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Dana WilsonIf you’ve ever picked up a motivational book or attended a wealth-building seminar, you’re probably already familiar with terms like “Positive Thinking” and “Create your own destiny.”

Ever since Vincent Peale’s The Power of Positive Thinking hit New York Times’ Bestseller List in 1952, the idea that you can think your way to financial success has been a staple of both business books and the self-help movement. Peale’s basic recipe for a good life has been replicated into hundreds of variations to suit everyone, from the Blue Chip CEO to the New Age jewellery designer.

But is it true? Does what you think determine how successful you are?

The answer appears to be a qualified yes. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), “people at the low end of the socioeconomic spectrum may be particularly vulnerable to a breakdown of their willpower resources.” But, it is quick to add, it’s not bad decision-making skills or too little willpower that causes the problem. “Rather, for people living in poverty, every decision – even whether to buy soap – requires self-control and dips into their limited pool of willpower.”

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In other words, if you’re financially stressed, every decision you make about how earning or spending money has a significant impact on your wellbeing. That stress can break down your resolve and cause you to make bad decisions.

So what can you do to prevent financial stress from interfering with your financial goals? According to the APA, you need to reduce the number of decisions you are making. That’s a tall order when you have to decide whether to pay the rent, buy groceries, buy the kids’ school supplies, or get a bus ticket to get to work.

Nevertheless, develop a decision-making strategy anyway.

Cut the number of times you must say ‘no’ to spending money today: Avoid places and people who entice you to spend money. Once you’ve made a decision, rest from further decision-making until you’ve had a nap, taken a walk, and rested your brain.

You can probably see that putting off making a financial decision while tired or stressed may stop you from buying 10 boxes of triple chocolate cookies at the grocery store. You might even see how it could give you the mental clarity to say no to that salesperson standing at your front door pitching you to switch to an overpriced utility company. But you may be able to see how it can get you out of your low-income, high debt circumstance.

The answer is simple: If you can’t see yourself getting out of debt, chances are you won’t. As the old song goes, “You gotta have hope.” Financial stress destroys hope.

That’s where changing the way you think can open up doors, and one way to do that is by hearing other people’s stories. Motivational books, speeches, and seminars, including the phenomenally successful TED Talks, help you see situations from a different, less hopeless, perspective.

As researcher Brené Brown writes in the Gifts of Imperfection: Let go of who you think you’re supposed to be and embrace who you are, “Hope is not an emotion; it’s a way of thinking or a cognitive process.”

Changing how you think about your life won’t suddenly put you in a new job, give you credentials to earn a promotion, or even send mentors your way. But it can give you enough hope to see how making smart decisions – saving money, increasing your marketability, working for a regular paycheque, or even going to that networking meeting – will make your life better.

Dana Wilson is a freelance writer.

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