(Editor’s Note: These ideas are presented with no small measure of help from Tim Rettig’s article looking at 3 anti-procrastination hacks, which in turn was a response to Tim Urban’s TED talk about procrastination)
Tim Urban says the mind can be (metaphorically) divided into three different characters.
The first character is the rational decision-maker; the ‘Captain’ of the ship, the logical one that knows you should have a rainy-day emergency fund, that ‘savings’ are important and that sometimes you must make sacrifices to achieve your long-term goals.
The problem is that the second character is an ‘Instant-Gratification Monkey’ who is always on hand to try and wrestle control away from the Captain. The Monkey’s priority is to do what is easy and fun.
The Monkey keeps shouting things like:
- “Hey, those trainers will look great with my new jeans!”
- “C’mon! One small weekend break. I promise, it will be just one night. I need it!”
- “Sushi! Sushi! I really want sushi for lunch as it is much tastier than my homemade sandwiches!”
Mr Urban hypothesises that third character, called the Panic Monster, acts as a natural counter-balance to the two extremes of the Monkey and the Captain. The Panic Monster overrides the two other characters to take control and get things done. The challenge is that the Panic Monster only arrives when there is a deadline.
And in financial terms, the closest thing we have to a hard deadline is retirement and even then, by the time the Panic Monster shows up, it may already be too late.
Tim Rettig follows on from Tim Urban by looking at what you can do when there are no hard deadlines and the Panic Monster never shows up. What I would like to do is apply Mr Rettig’s three anti-procrastination principals to money:
- Habits are everything
We’ve all heard the saying “force of habit”. This illustrates how habits take the decision away from you so you no longer depend on the rational decision-maker and neither do you need to summon the willpower it requires to shut out the Instant Gratification Monkey. You can train yourself to act instead of just thinking about it.
Everybody has something urgent that they need to pay for now – a holiday, a laptop, a fridge. And we all think that as soon as that is done we will start saving. This is the Monkey whispering in your ear that you can start next month. Then the next month comes and there is another something that gets in the way.
The reality is that we never start saving because our ‘priorities’ have stopped us getting into a savings habit. It therefore follows that to have a decent-sized savings pot, you first need to form these habits.
This is not always easy, but it can be done:
- It needs to be consistent. Every payday you need to make a point of paying yourself first. I have found that thinking of savings as a ‘me’ benefit helps me prioritise as it is easier to pay ‘me’ before I pay all my bills.
- It needs to be goal based. If you can visualise the end-result it makes it easier to get started.
- If it is a BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal), break it down into smaller steps so that you can measure success and hold yourself accountable.
- It is a cliché for a reason, but the longest journey really does start with the first step.
- Limit access (especially to yourself).
This is important especially when you start building your habits. As mentioned earlier, life is expensive and there will always be more stuff to buy.
When setting-up your first savings pot, I suggest that you separate it and limit your access to that money. That way, the Monkey can’t get his hands on it and you have used one of the oldest tricks in the book – out of sight, out of mind.
This could mean things like:
- Notice-based accounts. These are accounts where you can access the money but you need to give the bank/provider notice before you can withdraw your money. These are fantastic as they make it difficult to dip into in your day to day life but allow you to plan for when you need the money.
- These are savings accounts with tax benefits but normally have penalties for early withdrawals (although there are a multitude of options with ISAs so I would suggest doing your research to find the one that is right for you).
- Reward yourself for achieving your goals
We all instinctively know that saving is an important goal but if we try and save everything, all of the time, you will never please the Instant Gratification Monkey and, let’s be honest, life will be a bit boring.
So if your goals (see point 1) are clearly defined, make sure that you reward yourself for achieving them (or in the case of the BHAG – for achieving the steps towards the goal).
This will make the Instant-Gratification Monkey very happy. Over time, it will also train the Instant-Gratification Monkey to become something different…a Delayed-Gratification Monkey. What this means is that you will have successfully trained yourself to not give in to your urges right now.
Remember, you are not alone. The vast majority of us give in to the Monkey too often and that makes it very hard to save. However, if you follow these hacks you will ensure that the Captain doesn’t lose control completely. Just remember, there really is no time like the present to start and no amount is too small.
Find Tim Rettig’s article here: https://medium.com/swlh/self-employed-heres-3-procrastination-hacks-that-will-get-you-back-to-work-c7fe067cedd2
Find Tim Urban’s TED Talk here: https://www.ted.com/talks/tim_urban_inside_the_mind_of_a_master_procrastinator/transcript?language=en
Fahd Rachidy is the CEO & Founder of ABAKA – the app that is rewarding people for reaching their financial goals .