Do you believe you can be successful with your money?

lack-of-beliefYou can read all the best frugal living tips and tricks. You can set up the best personal finance software. You can create your money goals and a strategy for reaching those goals. And you can have every intention of putting these things to work.

But all of this will get you nowhere if you don’t actually believe you can do it. Without belief, you will fail.

Ramit Sethi calls the mental barriers to our success “invisible scripts”. And, whether or not we admit it, we all have them.

Invisible scripts come from our culture, family, friends and ourselves. The problem is they are often so deeply ingrained into our subconscious mind, we don’t even know they’re there. And yet, they blindly guide our behaviors and decisions. And they are likely limiting our potential.

Here are some examples of invisible scripts:

“I don’t make enough money, so I can’t possibly pay off my debt.”
“I already busted my diet for the day, what’s a dinner at McDonald’s going to hurt?”
“I can’t get a good job because I don’t have a college degree.”
“I should get more exercise, but I’m too busy.”
“I deserve a new car because I work really hard.”
“I have too much debt and there is no way I could ever pay it all off.”
“I don’t have the skills to be a do-it-yourselfer.”
“I’ll always have a [car, house, student loan] payment.”

Identify your invisible scripts

Since invisible scripts are often subconscious thought processes, it’s not an easy task to identify them. But there are certain cues you can look for to start recognizing them.

You say (or think):

“I can’t …because…”

Whenever you feel like you are limited by something, it’s likely an invisible script.

For example, “I can’t pay off debt because I don’t make enough money” creates a mental barrier to even beginning to work on the debt, because there’s no belief in the possibility of actually doing it.

“I should do this…because”

The shoulds in our lives likely come from the influences of our culture or friends/family. Shoulds are the things we think are expected of us, not necessarily the things we need to do.

For instance, “I should get a college degree because I will get a better job” is a standard thought in our culture, but is it always true? Not necessarily. There are many, many people without college degrees that have had successful businesses and careers. Though a college degree is a necessity in many fields, it’s not a requirement for all good jobs (don’t forget apprenticeships, technical school, and military training).

“I deserve this because…”

This is simply a sense of entitlement.

Here’s an example: “I deserve a promotion because I’ve been working here for X years”. You are not owed anything in life, but hard work can often get you where you want to be.

“I need to do this one thing in order to be able to…”

A fictional barrier is often an excuse that leads to procrastination.

For instance, “I need to make more money if I’m ever going to be able to save for retirement”. It’s never black and white – there’s almost always another way, you just have to search for it.

If you really look at invisible scripts, they closely resemble excuses. And excuses come when we are uncomfortable with changes we need to make to overcome barriers, barriers we sometimes create for ourselves.

How to overcome invisible scripts

Realize there are no hard and fast rules for anything in life. There is always a different path to the same end result.

For instance, just because your friend paid off their debt by using extreme frugality doesn’t mean you have to do exactly the same thing to pay off your debt. If one person lost 50 pounds on the cabbage soup diet, it doesn’t mean everyone has to eat cabbage soup to lose 50 pounds. As the saying goes, there’s more than one way to skin a cat.

If you have a lofty goal that you don’t believe you can accomplish, take a good, hard look at that goal and question preconceived notions you have.

Change the “I can’t” thinking to “I can’t yet”. Ask “How can I accomplish this?” to find workable solutions.

Once you identify your invisible scripts, challenge them. Think outside of the box. Believe there is a way. When you believe it can happen, then you can take the action to make it happen.

What invisible scripts do you have? Have they held you back from your financial goals?

40 thoughts on “Do you believe you can be successful with your money?

  1. These are great points. So often, I see people who are stuck because they limit themselves in what they think they can do. There’s always going to be excuses about why something can’t be done. And these excuses will hold you back if you let them.

    1. Thanks, FP! You’re right, the excuses can definitely hold you back and limit your potential, but only if you let them! 🙂

  2. I definitely am guilty of this! I can be so afraid of failure that I won’t try, and believe that something will go wrong, and feel defeated from the outset. I think I have learned to catch and correct myself with these, though I’m sure they still have a subtle influence.

    1. I think we all have this from time to time. And fear of failure is a big player for many people – I know I have it at times. Recognizing it is the first step to turning it around.

  3. Awesome post! I have definitely fallen into this category before. Excuses are common, but action is rare!

    I’ve learned that lack of belief can often be the worst thing you can have for yourself. It can be really hard to overcome. More recently, I’ve begun to remove “I can’t” from my mind and using “how can I start” or “how can I overcome this”.

    1. Thanks, Andrew! We’ve all been there. Moving to that solution focused mindset is the key. Sometimes it means a bit of discomfort, and it definitely means a change in thinking, but it works.

