Why many people fail to change their financial behaviors

For as he thinks in his heart, so is he. Proverbs 23:7a (NKJV)

Almost all of us have some area of life where we wish things were a little different. For many, finances would rank at the top of that list. We wish had more income, more savings, fewer bills, etc. Occasionally, we might even try to take some steps toward improving things, but in the end not much really changes.

I recently heard an interesting interview with author Andy Andrews that I think sheds some light on why we struggle to change. He was discussing some thoughts from his new book, “The Noticer Returns”.

He noted that as he goes around speaking to different organizations, one common question that he frequently gets asked is “how do we establish the culture we want for our organization?”. Andy noted the ironic thing is every organization has a culture already. The culture of your organization was created by the way you think which determined your choices which created an action that yielded a result that became your culture.

How to really change behavior

Andy noted the real problem is that when we look at changing our behavior, most often we focus on changing the choices or decisions we make. We need to make better choices so that the resultant actions will lead to the results we want. But often that doesn’t work and that’s because we aren’t really getting back to the real root cause.

The real root of all of this is we have to change our thinking.behavior change

  • Our thinking will determine the choices and decisions we make.
  • Our choices then lead to the actions we take
  • Our actions produce results
  • Over time those results create a culture that we live in

We can not change the results that we experience without ultimately changing the thinking that is at the root of the process.

Andy notes we encourage our children to make better decisions, but all too often that’s like telling them to go out in the back yard, start flipping a coin and make sure they flip heads every time. Without the child having the proper thinking that provides the basis for good decisions, the chances of them making the choices we desire are about as random as flipping that coin.

The root of our financial choices

I think this explains why so many struggle with financial matters.

We feel the pain of paying those credit card bills each month. We decide to do something about it. Maybe for a while we succeed in paying one or two off. But eventually it comes back because we still kind of like our stuff and want it now and in our thinking we really have not understood the damage that debt does to us.

My car is getting a little old and so I decide I “needed” to go buy a new car. Now I’m stuck with a $400-$500 payment that I can’t really afford. But in my mind I have believed the lie that “You’ll always have a car payment.” Plus I kind of like the prestige that comes from the compliments I get on my new car.

I give lip service to the need to save. But somehow something always comes up and I decide I’ll start saving next month. In my thinking saving simply isn’t a priority.

So how do we change out thinking?

So the bottom line is if we want to see different results in our financial lives, we have to change the thinking that is at the heart of the decisions we make. How do we do that?


If you are a Christian, I think the first and most important step is to pray about it. Ask God to change your thinking. As part of this you also need to fill your mind with what the Bible really says about money. There are over 2300 scriptures in the Bible related to money. Allow these scriptures to shape your thinking. If you aren’t sure where to start, Howard Dayton’s organization Compass One has some great resources for finding scriptures on money related topics at: http://www.compass1.org/the-bible-on-money.

Focus on why

Have a little Dr. Phil moment and consider how what you are doing now is working out for you. Change is hard, but it becomes easier when we have a goal worth changing for.

  • What would it feel like to not be worried about how you will pay your bills?
  • Imagine knowing you had a comfortable sum saved for retirement.
  • How would it feel to be able to help your child pay for his college so that he didn’t enter his adult life thousands of dollars in debt?
  • What would it feel like to be able to give freely to those you see that are in need?

It is much easier to change your thinking when you have “why” that is worth changing for.


I think for many folks the problem is simply a lack of knowledge. Our thinking has been shaped by what we have observed from friends or family, but we have never really learned sound financial principles. If we want to change our way of thinking, we have to learn a better way of doing things. One great way to accomplish this is to find someone who has been successful, and spend some time learning how they approach similar situations.

As a side note to this item, in some cases you might need to change your circle of friends, if those friends continually pull you back to your old way of thinking.

Focus on the thinking behind the actions

The reason why we often fail to change is we focus only on trying hard to make different choices. I’m sure all of us can point to people who have found themselves in trouble and vowed to change. And maybe we do see different behavior for a while. The problem is when stress enters our lives our tendency will be to slip back to our old ways if we haven’t really changed those internal beliefs that shaped our thinking. We simply go back to the old comfortable way we always did it and pretty soon we are facing the same problems we did before.

If you really want different results, you simply must change your thinking. You probably won’t succeed in getting out of debt until you begin to truly believe that borrowing makes you a slave to the lender and you start to think of it differently. You won’t really start to save until in your thoughts saving becomes a priority. Giving will be a challenge until in your thoughts you come to understand that it all belongs to God and we are just stewards given the job of managing it for him.

 What thinking do you need to change?

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