Friday, March 8, 2013
Discipline, Debt and Cell Phones
Can most of our problems in America really be attributed to behavioral failures in only five key dimensions? Consider the dimension of discipline. To be successful in life, we must understand that we can’t have everything we want right now.
Years ago credit cards were rare. The first were issued by department stores, hotel chains and gas stations, but the type of cards that are popular today weren’t invented until 1958. Even so, Americans who grew up in the depression era, had developed frugal habits and were hesitant to accumulate debt except for very large purchases such as houses and cars. More recently that mindset has changed as people were encouraged to buy now and pay later. Sliding a plastic card has less psychological impact than pulling cash out of your wallet. It’s much easier to over-spend, especially on those nice-to-have items, to the point where “[a]bout 24 percent of Americans have more credit card debt than emergency savings” and “people’s ability to save up for a rainy day and keep a handle on credit card debt… hasn’t improved...”
This inability to save is a symptom of poor discipline. "As people acquire more money, they almost immediately start purchasing things that they've felt they've always wanted rather than thinking about what percentages that they should put away and the [favorable] consequences of changing their spending habits."
The same behavior patterns related to discipline affect cell phone abuse/addiction. Within 20 years of their introduction, Americans seem not to be able to live without a phone in their pocket. Loud conversations intended for others and ringing noises in the middle of meetings, movies, and church services interrupt our daily lives. Talkers and texters behind the wheel pose a danger to themselves and to others. I don’t recall in the 1980s seeing people lined up at telephone booths because they couldn’t wait to talk to a friend or relative. Reading while driving was considered outrageous and very dangerous, not a common occurrence. Now that it’s so easy, people can’t seem to resist. When the behavioral model is applied, the similarity between cell phones and credit cards is striking and the solutions are the same.
Discipline is about delayed gratification. Whether the issue is overeating, lack of exercise, smoking, gambling, texting while driving, or overspending, stronger behavior in one area will carry over to the others. Discipline applies to all these problems and more, just as problematic behavior in the other dimensions explain many of the consequences we now complain about and often look to others to fix.