What It Takes

Today I want to talk to you about discipline – specifically, why it is so important to your financial success and how I am absolutely terrible at it but still manage to “win” financially (and how you can, too, if you choose!).

So let’s get right to it… why is self-discipline so important to your financial success?

To achieve financial success, you must learn things like:

  • How to stop yourself from buying yet another “shiny object” that you don’t need (even though you really want it!)
  • How to firmly stick to your savings plan (even though you really want to go out to dinner instead of cooking tonight)
  • How to use a trailing stop on an investment and stick to it when it hits (even though you “know” the stock is going to go higher and this hitting of your stop is only temporary…ha!)

Yes, self-discipline is vital to your financial success!

So what is self-discipline and how do we acquire it?

Well, the official definition according to Merriam-Webster is:

self-dis·ci·pline: The ability to control one’s feelings and overcome one’s weaknesses; the ability to pursue what one thinks is right despite temptations

This implies that self-discipline is an “ability”…either you have it or you don’t. (I totally disagree, by the way, but we’ll get to that in a minute…).

It IS true that some people do just seem to be born with an extra dose of self-discipline – my husband, for example, is one of the most disciplined people I know. He will always choose a “side salad, no dressing” instead of french fries, every single time (actually his whole family is like that, so I suppose that supports the whole “genetic” concept!).

But what about those of us who weren’t magically born with the self-discipline gene/ability? What do we do?

I personally have terrible self-discipline. When faced with a choice between sleeping in a few more minutes or springing up out of bed the instant the alarm sounds, I hit the “snooze” button every time. When choosing between another glass of wine or a healthy glass of water, the wine wins hands-down. When setting a sell-limit order for a stock, I have been known to panic, cancel it, and put in a market order to sell the stock “RIGHT NOW” because I don’t have the discipline to wait and instead worry that the price will drop further before I can sell it.

Like I said, self-discipline is not my strong point.

And yet, I have still managed to work around this flaw and achieve financial success. So what is my secret weapon that allows me to beat out those non-disciplined behaviors above, every single time I use it?

It’s my own definition:

self-discipline: the act of forcing yourself to do things you really, REALLY don’t want to do, but know you should do anyway because it’s good for you

My secret weapon is the fact that I know myself and KNOW that I have absolutely no natural self-discipline whatsoever, so in order to do the things I know I need to do to be successful, I must game my own system so that I will win. This allows me to beat out those non-disciplined behaviors that I mentioned above every single time!

Let me show you how this works for me:

I will hit the snooze button every time… UNLESS I know I will make my kids late for school. (Note that being late myself isn’t always enough motivation for me, but making someone ELSE late does it for me)

I will choose wine every single time… UNLESS I know that it will totally wreck my sleep and make my next day a disaster (alcohol within 2-3 hours of bed just kills my sleep, and sleep is my favorite thing in life!)

I will cancel my well-thought-out sell-limit order… UNLESS I completely leave the house and get away from my PC! And preferably to meet someone else, so that I can’t just turn around and drive home without having to explain myself to the friend and become incredibly embarrassed.

I will procrastinate writing these blog emails… UNLESS I have multiple people waiting for me to send it out and I will be totally embarrassed not to get it done!

I will procrastinate working on this site/business at all… UNLESS I set up a meeting with coaches who will be holding me accountable on my progress.

For me, since I have no innate “self-discipline” behavior, it all comes down to pain and pleasure. I have to make the pain of NOT doing whatever it is I should be doing worse than actually just doing the disciplined behavior.

I’ve found that embarrassment is a huge motivator for me, although your mileage may vary… you will have to find what works best for YOU, and then go on and game your system so that you win!

I’ve also found that I respond more to “avoiding pain” than “experiencing pleasure”, because most of the behaviors I am trying to make myself do are painful in the first place, so I have to make NOT doing them even more painful! But again, your mileage may vary… just figure out what works for you and get it done.

[Ed. Note: Susan Fujii is an accredited investor and the author of www.KungFuFinance.com, a website dedicated to empowering people to make better financial decisions to and to help her readers make sense of the current financial environment.]