By Lila Quintiliani, AFC®
Military Saves Assistant Coordinator
Communication & Outreach

Lack of self-control; it’s one of the reasons we humans struggle with diets, budgets and interpersonal relationships.  In the book “Willpower,” psychologist Roy F. Baumeister and science writer John Tierney explore the science behind why people struggle so much with self-control.  It turns out we have a finite amount of willpower that can be depleted and then must be replenished.  The good news, however, is that, just like a muscle, if we “exercise” our willpower, we can build it up to become stronger.


Learn restraint by practicing it

In the book, students who were the subjects of a study were able to seemingly acquire self-control when they were engaged in activities that required some effort – such as using a mouse with their non-dominant hand, watching their posture, or tracking eating.  After doing this for a certain period of time, the students showed self-control in other areas of their life as well.  In the financial realm, you could try tracking spending or perhaps catching up on some financial “homework,” such as checking on your TSP or IRA performance.  However, it’s important not to try and tackle too much at once – if resistance is depleted too much, that’s when we are most vulnerable, whether it’s to spending sprees or red velvet cupcakes.

Resist temptation by avoiding it

When dieting, you might try to stay away from bakeries and the candy aisle.  The same thing can be said about trying to save money: when trying to stick to a budget, it’s best to avoid mall shopping or aimless wandering of the aisles in the local big box retailer.  Make a list and stick to it.  If online browsing is a temptation, only go on the web with a clear purpose in mind, like checking email or catching up on social media.  Unsubscribe from those “daily deal” sites that send tempting offers each day.  And don’t have your credit card handy when you go online.

You CAN teach an old dog new tricks

Perhaps the most fascinating takeaway from this book is that we are not necessarily destined to be willpower weaklings.  With some practice and a bit of hard work, we can overcome some of our innate weaknesses and gain greater self-control.

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