The Two Yous

You suffer from a split personality.

There is the “Thinking You” that wants to lose weight, stop smoking, read books or save money.

Then there is the “Impulsive You” that eats cake, smokes- but only when drinking, watches hours of mind-numbing TV or can’t resist a $6 Starbucks on the way to work.

The “Thinking You” is always yelling at the “Impulsive You”:  “Have some self-control.”

“Smart You” may win for a while but when you’re tired, or hungry or lonely or sad, YOU are going to lose.

Keeping a grip all the time is exhausting. It’s no fun and it doesn’t work. It is true that once new habits are well established things get a lot easier, but in the beginning before your desired behavior is a habit, it can be a battle.

So, how do you win?  Easy, you cheat.

If you need $150 a paycheck to go into savings to cover those non-monthly expenses like insurance, taxes, vacation and Christmas you have two choices. You can cash your check and wrestle “Impulsive You” for the $150 or you can, either through direct deposit or automatic transfer, have the money put where it belongs before you ever see it.

If the morning Starbucks is not in your budget but you routinely find yourself there, try one of these solutions:

  • If you can budget one a week you may be able to pacify “Impulsive You” by saying we’ll stop on Friday.
  • If your to-go cup is full with really good home brewed coffee when you leave the house, there is less reason to stop.
  • Can you take another route? Maybe pick up a co-worker on the way and enjoy some conversation instead.

Nobody knows “Impulsive You” like “Thinking You”. Plan around your temptations. Self-control is not an endless resource. At any given moment you’ve only got about a cup of it, use it up and you are at “Impulsive You’s” mercy for the rest of the day. When you know a situation saps your self-control, avoid it. Automate important or difficult processes so you don’t need to re-make your decisions every month.

Remember the kids that stared at the marshmallow? They ate it. They used up all their self control and the marshmallow was still sitting there, so they gobbled it up. The successful kids distracted themselves by looking away or singing songs.

Take a lesson from the 4-year-olds and learn to distract the “Impulsive You”.

Did you eat your marshmallow?

Winning with money is more about behavior than knowledge.

Plenty of very smart high earners do a poor job of building wealth. I know, because I was one of them. They typically out-earn their “stupid” behavior right up until they hit one of life’s speed bumps. I was lucky and got my wake-up call before wiping out.

If you’re not winning, it’s not because you lack intelligence. If you’ve tried to work a plan in the past and have been unsuccessful it could be you’re lacking some self-control. To fix that all we need is a bag of marshmallows.

Oh, The Temptation from Steve V on Vimeo.

In the 1960’s Walter Mischel conducted an experiment to measure the self-control of preschoolers. The kids were given one marshmallow and were told they could eat the one marshmallow now or if they could wait they would be given a second marshmallow. Turns out those who waited were, in later years, more dependable, better adjusted and scored higher on their SATs.

The cool thing that is rarely mentioned about the marshmallow study is that Mischel, in later studies, was able to teach the kids some simple mental tricks that dramatically increased their self-control when measured by the candy test. Mischel found that the kids that stared at the marshmallow could not resist, but those that looked away, sang songs and distracted themselves could. One successful trick Mischel asked the kids to try was to pretend that the temptation was only a picture. When they kids employed this trick they could wait 15 minutes.

Mischel says. “Once you realize that will power is just a matter of learning how to control your attention and thoughts, you can really begin to increase it.”

So this means if you have car fever stay out of the showrooms, you shoe collectors stay out of the shoe store, unless you selling stuff stay away from ebay.

You don’t need an iron will. You just need to focus your attention and thoughts on something other than your temptation.

Do you want one marshmallow or two?

Click to read more about Mischel The Secret of Self-Control.