  4. So, I find myself falling prey to a lot of this. Particularly letting busywork overwhelm me so that I don’t get things done that would be more effective at meeting my goals. “I’m busy!” Not really. And I’ve ALWAYS done this.

    So, even before I read this I made a list of goals for my week to hold myself accountable to myself. Maybe it’s the step I need to take to get more done.

    1. Busywork is an enemy of mine as well. I’m constantly experimenting with productivity to be more efficient and effective. Setting weekly goals is something I’ve been doing on Mondays for a few weeks. It has worked some weeks, but others, I think I put too much on the list and it’s just not humanly possible. Then I start to feel “behind” and “busy” again. I keep trying different things and I do feel like I’m making progress, but have a ways to go.

  5. It’s amazing how having just ONE person believe in you can make ALL the difference. They validate your goals and ideas. They confirm that you’re not crazy. They give you hope.
    Even if people like this aren’t readily available IRL, the online community has been so wonderfully supportive. You guys are the best.
    We should all have the goal of being this person for others too!

    1. Totally with you here, Julie! Encouraging others and letting them know you believe in them is a great gift. That’s one reason I absolutely love the pf community. Everyone is so supportive, kind, encouraging and helpful!

  6. I’ve struggled with this so much in my life. And now in blogging I am finding more of those narratives creeping in. I was just chatting with my mom the other day about how I struggle with devoting so much time to the blog because it doesn’t earn an hourly wage. And growing up poor, you never devote time to things that are for “professional growth.” Professional growth doesn’t pay the bills. The crazy thing is; we have enough passive income to pay the bills! And I still struggle with the idea!

    1. I completely understand, Ms. Montana. Blogging has somehow dug up every invisible script in the book for me – there’s been a ton of fear of failure and feelings of not being good enough throughout the past few months. The key is to recognize it (and it seems to me like you do). I think once you see it for what it is, it becomes easier to move forward.

      1. It’s like free therapy. =) It’s funny the things I have learned about myself in the process. Like I don’t mind failure, but I don’t want other people (aka my family) to have to sacrifice for something I might fail at. Apparently I don’t mind being a failure (4 out of 5 times, that has been the case), but I don’t want to waste my families time or money to do it. If I could blog while working full time and it only took 4-5 hours a week, I think I would be totally fine with it being a flop. Unfortunately, it takes me a good deal more time than that. =)

        1. Yes! I understand. 🙂 I have guilt too. It’s a ton of time to invest and since there’s no immediate financial return, that adds to it. Plus I actually spent several hundred dollars over the last couple of months for various blogging related things, but mostly because I unknowingly made some mistakes with hosting choices in the beginning (live and learn). On the other hand, I enjoy it immensely and it’s challenging me in ways I never thought possible. And when I ask myself, “what’s the worst that could happen?” the answer isn’t really that bad at all. I lose a little time, but maybe I open up other opportunities along the way. This is like free therapy. 😉

  7. I have a somewhat non-personal finance application of this. I’m not charismatic and I’m not a good speaker, so I typically am telling myself “you can’t do public speaking, you don’t have a good voice, etc.” Just really negative stuff. I’ve learned that speaking is more about passion, though, and being confident about what you are saying as opposed to having a “good” voice. So I constantly need to filter out the negativity or these invisible scripts really push me away from opportunities!

    1. I can relate to this, DC. It’s the passion that can really help you through it. Because if you’re passionate about something, you likely have a good deal of knowledge about it, plus you really want to share that knowledge. What really helped me with public speaking was realizing that people are there to hear my message, not judge me or my public speaking skills.

  8. I think a lot of it stems from culture. In general many people are afraid to fail so they just never start. And yet failing provides some of the best learnings and opportunity to get ahead. Besides you never know until you try, and to your point unless you truly believe you’ll never put in enough effort to succeed.

    1. I agree, FTF, I think much of it is cultural as well. If we don’t take the risk because of fear of failure, we won’t learn and grow and we limit our potential. I always like to ask myself, “What’s the worst that could happen?” and, honestly, the answer isn’t usually that bad!

  9. Great post – One of my most hated words is “deserve” but it’s a hard mental block to get past. This is definitely what I needed to read. I feel stuck in a bit of an income rut — Can’t complain because I do well but also comparing myself to those who do so much better and trying to understand how to get there —- and WANTING to get there to destroy debt.

    1. Thanks, Cat! “Deserve” is tough – I think it creeps in when we feel like we’re working our tails off but just spinning our wheels, while others seem to be easily moving down the road. I guess it’s human nature to compare ourselves to others. It seems no matter how hard I try not to, I still do it too. Though it’s easy to say and incredibly hard to put into practice, I think we’re better off measuring our progress by how far we’ve come, rather than how far we have to go.

