| February 15, 2012

Mental willpower key in improving personal finances

Many people struggle when faced with the task of working to consolidate credit card debt and get their finances back in order after a difficult period. For many, a new poll finds that willpower is preventing many people from achieving their debt management goals.

A survey from the American Psychological Association found that 93 percent of adults looked to change some of their behaviors this year. A significant portion of those resolutions focused on losing weight or improving exercise habits. But in addition, more than half of those people aimed to save more money, while others wanted to reduce debt.

However, the most common reason people gave for not achieving their goals was a lack of willpower, followed closely by a lack of time. Experts said that people shouldn’t feel as if they need to make sudden changes overnight, and gradually strengthening their self control is a good step. More than 70 percent of respondents agreed that willpower could be a learned trait.

“Research shows that exercising your willpower in one situation may drain your self-control for other situations that immediately follow,” said Dr. Steven Breckler, a social psychologist and executive director of APA’s Science Directorate. “So, just like with physical exercise, it is smart to avoid taking on too much at once. First, focus on one goal, strengthen your willpower, and then take on more goals over time.”

The APA says people who were more motivated to make changes also took other steps to help them along the way, such as setting concrete goals, regularly monitoring their progress or avoiding potentially tempting scenarios.

“Research shows that setting goals, as well as tracking progress and seeking out a community of support, can be tremendously effective in helping people increase their self-control and lead healthier lives,” said psychologist Dr. Norman Anderson, APA’s CEO and executive vice president.

Many respondents also indicated they had pushed off short-term wants and desires in order to achieve their long-term goals.

Credit card debt and other financial obligations can leave many consumers with financial issues. According to data from the Federal Reserve, the average American household has more than $6,000 in credit card debt.

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