Feeling Out of Shape?  "Activate" Your Money Management Muscle with These 3 Techniques

Feeling Out of Shape? "Activate" Your Money Management Muscle with These 3 Techniques

While sometimes you need repetitive practice to improve your money management skills, other times you simply need to “wake up” your money management muscle to get it working at peak form.


A number of years ago I went through a round of physical therapy for my back.  After a lifetime of competitive sports, time caught up with me and I was faced with the need to address the pain that was keeping me from living a healthy and active lifestyle.  For better or worse this came during the Great Recession when my husband was reduced to a four-day work week.  On his day off I would wave goodbye to him and our second son (who was a baby at the time) and drive the 45 minutes to where my physical therapist was located.

I attended a physical therapy practice that catered to serious athletes and I really enjoyed it.  It made me feel like I was “one of the gang” rather than a young mom whose body had stopped working properly.  It was fun for me to sit with my ice pack and scan the large exercise room, watching the other patients who were working their bodies to the limit on a daily basis.  It made me hopeful for the days when I might again feel like the athlete I used to be.

Did I ever tell you that once upon a time I was pre-med?  All it took was my anatomy coloring book in my advanced biology class in high school to make me fascinated with how the human body works.  My poor physical therapist, she didn’t know what she signed up for as I peppered her with questions about how all these bones and muscles work together to create movement.

The clearest memory that I have from my PT was a discussion about muscles.  I had been doing some exercises at home to build up a particular muscle.  Day after day and week after week I did reps, but I never noticed any improvement with my strength.  When I brought this to her attention her reply shocked me.  First she said, “Stop doing those exercises, they are not doing you any good.”  Then she said, “Sometimes repetitive exercise makes no difference what so ever towards making you stronger.  Instead what you need to do is ‘activate’ the muscle.”  Huh?

Working to Activate the Right Muscles

As I understand it through my superficial Google search (I did not end up going to medical school after all), the purpose of muscle activation exercises is to re-establish brain-body communication.  Once a particular muscle has been damaged, sometimes it becomes dormant and other nearby muscles take over, stepping in to do their neighbor’s job, but not that well.  No matter how many reps you do, the neighboring muscles continue to work in place of the damaged one.  With help of a combination of biofeedback and kinesiology tape I was able to “wake up” the resting muscle so that it was able to resume doing its job, no more repetitive exercise necessary.

Applying Muscle Activation to Your Money Management

My experience with that physical therapist was a positive one, and every now and then I think about “waking up” certain muscles that might not be doing their jobs.  Then I thought that a case could be made to applying the theory of muscle activation to money management.  If you consider two distinct processes – repetitive exercise and muscle activation – you can apply them strategically to ways in which you can more successfully manage your money.

Repetitive Exercise

Let’s first think about the actions that you take over and over again with regards to your money:

  • Paying your monthly bills

  • Transferring money to savings

  • Making regular  purchases to support your household

But what else do you do over and over again that might not be helping you to attain your financial goals?

  • Engaging in “retail therapy” after you’ve had a hard day

  • Making purchases in response to FOMO-inducing social media posts

  • “Treating yourself” so frequently that it has morphed into a daily habit

In the classes that I teach sometimes I will meet a student who watches their money daily – be it with an app or other convenient tool – and who still can’t get where they want to go to accomplish their financial goals.  I liken this to those repetitive exercises that I was doing every day that weren’t making me any stronger.  It felt like I was doing something constructive, but it wasn’t helping me to get to my goal.

Muscle Activation

So is there a way to “wake up” your money management muscles so that the regular actions that you take with your money have greater impact?  I think so.  Here are a few tools to get you started:

  • What Are Your True Values? Take the Quiz!  This is a link to my blog post with the Values and Spending Quiz that I frequently use in my classes.  It will show you what your highest priority is with regard to 10 spending categories.  It is a useful tool to get your daily spending in line with your financial goals.

  • Your Mental Wealth Assessment  This is a personality quiz developed by my colleague Dr. Brad Klonz (and don’t let the word “Disorder” on the web page dissuade you, this is a really useful quiz!).  This assessment will tell you what your dominant money personality is, or the predominant way in which you interact with money.  By knowing your money personality, you can set up money management systems that play to your strengths.

  • Gretchen Rubin 4 Tendencies Quiz  I am a big fan of Gretchen Rubin’s books and I go back to the “Four Tendencies” Quiz time and time again.  This is another personality quiz that shows you the true source of your motivations: all external, all internal, both, or neither.  By knowing how you are motivated you can set up your money management system to maximize your results.


What are your thoughts about applying the concepts of physical therapy to the practice of money management?  Can you relate to repetitive exercise versus muscle activation?  Please share your thoughts with the Talking About Money tribe, we are all ears.  And if you enjoyed this post, please take a moment and forward it to one or two people who you think might enjoy it too.  Thanks.

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