Do you ever feel like no matter how much money you make, it never seems like enough? You’re not alone. A recent survey found that more than half of middle-income families didn’t have three months of expenses saved.¹ Debt and spending can be out of control for many reasons—the economy, our upbringing, or even because we’re hardwired to want more. This article explores three bad habits that may be hurting your financial situation. You might be surprised by what they are!
Treating credit cards like free money. When you’re tempted to buy something and don’t have the cash, it’s easy to just use credit. But instant gratification can have serious consequences. Little by little, you may find yourself racking up more and more debt. Paying your monthly credit card bill can start requiring all of your cash flow… and maybe more. Yikes.
The solution? Limit your credit card usage as much as possible. Make a habit of only using your credit card for certain low-dollar items, like gas. If you can’t buy your impulse purchase in cash, go home!
Trying to buy happiness. It’s tempting to think that you’re going to be happy if you buy one thing or another. But what happens when the newness wears off? Suddenly, you have a closet full of clothes and shoes that really aren’t making you any happier! The same is true of houses, cars, gadgets, anything you can think of. Buying things to keep up appearances or just because you think they’ll make you fulfilled is a recipe for overspending on things that, ultimately, don’t matter.
The key is to find happiness beyond your material possessions. That’s no small task, and there’s no set road map for it. But it’s absolutely critical to find a source of meaning that isn’t tied to stuff and things. You could be happier—and more financially stable—for it.
Ignoring your financial situation. Let’s face it—finances can be scary! Overwhelming debt, paying for college, and feeling out of your depth are uncomfortable emotions. And ignoring and denying uncomfortable feelings is often a first line of defense.
But it’s a dangerous game. Ignoring what the numbers tell you can lead you deeper and deeper into financial instability. You could be setting up a much harder path for yourself in the future than if you tackled your financial situation now.
Tackling your financial fears isn’t always easy. It might require serious soul searching. Just know these three things…
Acknowledging the problem is the first step. Once you can admit that your finances need help, you’re ready to start making positive changes.
Seeking help is always wise. Whether it’s a friend, spouse, qualified counselor, or financial professional, enlisting help can give you the courage you need to face your fears.
You can do this! It might not feel like it, but you have what it takes to confront this challenge… and win! Don’t lose hope, and start moving forward.
Managing your money wisely requires more than knowing different techniques and strategies. It takes maturity. The more you invest in making improvements to your life overall, the better emotionally equipped you’ll be to navigate the world of personal finances.
¹ “A year after COVID, personal finances are not so grim for millions of Americans,” Jessica Menton, USA TODAY, Apr 9, 2021, https://www.usatoday.com/in-depth/money/2021/04/09/irs-stimulus-check-2021-third-covid-payment-unemployment-benefits/7015277002/
Having flaws in your work pointed out to you can be a stressful experience and seriously affect your mood and self-image. Even criticizing someone else’s performance may make you feel uncomfortable and self-conscious.
But criticism is incredibly important. When done correctly, it can empower us to improve our weaknesses and maximize our strengths. But first, we have to learn how to receive criticism well and not let our egos get in the way. Here are a few ideas!
Pause and reframe <br> It’s easy to react poorly even to the best intentioned criticism. There’s an emotional leap we make where something simple like “I think this could be said better” gets interpreted as “you’re dumb and made a dumb decision and will always be dumb.” But that’s often our own emotions or insecurities talking and unnecessarily connecting dots. Next time you’re facing criticism, try taking a deep breath and pausing before you respond or react. You can also take that pause to reframe the situation in your mind. Is this really your boss seeking to degrade and destroy you or is this an opportunity to learn and improve?
Know your value <br> One of the key factors in how you handle criticism is how you value yourself. Even gentle advice can deeply hurt someone who has a low estimation of their worth. To them, it may seem to confirm their suspicion that they’re really not that useful and that they should probably just give up. The same goes for people who are dependent on praise and approval. Criticism can make them feel like they have to perform like a superhuman to earn the approval of the person criticizing. Until they do that, they’ll be a nervous wreck!
