Get in touch with your emotions to achieve your financial goals
One thing I’ve learnt from the past almost two years of trying to get on top of my finances is that crunching the numbers is only half of the story, and not the most important half at that. Yes, some financial awareness is needed if we’re to live within our means, and achieve our financial goals. Yet there’s something far more complex and significant we need to learn to deal with, that either pushes us on or holds us back, and that’s our thoughts and feelings. This is probably true in every area of our lives, not just finance, but I’m beginning to realise that our emotions are more powerful than our head every time. It’s one thing knowing something, it’s something else entirely feeling it, and we’d better learn how to deal with these feelings if we’re to be successful with our finances.
Having money is about feeling how we want to feel
When you think about having enough money, usually you think about money enabling you to do the things you want to do, or buy the things you want to buy, but I think more importantly it’s about feeling the way you want to feel. When I first decided to tackle my finances, taking action was a way of regaining a sense of control. Having enough money in the bank buys options, which is liberating, but it also makes me feel secure. Financial planning for setbacks, such as losing my job, or unexpected bills, helps me feel less worried and anxious.
It makes good financial sense to pay attention to your moods
We might plan for financial setbacks, but what about setbacks we create ourselves, ones far less obvious than losing our jobs? I’m talking about negative thinking, and the surreptitious behind-the-scenes damage it does to our mood. You might not even be fully aware you’re doing it, yet it can sabotage your self esteem and financial journey. What we think is behind how we feel, which in turn affects how motivated we are to act. Taking action is what is going to improve our finances so, as unrelated as it may seem, it makes good financial sense to pay attention to how we feel, and to the thoughts lurking in the background.
If you’re feeling low, you’re more likely to bury your head in the sand, and ignore dealing with your finances. You’re more likely to do the financial equivalent of comfort eating, and try to spend yourself better, only to see any temporary cheer disappear alongside your shrinking bank account or mounting debt. The ability to make good financial decisions is never improved when we’re thinking negatively and try to avoid or escape our reality.
Similarly, if you’re trying to change your habits, or trying something new, being too hard on yourself is a sure-fire way of bringing you down. If it doesn’t stop you from achieving your dreams, it sure as hell makes it a less pleasant journey!
Hey you! What are you thinking?
Having the right attitude is a large part of taking control of your finances. Thinking, feeling and doing are linked in a continuous cycle. What we think determines how we feel, which determines what we do, which then affects how we think. And so on, in a never-ending circle.
Apparently we have over 50,000 thoughts each day (mostly subconscious, automatic thoughts, but really, that many?!), of which around 95% are the same day after day. If we’re thinking the same old stuff day in day out, then for our sanity it’s worth making those thoughts as positive as we can. Yet apparently this isn’t the case, and most, around 80%, are negative. If this is true, and our thoughts, emotions and actions are linked in a continuous cycle, each influencing the next, then we need to take care over what we’re thinking.
Last year I embarked on my ‘year of thinking about money’, which has carried over into this year, and will most likely continue for a few more. I’m in a better place financially, and I’ve felt excited, motivated, inspired, lots of positive things about my finances over the past 18 months. However, I’ve also felt the exact opposite. So what are some of these negative emotions? Well, let’s look at two of the biggies, fear and self doubt.
Fear! It can be a good thing….
This is a weird one, because it can both drive us forward, or it can hold us back. I’ll give you an example of each.
Fear was what motivated me to do something about my retirement savings, nearly 2 years ago, which in turn led me to set up this blog. I could have read any number of articles about the importance of saving for retirement, or listened to any number of people telling me I needed to do something, but none would have had the impact of that moment when I checked my pension statement and knew I needed to do something. The reason I suddenly knew I needed to do something, and did, was because I felt the fear that pushed me to take action. When we talk about push and pull factors that make us do something, this was an almighty push!
…and it can be a bad thing!
However, fear can also prevent us from taking action, and it can make us feel miserable, most worryingly without you even recognising what it is you fear.
A year ago, I didn’t have a business. Today, I do. This is a big achievement, and I should be proud, and pleased. I am both of those things. Yet do I feel happy, and excited? Well, yes, some of the time. But what is my over-riding thought currently? “I don’t have any clients”. It’s not even true. What is true is that I don’t have many clients. The business has only been going for a couple of months, and my logical head knows it takes time to build up a client base, but my default thinking is to dismiss what I’ve achieved so far, and focus on what I’ve yet to do.
I’ve been so caught up in the emotions – self doubt being one of the main ones that I’ll be moving onto in a moment – that I haven’t actually been properly aware that what has caused my worrying is the fear the business will fail. I’ve been anxious because of something that hasn’t happened, and that may never happen. It’s liberating to realise because although I’ve been aware of how I’ve been feeling, I haven’t actually put two and two together and realised that underneath it all is the basic fear that the business might fail. Of course, I want it to succeed, but realising this is useful because, if it doesn’t, it’s not the end of the world. I’d rather give it a go and fail than never know whether it might have worked because my idea never saw the light of day. It’s certainly not worth feeling anxious and worrying about, day in, day out.
I read a lot about setting up a new business before launching my own. I spoke to people who’ve done it. Yet, reading and speaking is no substitute for doing. There’s a gulf between what my rational head knows and my experience of the process. I’m trying something new, and it’s not easy, and I think this is mostly because for the first time my emotions have come into play. I don’t feel much at all reading about other people setting up their business, because it doesn’t affect me. I can learn from them, but I don’t feel what they’ve felt.
My logical head knows it’s early days, and I’m not in a rush. Yet here are a few examples of what I find myself thinking: “What am I doing wrong?”. “It isn’t working”. Or how about “Other people manage to do it”. I compare myself to others and find myself not quite good enough. I’ve been unaware until now that ‘not being good enough’ is what I’ve been fearing most, and what does that even mean? I’ve been faintly aware of being worried about being judged if I fail. Note that’s if I fail, not if the business doesn’t work out. Somehow the business failing, and me failing, have become intertwined in my mind without me even being aware of it. Stupid, negative thinking, about something that hasn’t even happened, and guess what, it hasn’t made me feel wonderful about myself! You don’t get this when you read about setting up a business!
Our emotions are more powerful than our head every time
So what’s the conclusion here? That there’s a world of difference between theory and practice. Obvious you might say. Yet I hadn’t properly appreciated that one of the big differences is with your emotions. Does any of this type of thinking and worrying help? The answer is no, it only makes you feel bad. I think we probably spend a little too long focusing on the money side of sorting our finances, and not enough on the emotions that can set us back. Noticing how you’re feeling means you can do something about it, maybe be a little kinder to yourself. It’s hard to change your thinking, or feeling, so focus instead on the practical actions you can take. Doing something positive should in turn lead to thinking and then feeling more positively, which can only improve our money experience.