Make Change Easier: An Interview with Adam Baker of Man Vs. Debt

Adam Baker of Man Vs DebtToday, I’m excited to bring you an interview with Adam Baker of Man Vs. Debt.

“Baker” (as he’s known) exploded onto the personal finance blogging scene a couple of years ago as he wrote about his family’s decision to sell most of what they owned and travel the world (with their 2-year old daughter) while living a simple lifestyle and paying down debt.

More recently, Baker and fam drove around the country in an RV before setting up camp for a while in Asheville, NC to work on his next project, You Vs. Debt (yes, it’s an affiliate link), a six week daily video course designed to motivate you on the road out of debt.


Last Friday night, we talked for a bit about one of the concepts he discusses in You Vs. Debt—how to influence positive change by altering your environment. Here are some excerpts; a link to download the entire transcript follows. 

David: So last week you posted on your blog a sample video from the course. Maybe just for those who haven’t seen it yet, tell me a little bit about that video that you posted and why you chose it.

Baker: So that talks about crafting your environment to support habit change, So week one of the class, of the course, we take the whole week to talk about how you go about habit change. And we use the motif or metaphor from the book Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, it’s a great book. If you haven’t checked it out, David, I strongly suggest that you read Switch, it’s by Chip and Dan Heath. And in it it describes how to go about habit change, on what they call the Rider, the Elephant, and the Path.

Really quickly, the rider rides this big elephant through the jungle. The rider is our logical brain, it’s a small part of the equation but it’s important because it kind of guides the elephant.  And the elephant in the metaphor is the emotional side of the brain.  It’s the big beat that’s gonna get us through the jungle, but it’s the part that most of us leave out when we go about habit changes.  And then the path is sort of the path that runs through the jungle.  So their advice when going through the path, their advice for going through the path is to shape the path to make it easier for the rider and the elephant to get through the jungle.

And what they mean by that is you craft your environment, your surroundings, the people that in your life, events, the environment, your activities, your daily activities, if you change those and craft those, if you have the change that you’re trying to live in your life whether that’s, finance, or quite smoking or whatever, it’s much easier.  So the video on day four, we are talking about environment and how to change that to make a financial turnaround, does that make sense?

David: It does, yeah.  And why I picked up on that particular video is I really love the idea, as I’ve written about and studied personal finance, gone through my own transformation of paying off debt and starting to save, and going from being a spender to a saver.  Behavior change has been huge for me, and learning about it, I wouldn’t have been successful doing it if I wasn’t able to do the things you’re talking about – shaping my environment, taking things that used to be triggers to spend money and removing them from my life.  So I really love that idea.

And what I’m interested in talking about today is a little bit about what you learned in researching this about shaping your environment.  Whether it’s paying off debt, or like you said, whether it’s quitting smoking, or exercising more, what are a few of the tools or tricks that you’ve come across that people can use to kind of change their environment and make it more conducive to change their habits for the better.

Baker: I really love this metaphor from the book Switch, and that’s what I come back to several days of the course here in the first week, I center the whole thing around it, because for me, I always started off making it a logic battle.  I was like, “I’m going to lose weight, so here’s what I’m going to do.  I’m going to exercise every day, I’m going to never eat fast food again.  I’m going to never have junk food.  This is going to be exactly what I eat – I’m only going to eat these specific things.”  And I make it very, what I would call logical.  “If I do these, I get this result.”  And that’s how many of us start, it’s where I always used to start, and I realized that’s why I always fail.

So as they say in the book, I tried to force the elephant with all of my energy.  And you can fight that elephant, you can guide that elephant through the jungle, in their metaphor, but you can only do it for so long by force.  Eventually you tire and you wear out and you get exhausted and you fail.  And it manifests itself as laziness.  I think they even said that in the book as well.  People appear lazy when sometimes they’re just so exhausted because they’re trying to fight their logical brain and take full responsibility for change.

So your question to me was, what were some tips and breakthroughs for me, and that was realizing how big of a role the elephant played in the situation.  And again, the elephant is the emotional side of your mind.  How big of a role motivation in people and like a reward system, you know what I mean?  It’s celebrating and being friggin’ happy.  How much does all of that play in to key the habit change.

