. She saw that because she did not recognize herself as a person who behaved responsibly with money, she had protected her identity by resorting to familiar behaviors with more predictable outcomes. Over time, she learned how to work through the discomfort imposed by changed behaviors and began to develop new money muscles, which helped her recommit to her financial plan.
Along with threatening a person's self-concept, significant change can also affect peer and family relationships. Since people know you as the person you once were, any change in your attitudes or behaviors requires them to respond to you differently, and consequently undergo a change of their own. Friends or family members who are not amenable to changing might try to stymie your progress—a situation likely to compound your discomfort with fears of ultimately being left alone. Fortunately, while conditioning yourself for change you will see that being alone is not inevitable. You can always redefine earlier relationships with friends and family, and also develop new relationships with people reflecting your changed state of being, who will invariably come into your life.
Actions for Financial Change
The following five actions are designed to assist in dealing with overcoming resistance caused by the Identity Factor and conditioning yourself for change by expanding self-awareness. Be patient as you make changes. Also adapt to small shifts before attempting larger ones. Any time you feel a sense of resistance, avoid criticizing yourself; instead, relax and prepare to renew your efforts.
1. Create a prosperity journal
A journal is an ideal place for defining your current situation and tracking your progress as you condition your muscles for financial change. Use it also to record your fears or resistance, affirm your successes, make note of questions that arise, or express your reactions to change. Date each entry so you can return to it later and assess your progress.
2. Find a prosperity buddy
Enlisting the help of a friend to work with can increase your motivation to minimize discomforts and make your progress to a new financial position more enjoyable. Sharing information about financial behavior, an uncommon practice, opens up new avenues of authentic expression and often releases considerable shame associated with financial habits. Choose someone with whom you feel comfortable sharing personal information. Agree to exchange experiences once or twice a week for a specified amount of time, such as thirty minutes per session, divided equally between you. The sessions will ideally take place either in person or on the phone to allow for immediate feedback. During each session, take turns noting the progress made since the last session, describing the discomforts experienced such as alienation or disorientation, asking for feedback if desired, and declaring what you will do before the next session. Avoid judging your buddy's behavior or giving unsolicited advice, which may only lead to conflict. Instead, give encouragement by praising your buddy's progress.
3. Define your financial identity
Your financial identity is made up of your thoughts, beliefs, emotions, behaviors, and your relationship with money. Gaining clarity about your financial identity can assist you in recognizing signs of resistance to financial change and in dealing with the disorientation that is likely to occur as your financial position advances.
To begin, following the format shown in the sidebar, profile each component of your financial identity in your prosperity journal, leaving space for future entries. Listen for statements you repeatedly make about your finances, especially those starting with "I," such as "I'm never going to make enough money" or "I feel stuck." In listing your behaviors, notice whether you avoid taking financial risks or tend instead to be more confident. Are you generous or prone to stinginess? Do you have a positive or negative outlook toward your financial future?
4. Change one financial behavior
To condition yourself for financial growth, take one small step toward managing your money differently. Possibilities include the following:
• Write down how much money you earn and spend in one day.
• Pay a week's worth of bills on time.
• Stop using your favorite credit card.
• Save money you would normally spend, even if it is only a dollar a week.
• Give some money away.
• Go for one day without spending money.
As you make this change, notice your feelings and record them in your prosperity journal. If you are aware of discomfort but unable to associate it with particular feelings, for now just note the discomfort.
5. Examine any resistance to financial change
If you resisted performing the previous action, ask yourself these questions:
• How will making a financial change affect my feelings about myself?
• What am I afraid might happen if I achieve financial success?
• Will feeling financially secure threaten my concept of myself?
• Will it alter my relationships with my peers or family of origin?
• Would my prosperity signify betrayal to a peer, or perhaps disloyalty to a family member?
With money, as with weights, it makes sense to gradually develop the muscles needed to safely and comfortably reach increasingly higher levels of proficiency. These exercises will help you do that by gradually boosting your financial awareness and aptitude while enhancing your understanding of the internal blocks holding you back from sustained wealth. In removing these blocks, you naturally become better equipped to support yourself and manage money well—stepping stones to not only a rosier financial future but a more satisfying life.
Excerpted and adapted, with permission, from Build Your Money Muscles: Nine Simple Steps to Improving Your Relationship with Money by Joan Sotkin (Prosperity Place, 2006). Available from bookstores everywhere or direct from the publisher at www.BuildYourMoneyMuscles.com
About the Author
Joan Sotkin, author of Build Your Money Muscles: Nine Simple Steps to Improving Your Relationship with Money, uses her colorful life experiences as a basis for helping others achieve financial well-being. A caring and insightful financial guide, she is also a popular public speaker, podcaster, seminar leader, and radio guest, as well as maintaining a thriving Web site, ProsperityPlace.com. She lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where she runs a biweekly Build Your Money Muscles support group.
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