How an athlete’s mindset can help your financial fitness

The mind-money connection

Overcoming setbacks and practicing your skills can help you win gold in pursuit of your money goals.

While you may not be able to defy gravity like an elite gymnast, or fly through water like a world-class swimmer, some of the same mental strategies favored by top athletes can be a part of your journey toward greater financial confidence. Here are just a few mindset tips aimed at helping you find success on the field (or wherever your favorite sport is played) and in your personal finances.

The highlights:

  • Many attributes of successful athletes, like resilience and a willingness to learn, can also help you feel more confident taking control of your finances.
  • Money is a team sport. It’s important to find coaches who can support you and hold you accountable.
  • Practice may not make perfect, but taking action with goal-setting and budget-building can help you get better at managing your money.

Have an athlete’s confidence.

It takes more than physical skill to be a successful athlete. “They’re among the best at what they do, and certain mental qualities helped them get that way,” says Bright Dickson, co-host of Money and Mindset With Bright and Brian and the resident positive psychology specialist at Truist. “You can apply some of those qualities to your own life.”

So how does an athlete think about improving their game?

Jedidiah Collins was a professional football player before becoming a Certified Financial Planner and financial educator. He refers to a “pro mindset” that many great athletes have.

“It means you have confidence in yourself and trust in your team, and you’re committed to adding value to whatever you’re doing,” Collins says. “In athletics, your goal is to get a little better every day. And you can apply that same mindset to your personal finances.”

Come up with a game plan.

When you play sports, you play to win. No team ever made it to the playoffs or won the Super Bowl without a carefully made plan.

Like a coach drawing up plays before the big game, you can plot a path toward greater financial wellness. Start by taking stock of your current situation with a financial check-in. Once you have an idea of where you are, you can envision where you want to be and then figure out how to get there.

Just remember that there’s no scoreboard when it comes to your personal finances. You get to decide what a “win” looks like for your money. “You need to be working toward your goals,” says Dickson.

Learn from failure.

Good athletes fail. A lot. And that’s OK.

“As a pro football player, I got cut from a dozen teams,” Collins says. “I’m an entrepreneur now. I get told ‘no’ three times a day if I’m lucky. But you can’t fear failure. Failure is feedback. Feedback is knowledge. Knowledge is power.”

Every failure, whether it’s turning over the ball or missing a credit card payment, is a chance to learn from past mistakes and identify how you can improve.

“Resilience is the ability to bounce back from the challenges we all face,” says Brian Ford, the head of financial wellness at Truist. “You can’t let past financial challenges affect how you approach money in the future. Instead, you have to move on and make good decisions knowing what you know now.”

“Failure is feedback. Feedback is knowledge. Knowledge is power.” —Jedidiah Collins, CFP, former pro football player and founder of The Money Vehicle

Recover and reflect.

One landmark study of top-tier tennis players found that the best competitors followed specific routines in the brief periods of time between points. They used these pauses for mental recovery, calmly visualizing what was going to come next in the match.Disclosure 1

“It’s a way to reset your mind,” Ford says. “You can tell yourself that the last point is over and that it doesn’t matter whether you won or lost. You get ready to move on to the next point.”

Recovery is a key part of an athlete’s physical and mental well-being.Disclosure 2 In a similar way, quiet moments of self-reflection can help you make rational, unemotional decisions about your personal finances without dwelling on any challenges you’ve faced before.

Be a team player.

Even in individual sports like track and field, no athlete goes it alone. They have coaches, trainers, and other supporters who provide guidance and emotional support.

Your personal finances are the same way. A financial advisor, an insurance agent, and trusted friends and family members can all be a part of your financial dream team.

Money is personal, and many people may be reluctant to ask for help or too embarrassed to admit what they don’t know. “I see this when I talk to professional athletes,” Collins says. “We have to humble ourselves and realize how much we can learn from other people.”

A good financial coach isn’t just someone who can give you guidance and advice. They’re an accountability partner. “You don’t want to let your team down,” Collins says.

6 tips for tackling your personal finances 1. Have confidence in yourself. 2. Create a game plan. 3. Learn from failure. 4. Take time to recover. 5. Be a team player. 6. Celebrate your wins.

Celebrate your wins.

You may not get a medal for building up your emergency savings or maxing out your Roth IRA contributions for the year, but meeting those goals will help you grow toward greater financial wellness. Celebrate those wins in a way that feels right to you, whether that’s treating yourself to a meal out with friends or writing a positive affirmation on a note you stick to your fridge.

And remember that even the most competitive athletes can find joy in playing hard. Try to have a little fun as you overcome challenges and work toward your financial goals. Often, action can be its own reward. “When you accomplish a task or solve a problem, you’re also growing your ability,” Dickson says. “That can build confidence and optimism, and it’s connected to positive emotion.”

It's the same reason why athletes practice: To get a little bit better every day.

Next step suggestions:

  • Start drafting your dream team—those who can help you meet your financial needs. Here you can find a list of Truist professionals ready to assist you.
  • Who’s an athlete you admire? Consider how the qualities that help them succeed can be applied to your finances.
  • “Gamify” your finances with a no-spend challenge to see how much you can cut your nonessential expenses.

Build toward your future. 

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