***If the title leads you to believe that this is going to be a laundry list of “how-to” items that when simply followed will lead you to a better financial life you will likely be terribly disappointed. 😦 There are numerous such articles across the web that can do a far better job of providing that information than I can. Instead I’m wanting to look at the “why” that leads us to follow the how-to. The how-to is not complex, but human behavior is and often rejects any attempt at altering a well-worn behavior (habit). Understanding the “why” behind a desired change is critical. Hope you enjoy.***
Change. There isn’t much in life that is immune to change. It has been referred to as the one true constant. It is a fundamental component of our existence and embraces us from the time we are born, nay, from the time we are conceived. We can see change in the cities we live, the people we live with, the jobs we work, as well as in ourselves. We see the work of change in the passing of seasons and the heavens above us. Tell me, what is immune from change?
Cumberland Falls taken while hiking the Sheltowee Trace.
Moving past the physical changes that occur in our bodies during the time we are here there is another kind of change that reveals itself in our minds. If you’ve ever wanted to read more, be less wasteful, save more money, run a marathon, make a career change, lose weight or make any number of other improvements you know the change I’m referring to. There’s no shortage of behaviors we wish to change in ourselves nor is there a shortage of information instructing us how to make these changes. Think about this for a minute, in the last two decades we’ve come to a point in history in which we not only have unparalleled reservoirs of information, but access to that information literally at our fingertips. Such an amazing time we live in brought about by the dynamic forces of change constantly playing in the background of our lives.
Yet the advances in technology that provide us with the potential for improving ourselves through modifying our behavior does not guarantee that such change will occur. Human nature and habit are fickle creatures that tend to resist change regardless of how much more enjoyment could be gained from such changes. In your mind you know this, but it seems that some other part of you is attempting to sabotage your efforts.
We’ve all been there. Who hasn’t made a New Year’s resolution, proclaimed a significant change around the passing of a birthday or any other moment you felt compelled to change your behavior for another you believed would make life more enjoyable only to watch the motivation vanish and the habit you were trying to break seems to entrench itself deeper into your psyche. At these times you may feel defeated, that you lack discipline, that your goal was not appropriate, or maybe you even secretly harbored the idea that people never really change. As I mentioned earlier, human nature and the patterns of behavior it reinforces are not easily dismissed. So what’s missing?
A Question of Values
Do a search on the psychology of change or goal setting strategies and you see very quickly there is no shortage of “tools” available nor could access to those tools be any easier in your quest for change. I refer to these strategies as tools because they are the means for which you can achieve something else. Think of them as the mental infrastructure you need to change behavior, because any goal that you set is nothing more than changing a behavior. However useful they may be tools alone will not change anything, you need something far more powerful, you need something that you value.
Values are the fuel that feed your motivation to change a behavior, but they have to be meaningful to you. If you hear the word value and immediately dismiss it as nothing more than a preachy lecture that tries to persuade how you should act then you’re missing the meaning here. I’m referring to the values you hold dearly, they come from deep within you, not from without and you may not even beware of them. I’m sure you are well aware of the ones your church, family, spouse, friends and your culture in general expect of you but those really aren’t as powerful as they could be because they attempt to direct your behavior negatively. On the other hand if you can find those values that flow from the deepest source of your being you will direct your behavior in a way that brings about the external changes you desire from life.
A Personal Example
Like many of you I’m always looking for ways to reduce my expenses and save money while continuing to live what I consider “the good life”. Over the winter I continued to develop my cooking skills, but I also wanted to see how well I could eat while keeping my food expenses down. This is actually easier than you might expect, but is also deeply impacted by your own definition of “eating well”.
Couscous with sautéed veggies, Portobello mushrooms and a tahini based sauce. Yummy!!
Initially I took the approach of setting an arbitrary number to spend on groceries each month and attempting to align my eating habits with that number. This makes for a cold, impersonal and dispassionate approach to the desire to reduce an expense as anyone who has attempt to stick to a budget can relate. As a long-term method for bringing about behavioral change I believe it falls short as and effective strategy.
At the time I was also reading Bea Johnson’s, Zero Waste Home, and really wanted to reduce the waste I was generating from eating. How did an activity that is so natural become one that is so wasteful? I would look at all the packaging associated with the various ingredients I was using and how quickly it was filling up my waste container. There had to be a better way that I could eat well, save money and embrace my newfound value of wanting to have less of an impact on my environment.
Another couscous dish this time with tempeh.
I took several pointers from Bea’s book and created a compost pile in my backyard where all of my organic food waste now goes. I began to look at the packaging of foods and how I could reduce the amount of packaging brought into my home. In short I simply cultivated this new value of aligning my eating with nature and watched as I generated less waste, ate healthier than I ever have and watched my spending on food slowly decline in a very natural way. I think this is why budgets sometime make us feel like we are being restrained or denying ourselves something. When you find a value, a why for the behavior your following you give life more purpose and meaning and there is nothing restrictive about that. The attainment of my goal of reducing food expenses occurred on its own as an afterthought. This is a critical point because when your behavior becomes aligned with your values real change begins to occur.
Finding and honoring personal values changes our behavior in a different way. The change seems natural and in alignment with a greater sense of what it means to live well. I’ve given one example, but you can apply this to any changes you want to make. Invest the time in finding out what your true values are and your behavior will begin to change naturally. Give it a shot, what do you have to lose?