The key to overcoming these barriers is to understand that you have value in and of yourself. Part of that worth comes from your accomplishments and skills, but some of it comes down to your mindset. What do you tell yourself about yourself? Have you really studied the art of self-confidence? Start developing the skills it takes to know your own worth and watch as your attitude towards feedback changes!
Consider the source <br> It’s also worth remembering that not all criticism is created equal. There’s some feedback that might not be worth taking seriously whatsoever. Your nagging grandmother, your impossible to please friend, and your nitpicking coworker are probably not the best places to turn for useful critiques and advice. But bosses, experts, and mentors? That’s where you need to put aside your pride, remember that you still have value, and actually listen.
You might be surprised how these simple steps can transform your perspective on criticism. Suddenly, the advice and critiques of others seem less like threats and more like opportunities. There’s so much wisdom walking around in your peers and mentors. Learning how to handle criticism like a pro opens up access to a whole new world of experience and ideas that just might change your life!
Some people seem to be born with an eye for the new and the unexpected and the exciting. There’s nothing wrong with conventional thinking; you probably don’t want a doctor or nurse known for an avant-garde attitude! But there are times when we’re confronted by problems without obvious solutions. We have to think outside the box to overcome and make progress. Fortunately, there are some steps you can take to approach life more creatively. You might not become a Van Gogh, but these tips might come in handy the next time you encounter a roadblock.
Talk to the experts to expand your horizons <br> Experts can be a touch boring, especially when they keep lording their knowledge over you at dinner parties. But they can also be a huge source of inspiration, if you know how to talk to them! Instead of zoning out or looking for a way to interject your own opinion, start listening for opportunities to ask questions. Look for things you don’t understand about what they’re saying or an idea that strikes you as interesting and ask them about it. And when they’re done explaining it, try repeating it back in your own words. You might be surprised by the connections that your brain starts to make. Plus, the person you’re talking to will feel valued and appreciated!
Get bored <br> Boredom births creativity.(1) It’s counterintuitive, but it makes sense when you think about it. Your brain likes to be busy. Watching paint dry or reading the phonebook is so dull that (if you actually did those activities) you’d spontaneously start exploring new ideas just to pass the time. Your brain is never less inhibited or less constrained than when you’re performing a mundane task. Clear out some time in your schedule for a boring activity. Maybe (safely!) try voice recording your ideas in the car on your commute to and from work. You might find a long shower is the perfect time to brainstorm and think through problems. Get creative and do something monotonous!
Pick up a creative hobby <br> If your schedule is already full and you’re constantly on the move, picking up a hobby might seem kind of pointless. But a hobby can teach you important lessons about creativity that you can’t learn anywhere else. You might learn that performing a beautiful song is composed of dozens of little micro-movements and components that all take time to learn and master. You might learn that painting a stunning landscape starts with a single brushstroke. And you might learn that out-foxing your opponent in chess comes down to your burgeoning ability to imagine a dozen possible outcomes and responding well when things don’t go your way. Clear out some time, talk to an expert, and start creating something just for fun!
Start with the craziest idea first <br> Convention is the biggest enemy of creativity. We’ve all had ideas that we’re afraid to share or voice because we think people will think we’re stupid. But being creative is all about seeing potential where no one else can. And that by default means some folks are going to shoot you looks. Overcome all of that by expressing your wildest ideas first. Come out of the gate with a barn burner. Listen to serious feedback and criticisms, but don’t be afraid to voice your ideas. You might just stumble on something brilliant!
These tips may not transform you into a generation-defining sculptor or wordsmith*. But they might just spark the creative edge you need to see problems in a new light and find opportunities where others see danger. So make some time, start some conversations, pick up some hobbies, and start dreaming!
*Please let me know if this article does happen to make you into a generation defining artist of any kind!
Maybe we’re overwhelmed by the sheer size of the task and our brains just shut down. We might have a few odds and ends to wrap up that don’t seem very important after all. Or there might be an issue that we’ve ignored for so long that we don’t even really think about it until it’s almost too late!
