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Project: Motivation

Start ArticleInevitably, folks trying to live a financially-sound lifestyle will come upon the problem of "perpetual motivation."

Let's face it:   Time passes. Emotions run hot. One day soon, that boutique down the street is going to run absolutely mind-blowing specials on your favorite apricot-and-seaweed scented candles. And there you'll be, face glued to the window, drooling on the tempered glass like a little kid. So how do you keep your Responsible Inner Self in command when your Fun-Loving Inner Self makes a move into the spotlight?

We have to realize that there is such a thing as "spending withdrawal." You've been budgeting diligently, cutting back here and there. Money perhaps isn't quite so tight just now. Things are beginning to look up. Then the Great Spending Urge strikes, and for most people, it's not an easy hurdle to overcome.

In the Money Wars, conquering enemy territory is easy enough when the ideas are brand new. When the desire for financial improvement is fresh, exciting, vigorous. When future rewards perhaps seem distant, yet still glow brightly enough to lead you in their direction.

But those Hallmark sentiments are going to fizzle, and when they do, you're going to need to be able to keep yourself gunning in the right direction. Try out these ideas.

Read, read, read.

And then, when you're done reading, read some more. Books tend to be quite effective for self-motivation — probably because they're tangible and heavy and substantial and involve some physical action (flipping pages) to complete. Plus the good ones go into strong detail that you won't get in any other form of media. But even magazine articles, whether acquired free from the internet or whatever, will keep your mind focused on the financial tasks at hand. Good financial message boards can serve a purpose here, too.

Perhaps most importantly, be sure to read about what others in your position have done, and are doing, to overcome many of the same problems you're facing. How to do this? Easy! Build up your own personal-finance blogroll. And get to reading.

Note: Magazine articles and blog- and message-board posts have one advantage in this area:   They tend to be short and bite-sized. This means they're perfect "motivational nuggets" if you've only got a few minutes to spare. How to make full use of this? Well, as you bounce around the 'net, reading money-related articles and such, when you find something good, print it out. Grab a big three-ring binder and save your printouts in there. You'll have quality reading handy whenever you need a quick bit of inspiration.

ASIDE:   I would be remiss if I didn't mention the works of motivational gurus like Anthony Robbins and Brian Tracy. While I consider much of this brand of "self-motivational literature" to be little more than a way to goose the authors' bank accounts, I must admit that in this case, value is certainly where you find it. Put simply, there are some golden nuggets of wisdom in the books and audio files presented by folks like Robbins, Tracy, and all the others. But it's also easy to go overboard with their materials and spring headlong into a buying spree of repetitious schlock. You probably wouldn't go too wrong picking up a used paperback or two, or borrowing them from your local library.

Keep a notebook of motivational quotes.

Yeah, it's corny. But you'd be surprised how well it works — and not just in times of desperate need. For starters, here's a small PDF file of motivational sayings to get you going.

In addition, you might also take a look at Debtspiration, my other (newer) site set up for just this purpose.

Take a financial class or seminar.

And I don't mean lay out palmfuls of money on one, either. In my city, the local vo-tech usually offers several personal-finance classes each semester; they range from single-session discussions on specific topics or books ($20) to multi-month classes in investing and retirement planning and such ($200). Often, churches and other community groups offer seminars along these lines also. Either way, these classes can give you something to look forward to. They can also get your mind focused and back on the subject at hand (respecting your money and putting it toward its wisest uses).

Keep your goals right in front of you.

Not only must you have specific money-related goals, but they have to be (1) tangible, (2) written down, and (3) posted where you can see them several times per day. Author Napoleon Hill is not overstating when he writes that "Failure is when you let your goals slip out of your mind's eye."

After all, if you can't see the target, your chances of hitting it are minute.

Make sure you're working on short-term goals, too.

A great many things can come between you and the goals you've set to accomplish in two, three, or five years. Such is the nature of time, and of life. This is why you must make sure you're striding toward shorter finish lines, too — finish lines that can be reached in mere weeks or months. Do not underestimate the motivational boost of small accomplishments.

Keep markers of your progress right in front of you.

When you make headway, make a big deal of it. Keep your successes as close and as visual as possible. There's nothing quite like eyeing a series of steadily-declining debt balances, or steadily-rising savings balances, or a swelling list of paid-in-full credit-card debts. This is one time in life where you simply must relish the zeroes.

Don't put yourself in positions of weakness.

Hello?! McFly?! If you love to spend money on high-tech gadgets, but your budget for the month is already running in the red, don't schedule visits to Best Buy or Circuit City. (Most of the time I don't evenallow myself to look through the weekend sales circulars.) If you're a sucker for new music CDs, don't get near the music aisles at Wal-Mart. If you can't not buy a handful of nineteenth-century Swedish bathroom knick-knacks every time you hit eBay, then don't visit the site. And so on.

You'll expend much less effort avoiding temptation than you would resisting it. And your checking- and savings-account balances will thank you.

Remember the bad stuff.

It might not be the best thing for your blood pressure, but it can do wonders for your wallet. If you've ever been (or currently are) in a position where you simply didn't have the money for some necessity (electric bill, rent payment, auto payment, etc.) and absolutely positively hated the way it felt to be in that financial place, then think back to it. Consider how horrible you felt. How your mind spun and your inner self cried and your head ached as it strained for answers. Vow that you are working toward a better place for yourself. Vow that you will grasp full control of your finances and your life. Vow that you will never be in such a drastic, sleep-depriving position again. As Dr. Phil McGraw writes:

If you have been cheating yourself in life, it's quite possible that you're in pain. Believe it or not, that may now actually be a good thing, something you can use to your benefit. Pain, if acknowledged, can be a powerful motivator. Whatever pain is present in your life right now may serve as the fuel in your quest for change. Use the pain to reach for something different.

Soon, though, you'll need to let that pain go, and remember where you truly wish to be:   free, secure, in full command. Don't take crap; take action. Consider the words of Dr. Maria Nemeth:

The key to an easy life is to learn to use fear and discomfort as teachers.

When all else fails, create a diversion.

Find something you love to do — and already have cheap or no-cost access to — and do it. If you have a good computer game that you can get lost in for a while, do that. If you can forget darn near everything and spend hours browsing in your local library, do that. If pulling weeds or planting roses or photographing flowers and statues on a nearby campus distracts you from everything except perhaps the end of the world, then you have your diversion. Get the picture?

Just be careful that you don't let this diversion become a detriment to your finances in its own way!