When it comes to money, most of us have a problem-solution mentality. Got debt? You need a plan to get out of it. No savings? Here's a way to budget your way to a fatter balance. Hate to review your accounts? Try the butt-in-chair method.
The limitation with this approach is that most financial goals involve a significant amount of behavioral change, and slapping that "problem" label on yourself means you are probably going to overlook the very insight and information you need in order to change.
Instead of problem solving, try to cultivate an attitude of benign curiosity about you and your money. I say benign curiosity, because when we first start to simply pay attention to money it can bring up a flood of negative emotions and beliefs. We need to be conscientiously gentle and kind to ourselves, or the practice of self-examination feels overwhelming.
Benign curiosity begins with two important premises:
All financial behavior has meaning.
All financial behavior serves a purpose.
So if, when you start paying attention to money, you notice that you've been making a lot of impulsive purchases, try to step back from the self-recrimination for a moment and remind yourself:
I may feel regret about these purchases now, but at the time there was a reason why I felt I had to buy X. What was I trying to do, change, or fix? In what way did that work? In what way did it not?
Benign curiosity allows you to identify the true cause of the behavior and find positive, affirming ways to meet that need that aren't financially destructive. This way when the moment comes again you A) recognize it, and B) have an alternative response ready.
As someone said in one of my groups last night, "It's easier to change a habit than to eliminate it."