The Distinction Between Discipline, Habits, and Behaviors

Recently I updated our Cash Focus Action Guide, a workbook for clients who are transitioning from money anxiety to money stewardship. As I was doing so, I asked myself: “What is the distinction between behaviors, habits and discipline?” This thought turned into an interesting discovery.

Behaviors are emotional responses. An example of a simple behavior would be upon meeting someone. Most people will smile, put out their hand and exchange name information. A common emotional response is to show friendliness and create a bridge of relating. Behavior with money is more complex. It can depend on the amount of money, how the money was provided (gift, earning, interest.”) It can depend on how you justify its use (a real need, a justified need, a want, for today, for tomorrow, for someone else.) I always put the money in the bank so I can dissociate myself from it and think about its best use. Otherwise I might spend it on something I currently lust after. A behavior is an emotional response and it may serve a negative or positive connection. Impulse purchases that lead to buyer’s remorse would be an example of a negative connection. The satisfaction of taking advantage of an opportunity could be an example of a positive connection.

Habits are routines. An example of a simple habit is brushing your teeth. It is an event that was developed at one time that now has become customary. Habits with money are also built over time. They are built on stories we heard, experienced and learned as we were children. They are behaviors we enacted and eventually transformed into habits. For some it is perpetual spending. There is always something to purchase. For others it is saving. For others it is investing or giving away. Do the habits you have built adequately support your best stewardship of money? If not, then something has to come in to disrupt the habit until the new behavior can turn into its own habit.

Discipline is flexible self-control. An example of a simple discipline is practicing an instrument. It is a habit when it is a routine, it is a discipline when it is something you design because you want it and add the element of flexibility when other choices present themselves and you choose to practice your instrument. Money discipline involves being able to utilize the five elements of money stewardship: earning, saving, spending, investing, and donating to support the life you want to express and sustain.

Examine your own money behaviors, habits and disciplines to see which ones are serving you and which ones are hindering you. Do something about those that are keeping you from becoming a steward of your own money

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