Usually, the expression “playing mind games” is not used in a positive light. Because implicitly, if someone is playing mind games, they’re being manipulative, and usually, this is not good. Manipulation usually involves a lot of lying, half-truths, and other questionably ethical practices. But I think mind games have gotten a bad rap, especially when it comes to personal finance.
I think that improving one’s finances is a lot about changing your mindset. If you don’t change the way that you think about money, it’s going to be difficult to change your behaviors about money. Changing the way you think and ultimately behave about something is extremely difficult, and that’s where mind games can sometimes be helpful. By manipulating yourself, you can get around some of your negative thoughts/behaviors temporarily to make lasting changes.
One of my very persistent negative thoughts about money is a broad generalization, that, if I allow myself to get too wrapped up in, will cripple my ability to make progress towards my financial goals. I always used to think: “no matter what I do, I’ll never get ahead (financially). If I save some money, something will come up and I’ll have to spend it. If I pay down some debt, I’ll need to run up the card again. Everything is too expensive and I just don’t make enough money.” This type of thinking leads to bad financial behavior. If you’re convinced you’ll never make progress, you’ll just spend everything you make, thinking that it’s pointless to save or pay down debt anyway, which is how I used to define my relationship with money. And sometimes, I still catch myself thinking this way. Which is why I sometimes need to play mind games with myself to snap out of that thinking.
So what mind game have I played recently? I moved $500 from my Freedom Fund to my Car Repair Fund. Why? Because when I put money into my Freedom Fund, I want to not touch it again for a long, long time. I want to see it grow. This motivates me to keep saving, and keeps me from reverting to “saving is pointless because I never make progress” thinking. I know that I have some car repairs coming at me in the near future, and if I have to pull money from my Freedom Fund to pay for them, I’m going to feel defeated. “Saving is pointless” will start to creep into my mind. But if I pull the money from my Car Repair Fund, that won’t trigger that kind of thinking. In fact, it will disprove that type of self-talk, because I will have set that money aside for the specific purpose of car repairs and it will be there when I need it. It will “prove” to me that saving works.
Is it the same $500 that I just moved between accounts? Yes. I know that. I know it’s just a mind game. But it saves me from financially destructive thoughts and promotes positive financial self-talk. So in this case, mind games are helpful.
Do you every play mind games with yourself to accomplish something positive?