Home » Paying off debt » Debt

Becoming Debt Free and Five Life Changing Mental Shifts


Becoming debt free is as much a matter of mentality, or your beliefs and attitudes, as it is about numbers and spreadsheets.

Don’t believe me?

Hear me out and then decide whether you agree with me. And decide whether you are ready to transform how you see your life, the world and your place in it.

Do you know what my first thought was when John told me how much debt we had?

‘Oh, f*ck! This is a curse that’ll stay with me for the rest of my life.’

Yes, I was upset and I was afraid. Feelings come first and learning how much debt you have feels like an insurmountable obstacle casting a shadow over the rest of your life. Debt stress, it was.

Let me tell you, feelings are natural. What you do with them will define whether you become debt free or continue existing with the curse of debt.

Bottle in your feelings and you fail.

It is much better to let them rip. Trust me I know from experience. When we started our debt-free adventure, I paced, cried and raged. Okay, I also swore like a sailor and kicked things. I ran three marathons.

I tamed my feelings. Next, I learned how to pay off debt and acted on this knowledge. We paid off £100,000 in consumer debt in three years and have lived debt-free for a decade.

Paying off our debt in record time and living debt-free was not a matter of luck. It was possible because I made five life-changing mental adjustments before making my debt spreadsheets my gospel.

Here are the five key mental shifts I believe are necessary to make your debt a temporary and short occurrence in the timeline of your life.

#1. Develop the focus of a hunter to become debt free

You may have heard a lot of talk about ‘gazelle awareness’ when paying off debt.

To this, I cry BS. Developing the awareness of a gazelle will only help you continue to see yourself as a victim of circumstance. Gazelles are prey. Gazelles are hunted; sometimes they get eaten.

Do you still want to approach becoming debt free by being a ‘gazelle’?

When I was paying off debt, I was a tiger. I developed the hunting instincts of the tiger and the awareness of a gazelle.

That way, I was never again a victim. Things stopped happening to me; I happened to things.

Try it. Become a tiger and see your financial situation – and most other areas of your life – improve beyond recognition.

#2. Becoming debt free and moving from emotion to action

Fear, regret and anger.

These were only three of the emotions I felt when I realised how much debt we had.

Worst of all, I felt paralysed: I could not think; I couldn’t make decisions and I certainly couldn’t sleep.

In short, for a couple of weeks, while being a whirlpool of strong negative emotions, I was no good to anyone. Most of all I was absolutely no good to myself and my family.

This changed when I managed to switch off all these negative emotions (or at least tone them down a lot) and started acting.

Stop feeling sorry for yourself. Get thinking, planning and acting and your debt won’t be forever. Learn to celebrate your debt and view it as an opportunity.

#3. Learn how to turn your predicaments into problems

Do you know what is the difference between a predicament and a problem?

Problems have solutions.

To turn your debt from a predicament into a problem you’ll have to start to think differently and ask different questions.

Here are examples of predicaments:

‘Life has dealt me a horrid blow.’

‘That’s it; my life is over.’

‘I’ll never crawl out from under this debt.’

These thoughts go through the heads of most people facing debt. If you stay with them, your debt is a predicament and you are unlikely to ever be able to deal with it.

You’ll have to start finding solutions and these are often answers to some simple questions.

‘How do I make this £10 last for a week’s food?’

‘How do I make sure that all my money above what is needed for necessities goes against the debt?’

‘What can I do to have fun without paying a penny?’

‘How can I make an extra £100 per month? Can I make an extra £1,000?’

Yep. Try moving from the first set of statements to working out the answers to the set of questions. Learn to do this every minute of every day.

You can help train yourself with a simple tool: find a strong elastic band and wear it around your wrist. Every time your thoughts are ones of predicament, pull the elastic and release it. Then start thinking of an answer to a question.

It hurts. This is how you train yourself. Keep the band on till you don’t have ‘predicament’ thoughts any longer.

#4. Concern yourself with today, not with ‘forever’

Looking into the distance is great. The problem is that it makes it likely for you to miss a pothole just in front of you and break your neck.

Keeping focused only on the future can have a similar effect.

To deal with your debt, you’ll have to learn to focus on today; and how what you do today brings you closer to what you want from your distant future.

Celebrate every payment; rejoice in every small decline of your debt bill.

Doing this and celebrating being debt free will come before you even know it.

#5. Think about a specific day, not about ‘someday’

I always knew that it would take three years to pay off our debt and kept that specific time frame in mind.

I never allowed myself to think ‘We’ll be debt free someday’ and I always had a timeline.

It is another question that people’s reaction to my timeline was somewhat disturbing.

John, for instance, looked at me with the eyes of an indulgent husband. His expression said: ‘I love you and I’ll pretend this could happen.’

Our financial advisor thought it was a joke. He laughed and asked me whether winning the lottery is a sure thing. Everybody knows that I never play the blasted lottery.

So, I stopped mentioning my time frame. I certainly never said anything on The Money Principle.

It felt so good when I told everyone that we did it – in three years and one week.

When you think about ‘someday’ rather than a specific day you lack focus and determination.


I know it is hard. I know that today you can’t consider becoming debt free.

I also know that you can do it and you can pay off your debt soon.

After all, I did it and I sucked at building wealth.

People can learn, change and act.

So how about it? Are you ready to learn, change and act?

5 thoughts on “Becoming Debt Free and Five Life Changing Mental Shifts”

    • @Michelle: Quite right. Except that the long term plan is what frames what you do today. So, to pay off your debt fast and without much stress, think in terms of years with hope rather than with apprehension.

  1. This is a great article thanks – a great reminder to be positive and take effective action. It’s certainly an inspiration to hear of your success – congratulations and thank you for reminding me to stay focussed. My debt is a bit of a burden but I am so happy to hear how people can get out of it successfully and quicker than they might think with a bit of effort.

    • @Melissa: Good luck with paying off your debt, friend. Also, it may be an idea to make your debt into a decoration rather than a burden – this way, you can still enjoy life and your positive attitude will bring fruit fast.

  2. So often people get defeated about paying off debt and therefore don’t take radical measures to eliminate it. Living in debt (especially consumer and student debt) should be a different paradigm. You’re not spending much on non-essentials because you’re getting out of debt. This article is helpful for getting people motivated for this way of living. We are trying to knock out the rest of our mortgage in the next 2 years. Looking forward to the end of our debt!


Leave a comment