All of us are a mixture of logic and emotion. We think and we feel. The two interact continuously with one another – mind acting upon the emotions and emotions acting upon the mind.
One of the toughest emotions we deal with is pain. We know it’s going to come from various sources and in varying intensities throughout our life. So we prepare for it as best we can, hoping we don’t have to endure great amounts of it along the way.
The personal finance portion of our lives can’t escape the issue of pain. In fact, our habits often facilitate the onset of pain because we make poor decisions with money. We spend too much, fail to pay off debts and don’t plan for what the future holds.
The problem is that we seem to be OK with certain levels of pain. We may get frustrated about it, but most pain is not powerful enough to force us to drastically change our patterns of behavior. Instead, we endure all kinds of abusive relationships, deplorable job situations, poor physical fitness levels and sinful behaviors until the pain engulfs us.
I believe for real change to happen we need to experience pain levels so severe they lead us to scream “I’ve had it!” At that moment, our mind is ready to make changes that will alter behavior and subsequently move us forward.
The “I’ve Had It!” Moment Visualized
The “I’ve had it!” moment exists as a threshold to break through and can be visualized in the graph below:
As life events unfold we experience ups and downs and different degrees of pain associated with our circumstances. Some actions may lead to an increase in pain but not to a level of intensity where it forces us to change our behavior. For example, a person may not like paying the interest on a monthly credit card bill. However, it doesn’t stop them from using the credit card or finding a way to pay it off each month when the statement comes due even though it’s negatively impacting their financial health.
If that scenario continues (and it may take years), eventually they will reach a point where the debt is overwhelming. There will come a time, when the stress, fear and anger over their situation causes the pain to spike. It’s at that moment a person crosses their threshold, identified in the graph by where the red line crosses the black horizontal line. That level of pain facilitates the conscious decision to change poor behaviors.
Pain Thresholds Vary
Until the pain intensity exceeds our threshold, lasting change will not occur. It’s interesting though, that pain thresholds vary from person to person. They are different for everyone. What causes me to change may not do it for you.
My pain threshold was reached when I realized how dramatically my overspending was causing frustration and security issues for my wife. I heard her talk about how we were spending more than we made each month and gently suggest that we should not be dipping into savings to pay off our credit card bill. I pretty much ignored it for years until finally it all came pouring out. You’ve had those nights with your spouse, right?
When she challenged me to look at our monthly budget and complete financial picture, I could see the downward trajectory we were on. Our financial lives were not moving forward and would be in serious jeopardy unless I got my act together. With that, I experienced my moment and began the process of change.
Where’s Your Threshold?
Are you seriously content to sputter along and put up with the painful situations your habits are producing? What’s it going to take for the negative financial behavior to change today?
You shouldn’t have to experience pain to change but that’s how it works. It would be wise to identify those poor habits and fix them now, saving yourself some frustration along the way.
What painful moment(s) caused you to turn the page? How long did it take before you said “I’ve had it!”? Do you think anything else causes change besides pain?