  10. I’m definitely guilty of this. Especially the one on if I eat one bad thing in a day, I use it as an excuse to not got to the gym or eat terribly the rest of the day. Sometimes it can hold back financial goals. You have some great points here that might help. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thanks, Graham! I do the same with cookies…well I already had one, what’s another one going to hurt!? 🙂

  11. Such a good topic Amanda! I know exactly what mine is: “I can’t do XYZ as good as other people, so why bother at all?” I literally struggle against that every day.

    1. Thanks, Linda! I honestly think we all think this way sometimes. It’s nice to know I’m not alone. 🙂

  12. Having the right mindset is the bigger challenge, than the math when it comes to personal finance. It not so easy to break those bad habits. I fall victim to bad eating, I’ll start tomorrow is one of my favorites. 🙁

    1. “I’ll start tomorrow…” That’s a great example of one we’re all guilty of at one time or another, Brian. Though I think it’s important to believe in our ability to reach our goals, I don’t think we should beat ourselves up either. The important thing is to get back up after we fall, even if we need to move forward with a different approach.

  13. I think we all have invisible scripts full of limiting beliefs. And I totally fall for busy work – or busy thinking. If I’m thinking, planning and making to-do lists I’m making progress right? Nope.

    One of the reasons I love hearing stories about people using Dave Ramsey’s debt snowball method is because the little victories early on help them to build up belief in themselves. A good outcome erases a lot of doubt, and pushes aside the negative internal commentary.

    1. Thanks, Mrs. Groovy. I write to-do lists that are a mile long and feel defeated when it doesn’t all get crossed off. Actually writing do-able lists would make more sense.

      Excellent point on the little victories! Setting those small goals and reaching them is a fantastic way to start to believe in your ability to reach the larger goals.

  14. it reminds me of that quote from Henry Ford “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t–you’re right.”

    I tend to think that I control the things that happen in my life versus life happens to me. While I know it’s unrealistic to think that I completely control life I definitely try to carve out my path in life and take ownership for the things that I can actually control.

    I tend to think that I will be successful financially and am taking the steps to get there. Hopefully, I can stay on this path and hit FIRE in the next couple of years 🙂

    1. Love that quote! Like you, I like to at least think I can control most things in my life. Even if it’s not completely true, it helps spur me to take actionable steps toward my goals.

      And I’m certain you will hit your FIRE goal. 🙂 Being a part of the pf blogging community really helps keep those financial goals in check, that’s for sure!

  15. I hadn’t heard the term invisible scripts before, but I definitely started identifying them when I started spending my money in a way I could be proud of. “I deserve …” was how I started every justification for an expensive daily coffee drink. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Recognizing them and challenging them is the key, no matter how you define them. It’s those rationalizations (even though they’re not always rational) we come up with as justification for doing (or not doing) something. Thanks, Melanie!

  16. I would like to refer to the invisible script as Mr. Obvious. He usually wakes up 5 minutes before me and sleeps 5 minutes after I go to sleep. He reminds me of all the things that could possibly go wrong and all the things he thinks I can’t do. I respect him and often times doubt him. The more I doubt him, the better of I seem to be.

    1. Mr. Obvious can slip right in and control things before you even know he’s there! I think catching him in the act and questioning him is the best way to keep him in line.

  17. Change the “I can’t” thinking to “I can’t yet”. Best tip in the entire article. Recognize your barriers, then climb over them! Great post, relevant and practical. Keep up the good work!

    1. Thanks, Fritz! Yes, the change to more solution focused thinking is crucial, in my opinion. The answer isn’t always easy, but getting past those barriers is a huge first step.

  18. Excellent points! A lot of those excuses are just ingrained in us from society. But for many of us FIRE folks it’s all about writing our own script. When we break free of those old excuses its incredible what you can accomplish.

    Cheers to writing new scripts!

    1. Thanks, Mr. CK! That’s what I love about the FIRE community. Thinking outside of the box and challenging the norm is a great way to set and accomplish goals. Cheers! 🙂

  19. I love how finances makes you grow in ALL aspects of life – mindset being such a huge part!

    Learning how to save yourself is a big thing, when we’re kids if we go “I can’t do it” and throw a tantrum, our parents are their to pick us up and tell us everything is ok – unfortunately so many people take that attitude into their adult life.. That if they cry out “I can’t, I can’t” someone will swoop in and tell them it’s ok, and in some cases, fix it for them!

    I was telling Tristan the other day that I would never swap lives with someone who had money handed to them, even if it would help us overcome our IVF financial barriers.. We wouldn’t have grown our mindsets to do it ourselves if someone was just handing us the cash!


    1. Thanks for the great comment, Jasmin. You are so right. I think we learn so much from pushing through our struggles and getting to the other side. While we need support from our friends and family, if we expect to have our problems solved for us, we will never grow.

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