UPDATED: March 27, 2017
PUBLISHED: March 27, 2017

“I’m just bad at money.”

I hear this all of the time. But what does it actually mean? Maybe it’s giving into impulse purchases, failing to pay down debts or living paycheck to paycheck with nothing set aside in savings.

Although all of these money habits are less than ideal, they’re also all behaviors, and behaviors can always be changed.

When people tell me they are bad at money, I don’t buy it and neither should they. Being good or bad at money is not a state of being. It’s a series of behaviors, and every moment offers us a chance to choose a new and better behavior.

Related: How Healthy Is Your Relationship With Money?

The notion of changeable behavior versus fixed identity is at the heart of what Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck labeled a growth mindset: the belief that your abilities are not fixed, but can be developed with your effort.

According to positive psychologist Angela Duckworth, author of Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, a growth mindset is the cornerstone component of grit, or the ability to pick a goal and stick with it. Which, according to Duckworth’s research, is a key predictor of success.

This means that it’s time to dismiss the notion that anyone is simply good or bad at money. A relationship with money, in any form, is not a fixed identity.

It also means your beliefs about what you can and cannot achieve financially can have a major impact on you. After all, if you don’t believe you have the ability to get rich, you’re not likely to take the action necessary to achieve rich outcomes.

So what can you do to get gritty with your money? The first step is preparing yourself to make changes.

Related: If You Change Yourself, You Can Change Your Life

Unfortunately, most people receive little to no formal financial education. So as independent adults struggling to manage money, they assume and accept that they’re simply bad at it rather than dedicating the time to learn what rich habits look like and practice implementing them.

Nobody leaves the womb knowing what an IRA is, what kind of mortgage they can qualify for or how to negotiate their salary. And nobody gets rich by accepting that their fiscal habits are fully formed.

Financial know-how, from resisting impulse purchases to learning investment strategies, is a practice. When you consistently do the work, you reap the financial rewards. None of this is to say individual experiences, circumstances and resources have no influence, but grit is what ensures those external elements don’t dictate your ultimate outcomes.

Simply recognizing that our financial lives take the same time, energy and grit to achieve the same positive outcomes as health, relationships and careers can go a long way in driving us toward our financial goals.

Once you’ve prepared yourself to make financial improvements, you can get started: Try sitting in on your company’s next 401(k) overview, picking up a personal finance book or downloading an app such as Level Money that can help you track spending and stay accountable to your financial goals.

Related: 9 Smart Spending and Saving Tips


This article originally appeared in the April 2017 issue of SUCCESS magazine.

Stefanie O’Connell is a financial expert, Gen Y advocate, speaker and author of the book, The Broke and Beautiful Life.