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Psych Your Mind: Your fiscal future is in your own hands

Rose Cora Perry | Interrobang | Opinion | November 28th, 2011



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Defined by the Encyclopedia of Psychology as "the ability to forgo an immediate pleasure or reward in order to gain a more substantial one later," learning to delay gratification goes hand-in-hand with learning to enhance one's self-control. Psychologically speaking, the problem for many of us stems from the fact that society promotes self-motivation and personal responsibility as desirable personality traits to possess, while at the same time suffocating us with advertising campaigns promoting indulgence and frivolousness, suggesting we can 'have it all.' The fact is, you can't. As I learned a long time ago and hope to impart onto you, anything that is worth fighting for will NOT come without its challenges, and small sacrifices are NECESSARY in order to achieve large payoffs.

Developing self-control is only possible once one is able to identify the emotions and motivations driving his/her behaviour( s). Notice once again how it always comes back to good old introspection! It is true that some people are genetically hardwired with poorer impulse control, however even they can learn how to delay gratification with some practise. "Suppression" (i.e.: putting the steps toward accomplishing one's goals out of mind) is actually useful here. For instance, if one sets up an automatic monthly transfer of a set amount of funds between their chequing and savings accounts, they are more likely to save that money than if they were physically making the transfers themselves.

After this, it's all a matter of goal setting and "global processing" (i.e.: focusing on the big picture – your ENTIRE life). Importantly, goals that are defined using measurable and concrete terms (e.g.: I want to have X amount of dollars in savings by the time I reach X age) ensure a higher likelihood of staying on target.

(Sidenote: Do NOT, I repeat do NOT, change your spending habits until you reach your goals, even if in the meantime you've got yourself a snazzy promotion; this is a major pitfall too many fall into. Goals most certainly change throughout your life, but the road to them, one that is slow and steady, should not.)

While it's totally fine and common to give yourself small rewards along the way for sticking to the program, you don't want to let these rewards get out of hand, thereby undermining the bigger objectives you're working toward. Great ways to keep yourself in check include: practising meditation and internal coaching as well as drawing "mental equivalences" each time you feel compelled to impulse buy (e.g.: one of this item is equivalent to X of this item – which would I rather have?). Monitoring your progress, too, is in and of itself motivating.

As students of psychological maturity, we essentially need to learn to turn OFF our natural (and socially programmed) tendency toward "temporal discounting" and turn ON the process of "metacognition." In other words, as psychologist Walter Mischel puts it, we need to master the skill of "strategically allocating our attention."

Financial experts report that you need at least a million bucks (yes, you read correctly) in the bank by the time you're 60 to ensure a comfortable (NOT luxurious or extravagant) retirement. That ain't just gonna happen overnight, and I wouldn't hedge my bets on the lottery!

Aside from helping you learn to save, Mischel's 1970s marshmallow experiment on the subject at hand revealed a notable correlation between higher levels of selfcontrol and better life outcomes (e.g.: higher marks in school and higher paying jobs) as well as lower incidence of risk-taking behaviour and the development of personal vices such as drug addiction and overeating. In sum, learn to delay gratification – it's not just money in the bank!

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