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The Power of Clarity

  • Matt Bell SoundMindInvesting.com
  • 2011 9 Sep
  • COMMENTS
The Power of Clarity

Are you trying to make a positive change in your finances or some other area of your life?  How clear are you about the change you’re trying to make?

As Chip and Dan Heath researched Switch, their helpful book about what it takes to truly change something about our lives, they discovered three surprises. This first is that what often looks like resistance to change is really a lack of clarity.

The Elephant and the Rider

Let’s face it; change can be tough.  For one thing, change usually requires altering behaviors that have become so ingrained that they’re automatic.

Also, change usually pits our rational side against our emotional side, and when our thoughts take on our feelings, thoughts usually get reduced to good intentions.

We decide in our mind we’re going to get out of debt, but then our favorite retailer’s catalog arrives with page after page of shiny baubles.  Before we even know what’s happening, those warm fuzzy feelings in our heart have pulled our credit card from our wallet, dialed the 800 number, and placed an order.

Throughout their book, the Heaths use a metaphor created by John Haidt, author of The Happiness Hypothesis: our emotional side is an Elephant and our rational side is the Rider.  The Rider, with reins in hand, appears to be in charge.  However, because he’s so small compared to the elephant, anytime they disagree, the elephant will put his meaty foot down and get his way.

It Takes Two to Resist Change

Both Elephant and Rider bring healthy doses of dysfunction to the change table.

Change usually requires short-term sacrifices, and the immediate gratification-seeking Elephant wants no part of anything that smacks of sacrifice.

But the Rider has his own issues – mainly a tendency to over analyze.

What helps get the Rider kicking his spurs is a clear sense of direction.

Point to the Destination

The Heaths recommend the use of a destination postcard, a vivid picture from the near-term future that shows what could be possible.

Can you imagine having no debt? A well-stocked emergency fund? Confidence that your kids will graduate from college without a U-Haul full of debt? An overall sense of financial security?

When you can picture a compelling destination, you’ll help your Rider find her way through the fog of analysis, and put her energy into figuring out how to get there.

Clarifying the overall target gives the Rider focus while also connecting with the Elephant’s emotions.

But the big picture isn’t enough for the Rider.  The Rider also needs connect-the-dots clarity as to how to get there.

Script the Critical Moves

Since the Rider loves analyzing what needs changing even more than acting on the change, any change effort requires that big picture goals be translated into concrete behaviors.

What specific steps are needed to get to the place pictured on the postcard?  Map them out as clearly as possible.

Yes, it will transform your finances to put the five things you can do with money in their proper order.  However, doing so may require that you take specific action to get out of debt, open two savings accounts, reevaluate how much you’re spending on housing, break the cycle of financing vehicles, and build the habit of spending smart.

Where Do You Need Clarity?

How could this first insight from Switch help in a change you’re trying to bring about in your finances?  Do you have the overall destination clearly in mind?  Have you scripted the critical moves?

Matt Bell is the author of three personal finance books published by NavPress, including the brand new "Money & Marriage: A Complete Guide for Engaged and Newly Married Couples."  He teaches a wide variety of workshops at churches, conferences, universities, and other venues throughout the country.  To learn more about his work and subscribe to his blog, go to: www.mattaboutmoney.com.