The tough thing about goals is hanging in with the day-to-day tasks required to reach them.
Saving money, for example, is easy in principle, but exceedingly difficult when you're constantly being bombarded with marketing messages and Facebook status updates featuring new cars. How can you get through the day without losing track of your financial goals?
The answer is to treat yourself like an athlete -- a willpower athlete.
It all comes down to willpower
Psychologists often describe willpower as a muscle, and just like any other muscle it can get fatigued. You know what this looks like: you come home from work and decide to watch TV instead of going to the gym, or buy take-out instead of cooking, or perhaps even go shopping instead of dealing with the laundry.
In other words, your ability to make good decisions is limited by the strength of your willpower, just like your ability to bench press is limited by the strength of your muscles. To make better financial decisions every day, you need to maximize your available willpower.
There are three things you can do that will pay huge dividends in becoming a willpower athlete. Funny enough, they're the same activities that will make you a better physical athlete as well.
Start with sleep
It can often feel like there just isn't enough time in the day to take time for sleep. But it's critically important.
Study after study shows the value of sleep, not just for decision-making but for all aspects of life. Getting enough sleep can literally make you healthier, smarter, and more controlled. Conversely, chronic sleep deprivation doesn't just impact your ability to stick with your financial goals, it can have a swift negative impact on your overall health.
So, if you want to make it as easy as possible to stick with your financial plan, do yourself a favor and sleep. The usual recommendation is more than 6.5 hours a day, but one study found that athletes who slept 10 hours per night had major improvements in performance. Considering that I like sleep and we're focusing on becoming willpower athletes, I'm going to go ahead and use that as my benchmark.
Your brain is a glutton for sugar. It consumes fully 20% of the body's energy, and that energy comes from glucose.
So, you can imagine how excited your brain gets by donuts, which are literally dripping in sugar. Unfortunately, donuts cause your blood sugars to spike, which is really fun for about 30 minutes until they fall again -- in quite dramatic fashion.
This may sound irrelevant, but I promise it's important: blood glucose levels are a notable determinant of willpower strength. And if yours are going up and down like crazy, you're making it that much harder to stick with the big picture. Instead, you're fighting hunger and possibly a bad mood, which have both been very clearly linked to overspending.
To fight this, focus on nutrition. Remember, you're not on a diet, you're an athlete, and your goal is to maximize the strength of your willpower. While your optimal diet might be different than mine, it almost certainly involves eating more whole foods and less sugar.
I know, you've heard it before, but the benefits of exercise really can't be overstated.
Research has found that bullied mice who live in environments with a lot of potential activities get less stressed out than mice who live in empty cages. In other words, exercise helps mice deal with the pressures of unfriendly peers.
How? It turns out that exercise helps to bolster the strength of an area in the brain that's involved in stress response and emotional regulation. Helping that area become stronger provides extra strength for your willpower.
So, even if you're not big on exercise, think of a daily walk or a class at the gym as an investment in your financial future. By strengthening your willpower muscles, you'll find it easier to stick by your goals to get out of debt, accumulate wealth, or learn how to invest.
Here's to a happy and healthy financial life!