Most of us know that procrastination usually doesn’t produce a good result. Here’s a quick look at how procrastination works and how you can beat it!
Why do we procrastinate? <br> There are a few reasons why we procrastinate. In general, your brain is much better at understanding the here and now than something that has yet to happen. The hassle of completing a task can seem more real to us than the future feeling of accomplishment we’ll have once everything is said and done.(1)
But it goes deeper than that. Oftentimes, we procrastinate when we associate negative emotions with a task.(2) That’s why we often put off boring or physically demanding tasks as long as possible. We might also be afraid of facing the consequences of failing at the task or being judged poorly by our peers. Putting off the task is an easy, though often costly, way of regulating those doubts and fears. But avoiding the task doesn’t normally make us feel better. Procrastination often leads to a spiral; we put off a task out of fear, feel bad about ourselves, grow more fearful, and on and on.
How to avoid procrastination <br> There are a few strategies you can use to combat procrastination. Try breaking your tasks down into the smallest, least intimidating pieces possible and start knocking them out, one by one. That can make a big problem seem much more manageable in the short term. You might also want to reward yourself when you overcome each milestone to help you associate productivity with something positive.
But overcoming procrastination isn’t always about strategy. Sometimes we have to overcome deep feelings of fear and anxiety. Studies have shown that practices like self-compassion and re-framing an issue can go a long way to defeating procrastination. Ask yourself why you’re avoiding a task. Is it fear of your work not being recognized? Fear of being ignored? Try to work through what’s causing the slow down and recognize what’s going on!
Don’t forget to cut yourself some slack next time you hit a roadblock. It happens to everyone! Take a breath, try to understand what precisely it is you’re avoiding, and then look on the bright side of how much better you’ll feel once your work is complete!
Our lives are full of actions that we’re almost unaware of. Many of them just help us get little things done more efficiently. But some habits can have a huge impact on our lives in either a positive or negative way. Here’s a quick breakdown of how habits work and ways to “trick yourself” into better behavior patterns.
Why habits? <br> We’ve looked at why the brain likes habits in a previous article, but it’s worth reviewing again!
Your brain craves efficiency. It looks for the path of least resistance when it comes to using energy. Making decisions takes a lot of brain power. Too many choices in a day can leave you feeling mentally exhausted, so your brain looks for ways to cut corners. It starts automating little decisions that you make repeatedly. Brushing your teeth, tying your shoes, and checking your social media are choices you’ve made so often that your brain stops consciously weighing in and seems to just spontaneously make you do them.
So that’s why your brain likes forming habits. But the mechanics of how a habit forms is essential if you’re trying to upgrade your unconscious behaviors!
Cues, Routines, and Rewards <br> A habit can be broken down into three basic components. It starts with a cue. That’s any kind of trigger that makes you want to do something. Actually performing the action suggested by the cue is called a routine. Following the routine usually results in some kind of reward, either physical or psychological.
So let’s say you’ve developed a habit of eating a cookie with your morning coffee. You wake up, put on the pot, and brew a delicious cup of joe. You instantly start craving the cookie when you smell that medium roast goodness. That’s the cue. You reach into the jar, grab the biggest chocolate chip cookie you can get your hands on, and take a bite. That’s the routine. And the tingling joy and comfort you feel when that life-giving treat hits your tongue? That’s the reward that brings you back morning after morning. But the consequence might be that you’ve put on a few unwanted pounds in the last couple of months.
How to use the habit pattern <br> It’s easy to see how certain habits can lead to some undesirable outcomes. We tend to form habits around anything that rewards our brains, whether it’s junk food, caffeine, or dangerous substances. But our brains also like things such as observing progress and accomplishing goals.
How can we use this to encourage good habits? Here are a few ideas: Start really small: Break your desired habit down into pieces and try to regularly perform each one. You might be surprised by how good it feels to accomplish something, which can prompt you to make more and more progress. Reward yourself: Some activities are very rewarding in the moment. But not everything that’s good for you leaves you feeling accomplished right away. Try something like only playing video games after 30 minutes of reading! Be patient: Habits don’t form overnight. You’ll probably mess up before it sticks. Don’t sweat the little failures and keep trying until that habit becomes second nature!
