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 whether you are ready to work to transform the ways in which 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. 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 feeling and you fail. 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 sailor and kicked things. I ran three marathons.
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 God.
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 a 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. 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.
Do 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’ll 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’.
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 is 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; you can become debt free soon.
After all, I did it and I really sucked at building wealth.
People can learn, change and act.