Pursuing FI: Mental Roadblocks

“I can’t.”

Those two little words hold a huge amount of power. I know from experience, because those two words were the first ones out of my own mouth for most of my life.

When I was growing up, I struggled a lot with self-confidence. I wouldn’t start doing anything unless I was convinced that I would succeed right out of the gate. Sports, classes, relationships, even things I considered myself to be passionate about like playing music; I wouldn’t do anything unless I knew I would “win”, and if I encountered any failure or resistance I would immediately quit.

Looking back, some of it was self esteem issues, some of it was lack of motivation and discipline, but the single biggest stumbling block was the fact that every time I failed, I told myself that it was because “I can’t.” If I “could”, why would I be running into so many challenges? Successful people are that way without even trying, because of some innate skill or trait that I obviously don’t have, right?


The truth is the exact opposite of everything I was telling myself about success. The people that “win” achieve that victory through hard work, discipline, and the ability to get back up and keep going in the face of failure. This is just as true in the arena of personal finance as it is in business, sports, music, or anything else.

For example, because of the bad habits I developed around how I used my credit cards, I managed to amass over $15,000 in high-interest debt with no idea how I’d ever pay it off. At one point I even took out a loan against my retirement plan to pay down a big chunk of that debt, then continued to overspend on the credit cards!

Once I started actually paying attention to my credit card habits and did some research, I was able to implement something similar to the Dave Ramsay “debt snowball”, and have now gotten that debt down to less than $2000 in just under a year, on a single middle class income (with a part-time second job thrown in for a few months). Not world-beating numbers by any stretch, but not bad considering we also completed an inter-state move, bought a house, and had another kid in that same period.

Granted, there are people out here that have the odds stacked against them; people with debilitating medical issues, tremendous debt, socioeconomic challenges, you name it. In situations like these, it can be extremely difficult to work toward things like financial independence.

But even if FI isn’t the path you’re on, we’re all still human, and imperfect; we can always stand to improve at whatever we’re doing in some small way. Over time, just like the magic of compound interest, those small improvements will start to add up to larger and larger steps forward. All it takes is hard work, discipline, and the ability to get back up and keep going.

As Henry Ford once said, “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.”

What are some of the mental roadblocks that kept you from making positive changes in your life? What did you do to get past them?

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  • Smile If You Dare

    I was one of this “I can’t” kids when I was a child. Infuriating to my parents I am sure, but it was what I believed it. (Wonder where I got that from….)

    It took a long time to grow up. Later I learned that most of my lack for confidence and I can’t-ism was a product of my fear.

    It wasn’t until adulthood and then some did I finally confront my self and my fear. I recently wrote about it…

    • The Incredible Cash Dummy

      I have to admit, it’s something I still struggle with sometimes. It definitely helps to be mindful and have that self awareness so that I can make the conscious choice to face the fear and act anyway. It’s a work in progress!

  • Hope

    I can really relate to what you’re saying, this really hits home for me. It’s definitely amazing how a change of attitude can really open your eyes and even doors to things that didn’t seem possible.