5 motivation techniques for your journey out of debt

The journey out of debt can be a long one. So long that it's easy to lose hope and give up along the way.

The good news is that there are lots of simple techniques you can use to motivate yourself and create a sustainable action plan that will get you on the fastest track to debt-freedom.

1. Reframe progress

Slowly chipping away at a mountain of debt can make it feel like you're not making much progress. Both frustratingly and fortunately, it's an illusion. Every penny paid towards paying down problem debt is a step in the right direction - the trick is to find ways of visualising your progress.

This could mean viewing your repayments in a graph (Unbury.me is a good tool for this) or writing down the cumulative debt you've repaid on your fridge door - whatever works for you.

Why not make a checklist and tick off your debts as you clear them, or break the figure(s) down into smaller chunks such as 10%, 20% and so on. Ticking off those boxes will give you a great feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction. When we experience even a small amount of success, our brains release dopamine, the neurotransmitter that boosts our mood, attention and motivation. And great news - it's a self-perpetuating cycle. When we are positively motivated to do something, we learn to repeat the action to receive that dopamine hit again, meaning it gets easier and easier to pay down your debt.

It also helps to reframe the way you think about debt repayments.

Every time we pay for something, it feels like we're giving something away. Though this isn't true with debt repayments - it's not your current self losing but your future self gaining.

You gain financially (by paying less in any interest and being able to direct your money towards other things) as well as mentally (you won't have the burden of debt constantly hanging over you).

Think of it as a gift of financial freedom to future you.

2. Make being debt-free a part of your identity

This is a kind of 'change your thoughts, change your life' technique. We are what we think: our thoughts create our choices, our choices become our behaviour, and our behaviour forms our identity.

Sometimes, changing your mindset really can be as simple as deciding to think a certain way. This is exemplified well in the famous study which asked people who were trying to quit smoking to reply to the offer of a cigarette with a phrase such as "I'm not a smoker", rather than something like "I'm trying to quit" or "no thank you". When we state something which describes our identity, then going against it also goes against our personal and social identity, which has associated expectations about how to act. This can be an uncomfortable feeling.

This also works in the context of emerging from debt. Simply by flipping your perspective can have a huge impact - think about the difference between "I'm on my way to being debt-free" and "I still have a lot of debt to repay". Coming at it from a glass-half full angle can do wonders for your mindset, and give you an added boost of motivation.

3. Automate the process

You want to remove as many obstacles between your current financial situation and debt freedom process as possible. Making use of digital tools and automating the process can take loads of the faff out of debt repayments and make it a seamless experience.

Many debt collection agencies offer scheduled payments, monthly payment plans and direct debit, all of which come out of your account automatically.

A great way to stay on top of your finances is to use budgeting apps. Some of our favourites include:

Many budgeting apps use Open Banking to link up all your bank accounts and automatically analyse your spending habits, making it easy for you to identify areas where you can make changes.

4. Include buffers

People often take an all or nothing approach to behaviour change. Either they adopt a new habit of going to the gym every morning or they don’t. And when they miss a few days, it's easy to stop all together.

Interestingly though, flexible habits have been found to be much more sustainable. A person who goes to the gym in the evening when they can't make it that morning is much less likely to give up all together. When we build flexibility into our habits, we're less likely to throw in the towel if (and when!) things don't go quite as planned.

When it comes to repaying debt, it's a wise idea to include buffers so that you don't end up berating yourself if you miss targets.

One way of doing this could be setting a day in the week for you to get on top of your finances - that could mean reassessing your budget, making a repayment or coming up with an action plan to reach your next goal. If you put aside, say, an hour on Monday morning, then even if you end up missing it you still have the rest of the week to make up before the next Monday.

5. Remind yourself of your purpose

The need for purpose is one of the defining characteristics of being human.

Having purpose makes life less difficult, less complicated and less stressful. It means that we don't get so hung up on the small things and can instead focus on the bigger picture.

There are loads of great reasons to pay off your debts, including having more financial security, more money to spend on things you enjoy without the added guilt, lower stress levels and having a better credit score, to name just a few.

You might have a reason for clearing your debts that really resonates with you. It might be useful to turn this into a simple phrase that you can write down or say to yourself if you start to lose hope. This will give you an added sense of purpose and help to remind yourself of the reason you're on this journey.

Remember that if you're really struggling you're not alone and there is lots of help out there. You may wish to seek free financial support from StepChange or Citizens Advice, or look into mental health charities such as Mind.