So, for example, I’m certainly not a fitness expert, but I’ve been able to lose some weight recently, and the entire breakthrough has come by allowing myself to follow a strict plan, because that’s what my logical brain needs.  But I also allow myself to the time for emotional reasons.  I got to the bottom of really why I wanted to change.

One of the reasons I really want to change is because I’m going to be doing more speaking, and I don’t want to look like a fat slob when I’m on stage speaking, right?  I want to change habits so that I can be healthier and live longer, right?  But that’s not the real reason.  That’s not the real motivation behind me.  So as I started to dig deeper, I realized the real reasons I was motivated… I’m not motivated to pick up chicks, because I’ve already picked up the one chick, I’m married, right?  I want to look good for my wife, but I’m not in that stage where I just have to stare at myself in the mirror, that’s not going to motivate me either at this point in my life.

But looking and feeling healthy and appearing good on stage, being able to talk in front of people without feeling embarrassed, that does affect me right now.  And I’ve realized this, and I’ve played into it, and I started celebrating small wins. I have my cheat days once a week, which is part of the actual diet plan that I use.  Like I allow myself the ability to cheat without allowing myself to feel guilty about it.  And there’s still a structure for that, but some of these breakthroughs haven’t really helped me.  It all comes back to playing into the emotional side of my brain.

And the other side of that is environment.  So I’ve removed all the junk food… If I have cheat day, if there’s any food left from a cheat day, I throw it away or I get rid of it, or I give it to someone and say, “Make sure you eat this ice cream.” It’s not going to be in the house the other six days of the week, and that’s environment.  All the junk food’s out.  You don’t have leftover pizza in the refrigerator.  I either eat it or give it away or give it to somebody but just get it out of the house and don’t order extra food so you don’t have that left over.

With your finances it’s the exact same way.  For me, I needed to stop gambling.  That was a big thing for me, so I just quit, I ended up going cold turkey, and one of the reasons for that is because the financial impact it was having, I removed negative people from that part of my life.

My father, for example, is a great inspiration on my life.  He’s very, very supportive, but he wasn’t someone that was going to necessarily celebrate me paying off a credit card.  That’s not his style, that’s okay.  So if I called him up and said, “Dad, I paid off a credit card.” He just wasn’t going to be, like, “Oh, okay, that’s neat,” he wasn’t on board.  So I’ve got people in my life that I filled them in on it that were going to be like, “That’s awesome, keep going!” I plugged into the financial blogs, I plugged into the financial community, and my wife and I both get excited and we celebrate this stuff.  All of that environment is emotional and it’s helping us change, and that was a really vital thing for me when we were first going through it.

Download the entire interview here.


You Vs DebtYou Vs. Debt is a six-week interactive course on getting out of debt that focuses on the emotional side of debt and finances.

Together with other students, you’ll watch briefly daily videos, complete exercises, and discuss lessons that will prepare and motivate you to execute financial changes in your life with the end goal of getting rid of your debt once and for all.

Because Baker is a friend and, perhaps more importantly, because I know he gives 125% to everything he does, when I learned he was launching this new course, I knew immediately I wanted to help him spread the word. (FYI, in five years of blogging, I’ve never plugged another blogger’s book, course, or other product…)

Is You Vs. Debt right for everybody? Of course not, and I’m not recommending anybody sign up without reflecting on whether this can help you. But if you’ve been trying and trying to cut back on spending or get up the motivation to earn more money, but keep failing because you can’t seem to make the changes stick, this course will provide the tricks you need to permanently make positive change.

» » » Learn more about You Vs Debt here. « « «

(But do hurry, enrollment for this class ends on Thursday!)


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About David Weliver

David Weliver is the founding editor of Money Under 30. He's a cited authority on personal finance and the unique money issues we face during our first two decades as adults. He lives in Maine with his wife and two children.


  1. I think he offers a great story for many readers. He is an inspiration and I am excited to see how You vs. Debt changes lives.

  2. Thanks for sharing your interview with your readers! Can’t wait to see what Baker has up his sleeve for You vs. Debt!

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