An Examination of Will Power: Money vs. Health


Posted On: January 20, 2017  |    Posted by: Broke Millennial®

Sitting in my comfy desk chair with my feet firmly planted on the floor, hands clasped in my lap, a disembodied voice with an affected British accent tells me to do a scan of my body from head-to-toe. “Now note any places of discomfort or tension,” the voice coaches. Suppressing an internal eye roll because I genuinely want to give meditation a fair shake, I begin the process of mentally scanning my body. It stops at my waistline. Want to talk about discomfort. The intense awareness that a distinct roll of body fat appears when I’m in a seated position has been a cause of discomfort, tension and concern for nearly a year now. Then a transcendent moment of realization occurs to the brain I’m attempting to quiet down. This discomfort, tension and concern is how so many people feel when forced to face their financial lives.

Perhaps meditation is working for me after all.

It’s annoyingly common to draw a correlation between financial and physical fitness. Studies aplenty claim that those who have the foresight to contribute to a 401(k) are more likely to be conscientious about their physical health as well. In theory it makes a lot of sense. You’re trying to set yourself up to be financially stable in the future, so logic follows you’d nourish your body with healthy food, eat minimal junk and stick to an exercise routine – because that’s what will set you up to make it to your twilight years.

I’m calling bull shit.

Will power is not created equally. Just because someone is in excellent financial health – it doesn’t mean that same motivation to save, invest, and analyze spending patterns correlates to his or her physical life. The reverse is certainly true as well. A tight bodied individual who refuses to consume carbs, sugar and most dairy products does not a correlate to healthy financial mind.

I get that there are commonalities between being physically and financially fit. Both require sacrifice. Both take time to see results. Both set you up for a more comfortable future. However, as someone who is an innate saver and financially comfortable, but has spent more of my life stressing about what my body looks like than not, I can tell you it’s not the same will power.

Rant aside – this thought during a meditation practice did evoke another feeling. Empathy. Many of us who are financially fit look down from our fatted bank accounts upon the helpless plebs who are giving into rampant consumerism and we scoff. Don’t they realize just how easy it is to get their financial lives together? All it takes is to have the mental fortitude to dismiss the well-crafted, targeted ads engineered to get into your psyche and make you feel less than if you don’t own this car, or that outfit, or this kitchen appliance, or that piece of jewelry. Just ignore the societal pressures around you to indulge in earthly pleasures and instead put that money into an account that you theoretically won’t be able to access until you’re 59 ½. I mean, come on now. It’s so easy.

To some of us, that is actually easy. But it’s not easy to keep from buying a pint of Häagen-Dazs, or cut out pasta and bread, or avoid whole milk lattes, or motivate yourself to go running. I know the cross-fitting, yoga-doing, vegan-and-juicing-obsessed look at my 30-pounds-too-heavy-for-my-height body and think, “Ugh, how can you not just get it together enough to exercise and stop consuming sugar?” I know they do this because I’m guilty of thinking the same way when about people consistently making seemingly ridiculous financial decisions. This is why empathy for the situation is important.

Perhaps will power is finite. There’s a limited amount our brain is willing to dole out and we’re choosing, consciously or not, where to be in control. For me, it’s my financial life first and foremost (just because it consumes so much of my attention). Nurturing relationships second. My emotions third. My body fourth.

Or, maybe it’s more like the four burners theory. One burner is your friends, one is your family, one is your health and one is work. You can’t be successful and have all four running. You have to cut one off to be successful and two off to be very successful. You could argue that success is relative, but you must admit you can’t constantly and consistently give your all to four areas of your life. Even those with the best of time management skills would struggle.

I’ve tried and failed to reboot my physical health many times over the course of more than a decade. Regular exercise, fad diets, cutting out certain foods. It goes well for a bit and then eventually the dreaded weight comes back on. It’s particularly exhausting to be part of an immediate and extended family of fit people. The type of fit where family bonding on a beach vacation isn’t laying out tanning, it’s running the sand dunes together. And yet, during all this time my financial life continues to be a healthy. No yo-yo dieting or unaffordable splurging. No “maybe next month I’ll get serious and start fixing my money.” I’d love to be able to apply my financial will power to my physical health.

Perhaps someday I’ll figure out how to tap into that will power and apply it to my body, without damaging my savings account of course.

That picture isn’t me! New readers may not know that. Image from