The journey out of debt can be a long one. So long that it's easy to lose hope and give up along the way.

The good news is that there are lots of simple techniques you can use to motivate yourself and create a sustainable action plan that will get you on the fastest track to debt-freedom.

1. Reframe progress

Slowly chipping away at a mountain of debt can make it feel like you're not making much progress. Both frustratingly and fortunately, it's an illusion. Every penny paid towards paying down problem debt is a step in the right direction - the trick is to find ways of visualising your progress.

This could mean viewing your repayments in a graph (Unbury.me is a good tool for this) or writing down the cumulative debt you've repaid on your fridge door - whatever works for you.

Why not make a checklist and tick off your debts as you clear them, or break the figure(s) down into smaller chunks such as 10%, 20% and so on. Ticking off those boxes will give you a great feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction. When we experience even a small amount of success, our brains release dopamine, the neurotransmitter that boosts our mood, attention and motivation. And great news - it's a self-perpetuating cycle. When we are positively motivated to do something, we learn to repeat the action to receive that dopamine hit again, meaning it gets easier and easier to pay down your debt.

It also helps to reframe the way you think about debt repayments.

Every time we pay for something, it feels like we're giving something away. Though this isn't true with debt repayments - it's not your current self losing but your future self gaining.

You gain financially (by paying less in any interest and being able to direct your money towards other things) as well as mentally (you won't have the burden of debt constantly hanging over you).

Think of it as a gift of financial freedom to future you.

2. Make being debt-free a part of your identity

This is a kind of 'change your thoughts, change your life' technique. We are what we think: our thoughts create our choices, our choices become our behaviour, and our behaviour forms our identity.

Sometimes, changing your mindset really can be as simple as deciding to think a certain way. This is exemplified well in the famous study which asked people who were trying to quit smoking to reply to the offer of a cigarette with a phrase such as "I'm not a smoker", rather than something like "I'm trying to quit" or "no thank you". When we state something which describes our identity, then going against it also goes against our personal and social identity, which has associated expectations about how to act. This can be an uncomfortable feeling.

This also works in the context of emerging from debt. Simply by flipping your perspective can have a huge impact - think about the difference between "I'm on my way to being debt-free" and "I still have a lot of debt to repay". Coming at it from a glass-half full angle can do wonders for your mindset, and give you an added boost of motivation.

3. Automate the process

You want to remove as many obstacles between your current financial situation and debt freedom process as possible. Making use of digital tools and automating the process can take loads of the faff out of debt repayments and make it a seamless experience.

Many debt collection agencies offer scheduled payments, monthly payment plans and direct debit, all of which come out of your account automatically.

A great way to stay on top of your finances is to use budgeting apps. Some of our favourites include:

Many budgeting apps use Open Banking to link up all your bank accounts and automatically analyse your spending habits, making it easy for you to identify areas where you can make changes.

4. Include buffers

People often take an all or nothing approach to behaviour change. Either they adopt a new habit of going to the gym every morning or they don’t. And when they miss a few days, it's easy to stop all together.

Interestingly though, flexible habits have been found to be much more sustainable. A person who goes to the gym in the evening when they can't make it that morning is much less likely to give up all together. When we build flexibility into our habits, we're less likely to throw in the towel if (and when!) things don't go quite as planned.

When it comes to repaying debt, it's a wise idea to include buffers so that you don't end up berating yourself if you miss targets.

One way of doing this could be setting a day in the week for you to get on top of your finances - that could mean reassessing your budget, making a repayment or coming up with an action plan to reach your next goal. If you put aside, say, an hour on Monday morning, then even if you end up missing it you still have the rest of the week to make up before the next Monday.

5. Remind yourself of your purpose

The need for purpose is one of the defining characteristics of being human.

Having purpose makes life less difficult, less complicated and less stressful. It means that we don't get so hung up on the small things and can instead focus on the bigger picture.

There are loads of great reasons to pay off your debts, including having more financial security, more money to spend on things you enjoy without the added guilt, lower stress levels and having a better credit score, to name just a few.

You might have a reason for clearing your debts that really resonates with you. It might be useful to turn this into a simple phrase that you can write down or say to yourself if you start to lose hope. This will give you an added sense of purpose and help to remind yourself of the reason you're on this journey.

Remember that if you're really struggling you're not alone and there is lots of help out there. You may wish to seek free financial support from StepChange or Citizens Advice, or look into mental health charities such as Mind.

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