Kurt Lewin was a German-American psychologist who in the early 20th century developed several ideas that became central to modern psychology. Among them is that people’s behaviour is strongly driven by two main external forces. There are driving forces that drive you in a particular direction; and there are restraining forces, which are preventing you from going there. You can see this process in action when watching kids doing the marshmallow test. They want eat the marshmallow and they also want to not eat it so they can get two marshmallows. We do it all the time – we want to stay up late, but we have to get up in the morning. We want to ask for something but we’re afraid of rejection. We want to get our finances sorted but we’re afraid of looking at them.
Lewin’s insight was that if you want to achieve change in behaviour, there is one good way to do it and one bad way to do it. The good way to do it is by diminishing the restraining forces, not by increasing the driving forces.
That turns out to be profoundly non-intuitive. When we want to move an object, we pick it up and move it. When we want to move somebody, we try to move them – we increase the driving forces, and we try to change people’s behaviour with a mish-mash of arguments, incentives, and threats.
Diminishing the restraining forces is a completely different kind of activity, because instead of asking, “How can I get them do it?” it starts with a question of, “Why aren’t they doing it already?” It’s a very different question. “Why not?”. And once you understand that, you can ask, “What can I do to make it easier for that person to move?”
We often refer to these restraining forces as blocks, and the only way that you can find these blocks is by looking at the situation from that individual’s point of view. And these blocks are powerful because they are usually rooted in fear. Lewin talks about behaviour being an equilibrium between driving and restraining forces, but most of the time the restraining forces win out and we procrastinate.
So, it turns out that the best way to change behaviour is by removing the restraining forces. But dealing with money blocks is hard. Often we don’t understand our behaviour and we get trapped in shame or guilt around money. We can get anxious and our instinct is to avoid dealing with things that makes us feel uncomfortable. And there is a culture of silence around money that adds to the discomfort.
We all have money blocks and just because dealing with money issues is hard, it doesn’t mean we get avoid it. I came across this quote recently and it really struck a chord.
“Don’t be afraid of going to the Doctor. Be afraid of what will happen if you don’t go to the Doctor”.
And it’s the same with finances.
Don’t be afraid of dealing with your finances. Be afraid of what will happen if you don’t deal with your finances.