When I started writing this article it was well before COVID-19 was widely acknowledged in the US. While much has changed in our day-to-day lives, what is important to us has not changed. The silver lining in any crisis is the opportunity to make changes that will serve us better in our lives. Relationships may take on more importance, and certainly good health and well-being is a priority.
Here, in Chicago, we yearn for spring...(it's much nicer to be socially distant out of doors!). March is the daffodil month. It is also the month that seems to stand in the way of the warm weather we are desperately looking forward to. So rather than wishing March away, I decided I would try my best to enjoy March, being mindful of the gift of time. This led me to ponder mindfulness and money.
Making financial decisions is often stressful; whether it is around planning, investing, or saving, for many it is an anxiety-provoking exercise. We all have a different value system when it comes to money. How we think about money elicits different emotions, depending on our life experiences. Then there are all those competing priorities, let alone needs vs. wants.
Newly formed households can experience a clash in values as well as people in long-term relationships. Whenever a life transition or event occurs, or is about to occur, our thoughts and emotions around money undoubtedly get triggered. What’s a girl to do?
My favorite tools for managing the emotions around money are mindfulness and curiosity. They can be used separately or together. Using them together is powerful. Mindfulness helps create an awareness of behavior and patterns. If we take a step back for a moment to look at the current situation from a different angle, we can often see the issue in a different light and potentially discover a different (and possibly more optimal) solution.
Curiosity allows for exploration and can expose deeper feelings which can often lead to a greater understanding of what triggers us, and maybe allows for some new behaviors.
What is mindfulness?
Here are two definitions that popped up when I Googled that exact question.
What are the benefits?
The benefits of practicing mindfulness for me is that it provides a space to just be. It allows me to hit the ‘reset’ button each day. We tend to have a string of ‘worries and concerns’ that we bring with us day-to-day. Hitting a reset button each morning allows me to step away from that stream of thoughts to more objectively evaluate what rabbit hole is worth running down and which ones to discard. Most of them are dispensable! This brings a calm and relaxed start to each day; my brain slows down and my focus is sharper. There are many studies that show it can help us increase our ability to regulate emotions, decrease stress, anxiety, and depression. Many of us practice fitness for our body and our health; I believe that mindfulness is fitness for my brain. It improves my disposition and I am slower to react to triggers.
How does one become mindful?
What can it accomplish with regard to money?
When we become mindful of our relationship with money we can begin to see patterns that we create for ourselves. Perhaps we inadvertently put ourselves in a position where we feel financially stuck or restricted. Sometimes our financial decisions and situations elicit negative emotions that leave us perpetually feeling a sense of scarcity in our lives.
Let’s face it, the only way to break patterns is to recognize the patterns we are living. So, when we can take a step back and observe a pattern we appear to be living, we can begin to break down that pattern and discard the parts that aren’t working for us and keep the ones that are. What does all of this mean?! Let’s give an example:
Let’s say a pattern we observe for ourselves is that we are always feeling like we are living paycheck to paycheck. We are trying to save money but it just always seems that at the end of each month there is nothing left to put away. It seems like we are making enough money to be able to save, but month after month it all seems to ‘disappear’. Last month it was paying for that vacation; this month we 'need' to buy something for the house; the month before we 'needed' a new winter coat and boots, and on and on and on. If we could just get a raise or a bonus then we could get what we ‘needed’ AND have some money to save, right?
Wrong! This is a pattern that we keep ourselves in (you and your therapist can figure out why!) so that we always feel a sense of scarcity. So how do we change this pattern? First comes the awareness that we created this pattern for ourselves. Only then can we shift the pattern. In this article we won’t delve deeper into why we are creating these patterns for ourselves, but will focus on recognition of a pattern.
The next time you are shopping, put on your mindfulness “hat” and shop mindfully. Shop with intention. If you have a budget, did you stay within budget? Did you succumb to any “extra” temptations? If so, what triggered that purchase? How did you feel afterward when you arrived home, whether you stuck to the budget/list or went over? What does that mean for the next time you shop or spend?
So often we shop unconsciously without really thinking about our purchases. Somehow, acquisition is supposed to cure what ails us and more often it only exacerbates the problem.
Using mindfulness we can interrupt our unconscious programming and learn new ways to create better money patterns.