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The Top 5 Mental Challenges of Paying Off Debt and How to Cope with Them

Cliff Diver
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The hardest part of getting out of debt is not the math. For many of us, it’s not even the money. No, for most people the hardest part is the perseverance required to become debt free.

Here are the top five mental challenges that accompany debt repayment:

1. We Have Short Attention Spans

Human beings naturally gravitate towards short-term thinking. Our lizard brains are wired to react to immediate danger and short-term gains. This means that our attention spans are, well, short. Unfortunately, when it comes to paying off debt, our lizard brains are a liability and not an asset because — let’s face it — without any short-term benefit it’s hard to stay focused on debt repayment. Sometimes it seems like there is no light at the end of the tunnel.

Coping Mechanism: The easiest way to cope with our tendency to be short-term thinkers is to break up your debt payment goals into manageable and measurable chunks. A “chunk” could be one credit card, one creditor, or a specific amount of debt paid off (such as $2,000). After each chunk is paid, you can give yourself a frugal reward. Then rinse and repeat.

2. We Feel Deprived if We Have Less Than Other People

It’s just natural when we live in a culture of such visible wealth to compare your successes and failures to those around you. The only problem is that we are left feeling deprived when our lives are compared to others’, and we are often unable to move forward and better ourselves because of this preoccupation.

Coping Mechanism: Realize that the longer you spend watching other people’s lives, the less time you have to live your own. Instead of feeling deprived or jealous, keep a gratitude journal. Each day, write down five things that you are thankful for. This will turn your feelings of deprivation around and leave you feeling an abundance of blessings instead.

3. Tracking Our Spending and Payments Feels Overwhelming

For so many people, the hardest part of paying off debt is keeping track of spending and making payments on time. There’s just so many things we have to do and take care of on a daily basis, that tomorrow’s problems often fade into the distance when we do get time to ourselves. And who wants to spend a Saturday afternoon writing a quarterly budget?

Coping Mechanism: Your best chance to cope with feeling overwhelmed at debt repayment and tracking your spending is by automating everything. There are plenty of programs out there that will let you connect your financial information and automatically track your spending habits, account balances, and even your monthly payments. Do it once rather than having to do it over and over each time. Start by setting up a plan and putting a system in place at the beginning, and then automate it so that your financial life runs seamlessly.

4. The Goal of Being Debt-Free is Intangible

Part of the reason why debt is persistent is that the goal of becoming financially free is not tangible. That is, you can’t see it in front of you. It is an abstract idea even though it has such a real impact on your life.

Coping Mechanism: There are two ways that you can make your goal of debt freedom more tangible. The first is to visualize yourself in your debt-free life. Create the scenario in your head, see what day-to-day living would be like, and really feel your new circumstances. If you can see it, then you can believe it. To really make this tangible, create a poster board with pictures that symbolize your future debt free life. You’ll be so inspired by the pictures you see on the poster board that you’ll be super motivated to keep up with your planned payments!

5. Sometimes Our Negative Thoughts Paralyze Us

Negative thoughts can keep us from attaining any goal, paralyzing us into inaction and making us feel guilt over that inaction. And we all know that inaction will get us nowhere.

Coping Mechanism: You need to stop the repetitive negative thoughts leaving you in paralysis. If the thoughts are based around doing something, then it’s probably better to confront the situation and take action than to sit and stew over it. If the negative thoughts have no true purpose, then try to cut them off. When one pops up, ask yourself, “is that really true?” Finally, spend time around positive people, read uplifting blogs, and write down your good thoughts on a list of paper that you keep near you.

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