A couple of weeks ago, Money Crush talked about how pain is a great motivator. She thinks that it certainly spurs us into action. But then, she points out, once things are even remotely back to normal, that impetus fades rather quickly.
In short, we only are driven into action if it’s absolutely necessary. Even then, it’s iffy.
We have an inherent aversion to discomfort, but most of us are more likely to build a tolerance to a sub-par situation than to take the difficult steps to change it. Think of the people who are only getting their finances in order because of the recession. Given the obesity rate in this country, weight loss would be another great example.
It’s the third law of physics: A body at rest tends to stay at rest.
And so this inertia means we adjust to bad situations rather than change them. We accept less-than-desirable conditions rather than seek out change for the better. We do it through rationalization; we do it through disinterest or distraction. There are many methods, and too many of them seem to work.
In fact, it’s not until there is a radical shift in our relative calm that we take any real action. There needs to be a factor laden with immediacy to get most of us out of our stupor.
For some, it’s a credit card balance. Others might snap out of it when their account is overdrawn by over $100. Whatever it is, the motivator is sufficient to cause alarm — panic, even. In other words, adrenaline.
We’re propelled into action, but for how long?
Usually, the situation isn’t dire enough to make us change our ways — at least, not for the long-term. Instead, we clean up the mess a little, then settle back into our routines. But there has been change: Chances are, we’re now more used to things than before. The situation will have to be worse to get our attention.
If you think I’m overstating things, consider all of the people who live with chronic pain. Or people like Tim who itch constantly.
The fact is that you can get used to anything, really. And, for situations where our discomfort is voluntary, it’s usually taken inaction to get as far as we have. Debt grows because we don’t actively stop ourselves from overspending and create a budget. We never get around to opening up that savings account, so we never stop living paycheck to paycheck.
Whatever it is that we’re not doing, the situation worsens the longer we wait. And, the more it worsens, the harder it is to get started. So we put blinders on and try not to think about it. It’s why so many debt-reduction gurus have to tell people to find out how much debt they owe.
We become so entrenched in inertia, then, that it takes something pretty big to rattle us. Plenty of people have finally realized they need to be more serious about getting (and staying) out of debt. But it took some pretty harsh realities to get to that awakening.
For example, many people don’t take their health seriously until they have a scare. I recently met a woman who had lost over 100 pounds. But it took her doctor’s tough love to do so. He essentially sat her down and told her that, if her health continued to deteriorate at such a young age, she was going to have more joint troubles and she wouldn’t be able to play with her child. She might be barely mobile. And there was a chance she wouldn’t be there to see her daughter grow up. After that, the woman changed her whole diet around and started regularly working out. But it had been over three years coming.
Granted, it’s a great and inspiring story. Still, should it really take such drastic measures to get us to do what we know we should? Or do we just need to be glad that something gets through eventually?
Does it matter how people get motivated or simply that they get there? Is there any way to make people more proactive?