Sorry, But Your Finances Don’t Care About Your Feelings

March 16, 2018

Humans are emotional, irrational creatures. We like to think we make decisions based on reason and logic, but all of us suffer from countless cognitive and behavioral biases that interrupt rational thinking and lead to making choices based on how we feel.

We’re so emotional, in fact, that we have a hard time separating who we are, or what makes up our identity, from our thoughts and feelings.

But your thoughts and feelings are just that: thoughts and feelings. They’re not you.

This sounds familiar to anyone who practices mindfulness and meditation. Who you are is the observer of those thoughts and feelings.

Easy enough to say, incredibly difficult to do. It takes a lot of practice, awareness, and presence to let go of how you feel and focus on just being. And that’s in a moment of calm and peace. It’s exponentially harder when you’re out in the real world facing distractions, uncertainty, worry, and fear.

As a result, most of the time we react emotionally to what happens in our lives.

And how you think, feel, and react to your money is probably no different.

Are You Acting on Truth — or on What You Believe Is True?

There’s a reason why smart people make stupid decisions with money (or why people who are highly motivated and successful in one area of life requiring a ton of discipline, like their fitness or their careers, don’t have their financial shit together).

How they feel about money, or the stories they tell themselves about money, gets in the way.

You might feel like you’re “bad with money,” for example. You tell yourself that and you believe it. Well, guess what? Then you start acting like you’re bad with money when you actually know better.

Or maybe you think that people with a lot of money are somehow morally bankrupt. That they’re bad people, or greedy, or just focused on the wrong things in life.

That’s a story, not a reality. Sure, you can find examples of people who are probably objectively “bad” people, who are also greedy and have a lot of wealth.

But some people want to build wealth so they can do very generous, selfless things with it, like found nonprofits, donate more to charity, or fund a community project.

One of the more common things I hear about feelings and money is that there are more important things in life.

Well, of course there are. Getting your financial life on track isn’t about abandoning your friends and family and becoming a money-hungry hermit whose sole purpose in life is to acquire more money.

But the fact is we all need some degree of money to live. Choosing to not care about money isn’t you living your best life and being free — it’s irresponsible and in fact, it’s guaranteeing you will never be free.

Money is choice. Money is freedom.

Every goal you have likely comes with a dollar amount next to it, that’s required to achieve the goal. That means you need to get serious about figuring out your financial life if you want to achieve those goals. But it also means there is such a thing as enough.

If your goal has a specific dollar amount, it means you need that specific amount of money… and you don’t have to worry about accumulating more.

So it doesn’t have to be all about money. But you do need to realize your financial reality doesn’t care one bit how you feel. The numbers don’t lie and you either have enough to meet your goals or you don’t.

Money Isn’t Emotional (or “Good” or “Bad”)

None of this is to make light of a struggle with money. We all have blind spots, which means things we can’t see about ourselves or our lives. Maybe money is your blind spot (which, in this case, I hope this serves as the catalyst to start seeing what’s right in front of you).

Or your struggle could be external to you. Maybe you’re not as privileged, blessed, lucky — whatever you want to call it — as the next person. That could be a fact about your past (not just something in your head).

But if you’re able to read this, then focus on now. What happened in the past is just that: the past. Dwelling on it, even if blaming someone else for whatever financial struggle you face is justified, is not going to help you in this moment.

What can help you is realizing that money doesn’t particularly care about your emotions, because money itself is not emotional.

We get emotional about it. And when I say we I mean that quite literally. Everyone makes emotional financial decisions, or is prone to. It’s why financial planners have financial planners; even the experts struggle to be 100% objective when it comes to their own finances.

That’s also why putting a strategic, rational plan in place with the help of an objective third-party during a time you are not emotional is critical. When emotions do come into play, you can acknowledge them — but you don’t need to act on them. The only thing to act on is your strategic, rational plan.

Because money is not emotional. Money doesn’t have feelings. Money itself is neither good nor bad.

It all depends on how you use it.

Your Financial Reality Doesn’t Care What You Think

This might make more sense if you think of money like an ax. You can use that ax to chop wood, which can help you build a home. You can also use your ax to chop firewood which can keep your new house nice and warm, and fuel your stove so you can cook.

(Yes, in this analogy we’ve all reverted back to badass pioneers who lived on the land. Go with it.)

If you do this, you might associate the ax with positive feelings, because you used it to create a positive outcome in your life: you met your basic need for shelter and gave yourself a little luxury with some firewood and a way to cook tasty meals.

But that doesn’t make the ax good. It was a tool you used to create both what you needed and wanted.

Now, say you didn’t really respect your ax and it’s power and capabilities. You never took the time to learn how to properly use it and care for it. So when you go out to chop some wood, you accidentally chop your toe off instead.

In this case, you certainly have not done a good thing with your ax. We could objectively say that you did a bad thing with it (and your now 4-toed foot would probably agree).

Does that make the ax bad? Nope. It’s still a tool you used — or, more accurately, misused. But instead of getting what you needed and wanted, you hurt yourself and ended up in a worse position than when you started.

This is what I mean when I say your money doesn’t care about your feelings. It really makes absolutely no difference to your financial reality if you feel like money is good or money is bad.

The truth is, it’s neither. It’s a tool and like any tool you can use it for good or bad, creation or destruction.

As my fiance Eric says, you can use money as a tool to create what you want in your life — meaning, achieve all your goals that matter to you.

Or you can misuse it… and fail to create the life you want.

Don’t Let Your Emotions Dictate Your Actions (or Stop You from Acting at All)

Money is only as good or as bad as you make it. Where emotions cause the most trouble is when your thoughts and feelings stop you from making smart, positive choices with your finances.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t care, or not feel anything at all about your money. The point is to recognize when you’re making emotional decisions that are putting your financial wellbeing at risk.

This includes ignoring your money because you feel like everything will be fine or the universe will somehow provide for you. That’s great to feel that way if it helps you take action.

But how you feel about your money won’t change your financial situation if you only feel and don’t act. On the other hand, acting based on your emotions alone often leads to terrible financial choices.

So what’s the result? What’s the solution, especially if you find your emotions are 100% responsible for how you act around money or they’re completely preventing you from making financial progress?

Here’s what I’d suggest:

Work to recognize the stories you tell yourself about money. When you think about your finances, ask yourself if the thought is true — as in, something that actually happens, or your interpretation of an event or fact.

Then, try to let go of the emotion or story. Look at the facts and accept them.

That will hopefully allow you to take the next step: create a logical, rational plan of action that will help you create a positive outcome in your life.

Yes, this is absolutely easier said than done. Yes, this takes a lot of practice to get it right. But you can make good habits a reality. You can learn to leverage your personal finances to build what you want in your life.

If you’re digging what you’ve read so far, I’d love to invite you to join us — and maybe even try your hand at going beyond wealth, too.

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