Have You Been Through This Cycle?
1. Have some sort of financial scare or unexpected mishap
2. Kick self for not having a better system in place as a safety net for this tough time
3. Swear to whatever you believe in that you’ll get better, and be more on top of it
4. Go some short’ish amount of time being “good” with spending and/or tracking
5. Lose interest/focus/willingness and let it slip again
Then repeat that cycle in a matter of time.
Why is it that the human brain so often thinks that we can break this painful cycle by mean self-talk, or punishing choices? I do it, too, so I’m speaking from experience.
I worry about not having enough money for whatever reason, and then the brain seems to fan out in feast-or-famine mode. Either I spend more than I intended to by trying to take the edge off of the stress, or in the opposite direction I tighten up so much that I could be an Oliver Twist extra.
Neither of those tend to work, which the brain then automatically judges me for (i.e. “I should have known better”, or “I’ll never figure this out, it’s hopeless).
I just have not ever found that being mean or harsh with myself is the way to go. There is almost always a scared little animal inside me, that just wants to be warm and safe and loved. Not only is it unkind to treat that lil’ animal roughly, but it’s also completely ineffective for creating a healthy outcome.
The tricky thing is, though…I can’t automatically start being kind to myself if I have formed habits of self-abuse and harsh criticism. The neural pathways for me to judge me negatively are deep and very easily accessible when I’m stressed.
It’s best if I can do the work to repattern for kindness when the bar is low. That way, when the heat gets turned up by bad financial news, an error made, or a sudden loss, I will have kindness as an option to choose instead of beating myself up about it. Or at the very least, if I beat myself up for a bit out of habit, hopefully I can eventually stop the cycle and not beat myself up about having beat myself up again. (So exhausting, this human adventure!)
So many of us, myself included, try to use fear or suffering as the gas in the proverbial tank to get their finances straightened out. That type of fuel may get the car started, but it won’t get me to my destination over time. And I definitely am not riding in style when fear or anger or judgment are in the gas tank!
So How Can I Change Things To Make Kinder Habits?
There are lots of different ways, is the good news.
Nobody else can know your exact answer, is the bad news.
A little more bad news is that it generally takes time and lots of repetition, and that kind of faith where I don’t know for a while if or when my efforts will pay off.
Some practices that have helped me get a whole lot nicer in how I approach myself (around finances and life in general):
- If I don’t know how something works, talk to myself inside like I would a kid that I love. I wouldn’t tell her that she’s stupid, or should know that already, or is too old to know that. No way! I might say something like, “OK honey, how can we sort this out together?”
- Meditation. That big scary chunk of silence in the day. The mind may race, but at least I give it a chance to slow down a bit and not have anything to “do” for a while. It also helps my blood pressure lower and muscles relax, which helps me think more clearly and calmly on the other side of it.
- Writing gratitudes. I thought this was so friggin’ cheesy at first. Sometimes I still do, but it just happens to help color how I look at the world! Especially now when I worry about not having enough money, it has become second nature to remember to focus on what I DO have, and appreciate that. It doesn’t mean that I put my head in the sand about what needs to be done; it helps me see the whole picture better than just having tunnel-fear-vision.
- Finding someone to share with, whose situation is clearly tougher than mine. Of course I want to avoid being condescending, or using anyone selfishly. There are so many people in the world, fellow humans, who could use the overflow of kindness that has been shared with me. It might be financial, or it might be a gift of time. Regardless, if my attention is on that, then it is much harder to focus on my sad or scary lot.
To further complicate things, it actually has never helped me to just know I “can” do these things, or that I intend to start them in the future. I was such an eye-roller for the longest time…”yeh yeh yeh write gratitudes, whatEVer”.
Knowing that they help other people never actually helped me. Writing them has definitely helped me. It changes the internal environment, and it just keeps getting better over time of doing them.
These tools don’t actually work until you pick them up and get in action mode with them.
Thanks to the Anonymous Donor of this month’s Q so I can share an A!
Q: “I honestly haven’t a clue about 401k. I’m self employed and at the last tax minute this year put some money in a small 401k from a past employer only to find out it’s an investment type thingy. I want something ‘safer’ and wouldn’t have a clue how to play this investment 401K anyway. Any education or explanation or advice on a good, simple, ol’ fashioned 401k would be great!”
This is such a great question. I couldn’t even deal with learning about this stuff for the first year of working with my mentor. I would literally just break out in hot tears, it felt so overwhelming and scary.
This will not be a comprehensive answer, but it’s how it helped me in the beginning to have it broken down.
1. 401K is tax-speak, which basically means, “People who put money in this kind of thing get different tax advantages, and its based on their age when they can take it out and use the money again without penalty.”
2. Did you ever make those dish soap dresses in home-ec class? The dish soap dress covers any bottle, no matter what kind of soap is in the bottle. A 401K is the dish soap dress and many different kinds of stocks, bonds, mutual funds, etc., are the dish soap.
I chose the sunflower dress to cheer you up.
The dress is the 401K, and the Palmolive is where the money would actually “go” to hopefully earn more money over time.
3. My wonderful financial planner Sean Burgess /(http://www.burgessfinancial.com/) has talked me off so many ledges around the ‘safety’ topic when it comes to investments. I’ve highly recommended Sean before and let me take a moment to highly recommend him again. Ask him about the difference between ‘risk’ and ‘volatility’….taking in what he has to say on that topic has changed my financial life for the much better. Sean can also help you put together a specific plan for where to put your 401K or other investments.
4. Vanguard.com is a wonderful source of low-fee mutual funds, as a place to research and ask questions. Spending a bit of time on their website could help you figure out some of the key words, and help you follow the thread so that you build your confidence about where your money is going.
5. Good for you for facing the discomfort and exploring this! Your Future Self thanks you, when you will likely want that money to have grown more money to beat inflation plus some.
I would love to hear from other folks who would like an A to their Q! Here is the link to submit your financial question. Anything goes…practical, emotional, communication tips, etc…