You can also use this knowledge to break bad habits. Try to identify the cues associated with the habit and avoid or eliminate them. Also, consider ways that you might actually be rewarding yourself for bad behavior. It’s worth asking friends and sometimes professionals for insights into your habits!
Have you considered the role your surroundings play in your everyday life? It turns out that one of the easiest ways to bring about change in our lives is actually to change our environments. What if the layout of your bedroom or the distance from your desk to the kitchen was impacting your productivity and decision making? There’s plenty of room for each of us to improve. Here’s how and why making some changes to your environment works.
Your brain is efficient <br> Making decisions is draining. (Heard of “decision fatigue”? It’s real!) We can only make so many choices per day before we start to run out of steam and need a rest. But we’re faced with countless choices every time we wake up! Should I go back to sleep? Should I shower or brush my teeth first? What will I wear to work? Should I try out that new shortcut to the office? It can become stressful for your brain to struggle with a choice every time one of these little prompts presents itself. That’s why we rely on decision shortcuts called habits.
A habit is just a routine that you regularly perform. Most of the time we don’t even notice that we’re engaging in a habit because it’s second nature to us. And there’s a reason for that. It’s your brain saving energy by going on autopilot to perform an action without having to make a decision. That way you can use the bulk of your mental power on unique and important problems that might pop up during the day, not on thinking about when you should brush your teeth!
Trick yourself into making wise decisions <br> What does your brain’s love of shortcuts have to do with your environment? Let’s look at an example.
Your alarm clock is right next to your bed. It goes off every morning at 7:30am. It doesn’t take you long to figure out that you can smack the snooze button and go straight back to sleep with hardly any effort. Before long you’re hitting the snooze button every time the alarm goes off without even thinking about it. You’ve trained yourself to sleep in later by making your alarm easier to turn off. But what if your alarm was on the other side of your room? What if to silence it you had to stand up, walk over, and hit a button? That simple change could give you the jolt that you need to wake up and get your day started on time!
Take a look at your surroundings and ask yourself what kind of behavior it encourages. Is it more convenient for you to grab a soda from the fridge or fill up your water bottle? When you work at home, are you in the middle of distractions like the kids playing or too close to the TV? At work, does your office layout lend itself to productivity or socializing with your co-workers?
It might take some legwork to get started, but try to arrange your life in a way that makes wise decisions easier. You might be surprised by the results!
But it doesn’t have to be like this. The morning hours can be times of relaxation, focus, and self-improvement. Here are a few practical habits that can take your mornings from pointless to productive!
Go to bed early <br> Stayed up too late watching just one more episode of your favorite show? Don’t expect to wake up feeling motivated. A productive morning starts the night before. Try to stay away from screens before going to bed (at least one hour) and make sure you turn in at a reasonable time. You may also want to dial back when you wake up. Having a quiet hour or two before everyone else wakes up is a great way of freeing up time to invest in things you care about. Just remember that your new sleep schedule will take some time to adjust to!
Exercise first thing <br> One of the best habits to fill your new-found morning hours is exercise. It’s a great way to get your blood flowing and boost your energy. Plus, the feeling that you’ve accomplished something can help carry you through the day and boost your confidence.
Prioritize your tasks <br> But let’s say you’ve started getting up an hour and a half earlier and you work out for 30 minutes. How are you going to spend the next hour before you start getting ready for work? One great habit is to start planning out your day and prioritizing your tasks. Write down what specifically you want to accomplish and when. You might be amazed by how empowering it is to make a plan and to see your goals on a piece of paper. Start off with your biggest task. The morning is when you’re at your peak brain power, so commit your best efforts to the hardest work. The feeling of accomplishment from knocking out the task will carry you through the smaller things!
Mornings don’t have to be rough. Incorporating these tips and habits into your daily routine can help make the first hours of the day a time you look forward to. Start inching your alarm closer towards sunrise and use that extra time to absolutely crush your day!