You can easily use my trick and duplicate the best way to learn a foreign language. And there is an added bonus – if you can learn a second language, you can easily improve your ability to handle your own money. This same technique is also the best way to get out of credit card debt too, as you’ll see.
In fact, the skill set is very similar and I can prove it. A few decades ago I had the opportunity to learn Hebrew starting from scratch. Here’s what I did:
1. Make a commitment.
I had wanted to spend a good amount of time in Israel ever since I was knee-high to a deli counter. I knew that in order to be successful there, I’d have to be able to speak the language. My dream was to spend time in Israel, and I knew I had to learn the language in order to make my dream come true. I was 100% committed.
How does commitment relate to personal finance?
It doesn’t matter if your challenge is to retire now, reduce debt, increase savings or make better investments. If you aren’t 100% committed to the process, you haven’t got a prayer (New or Old Testament).
We’re creatures of habit. Habits are almost as potent as instincts. Bad habits are often to blame for the financial fixes we find ourselves in. The only way we can defeat our old (bad) habits is to constantly remind ourselves of the commitment we’ve made and to stay the course even when we want to get off the road. It’s also crucial to get over our fear of criticism.
2. Stop trying to manage the process.
When I started studying Hebrew in Israel, I was a headstrong 22-year-old who thought he knew everything. I wanted to learn the language but I wanted to learn it the way I wanted to learn it.
I didn’t understand the conjugation rules and the way each noun was either feminine or masculine. My teachers’ methods were very different than what I was used to from college. Why couldn’t they do it the good old American way? Of course looking back on this, I can see how ridiculous my thinking was.
Needless to say, I got nowhere but Frustrationville. I had to basically “fire myself” and just trust my teachers before I could really start picking up the language.
What has this got to do with personal finance?
Think about it. Have you ever met a person who was stubborn and stuck in their ways even when it was costing them a fortune? Does that sound like anybody you know? I meet people like this often. They want to have a different result in their financial lives, but they aren’t willing to do things differently. They aren’t really willing to take direction. When your best thinking gets you into a mess, what makes you think that your best thinking can get you out of it?
This is very easy to say but extremely hard to do for many of us – myself included. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep trying. Right?
3. Give yourself no choice but to succeed.
Eventually, I accepted what my teachers told me and did the work I was given. Still, I needed to speed up the process. I was supposed to start a master’s program in only a few short months and all the classes would be in Hebrew. Oy veh!
I decided to put myself in a situation where I would be forced to become fluent very quickly. I volunteered to work with children. In my case, I worked with Russian kids who had only arrived in Israel a few months before I got there. The difference was that these kids were completely fluent…and they didn’t speak any English. If I was to do my job, I had to learn the language and quickly.
This move actually was the most important of all. Since my only option was to succeed, I did.
When it comes to money, I can’t think of a better tactic or lesson. The way to apply this concept is to simply map out your financial future and start creating a financial plan for yourself.
Project what your life is going to be like if you don’t make the changes you really want to make. For example, if you currently struggle with debt because you don’t know how to stop spending money, paint a picture for yourself of what your life is going to look like if you continue down that path. You might even want to make a storyboard by cutting out pictures from magazines of where you are going to have to live, what kind of jobs you’ll be forced to take, etc., if you continue.
You should also make a storyboard cutout of the way your life will look when you do implement your new financial rules of conduct. What kind of house do you live in? What kind of schools do your children attend? Where will you spend your vacations?
Have both of these storyboards right in front of you every morning so you see them first thing when you wake up. Keep a wallet-sized version available so you can reference them every time you go out. These images will shape the decisions you make as you go through your daily life.
By constantly reminding yourself how the decisions you make impact your life, you’ll be giving yourself no choice but to succeed.
Looking back, another important lesson is that we can find peace in doing the best we can and accepting things we just can’t control. I went as far as I could having those kids as “teachers,” and it was the best move I could have taken.
If you do everything you can to improve your situation, believe me – your situation will improve. Stay committed. Take direction. Do the work and give yourself no option other than success. You may not hit your target, but you’ll go much further than if you just sit there.
Have you ever had to learn a new language? Do you think it’s similar to learning about money? What was the most effective tactic you used?