We all know that we should pay attention to our finances. We should know what we spent our money on. We should know how much is in our bank. Or how much we need to save. Or how much we need to pay.
For years, I avoided my own financial truth. I postponed checking my accounts. Thoughts about logging into my online banking would produce a painful pit in my stomach. I just didn’t want to know. I wouldn’t open letters (over draft notices) from my bank. I knew what they were – and I’d just file them. I wouldn’t open my investment statements. I’d let my credit card statements sit there until the due date, never looking at the finance charge I was paying, ignoring the list of transactions, only looking at the minimum payment amount. Crumpled up dollar bills would find their way through the laundry. I’d throw away important receipts. I’d misplace warranty information I had no idea how much cash I had (or didn’t have) in my wallet.
I realize that this makes no sense. I knew, logically, that looking at my checking account balance online was not going to strike me blind. I knew that the overdrafts were costing me money that I really didn’t have. I knew that my credit cards and lines of credit were charging me enormous amounts of money. I knew that avoiding it wasn’t really going to fix it. At the same time, any time I even thought about my money, or my lack of money, or my debt, I was seized with panic, worry, guilt and shame.
So, I justified avoiding the truth.
I’ve done this. My clients have done this. And you’ve probably done this, too. We think about ‘dealing’ with reality – and it seems too painful – so we come up with fancy reasons to avoid it.
Here are a few of the most common beliefs:
1. I don’t want to give negative thoughts any power. We think that we need to avoid looking at the truth, because we tell ourselves that the truth is ‘negative’. Which is a lie. Our story about the truth is negative. The truth is never negative. The only way to transform a negative thought’s power is to actually look at it. Write it down. Question it. Allowing negative thoughts to live in the background of your life only amplify their power.
2. This will hurt my (Law of) Attraction. This is a favorite among my clients who think they understand (but don’t really) the Law of Attraction. They ask me, “Won’t looking at the reality of my debt just create more debt?” The answer is no. The Law of Attraction is based on feelings. You become a match to what you feel. You attract more of what you feel. So, if you’re not dealing with your debt, and you feel anxious – you can only be attracting more anxiety. Dealing with reality and with the truth always feels better. When you feel better you attract more of that feeling.
3. I won’t be able to overcome it. Sometimes, we have an irrational fear that if we really know how bad our finances are – we might literally keel over dead, or have an emotional breakdown, or some other drastic event might happen. I had this fear and didn’t even realize it. It’s like being scared of the boogey man. The fear is very real. The thing you’re scared of, though, doesn’t exist.
4. It will get worse. As with any relationship, our relationship with money only gets worse if we ignore it. Paying attention to it, and understanding it and telling the truth about it can only improve our relationship.
5. It’s not repairable. (It’s too late. It’s too far gone.) This is a big lie that keeps us stuck in dysfunction. We tell ourselves that we’re screwed anyway, so might as well keep the blinders on. Each of us has our own relationship with money. And each of these relationships can be repaired. No matter how drastic the 'mistakes' have been. It is always repairable.
6. I’ll feel even worse. This is partially true. Even though numbers are neutral, our thoughts about them can be very painful. And these thoughts can make us feel worse. That’s why thought work is critical. Without it, we just suffer. If we avoid our financial reality, though, we never give ourselves the gift of bringing these painful thoughts to the surface. They just run in the backgrounds of our minds, unquestioned.
7. I already know it’s a mess. This was one of my personal favorites. I knew my financial life was a mess, but I wanted to just skip through the whole ‘details, numbers, reality’ stuff and get to the part where I just made more money. This thought will never create more abundance, though. Knowing it’s a mess and understanding exactly why it’s a mess are two very different things.
8. I don’t want to have to deprive myself. (I don’t want to be punished.)This is probably the single-most common belief among the money-dysfunctional. So, I’m going to say, right off the bat, I never put my clients on a budget and I never tell them they can’t spend money. And I don’t want you to put yourself on a budget or tell yourself that you can’t spend money. Budgets and white-knuckling just don’t work. Forced willpower always ends up backfiring, and we end up spending even more money. Depriving us even more. This is a fascinating cycle and I’ll talk more about this later.
9. It’s easier to pretend. This was pretty much my religion. I’d tell myself that it was just easier to pretend. Pretend I had money. Pretend that I wasn’t in debt. Pretend that everything was fine. Pretend that I had it all under control. The problem with pretending: it isn’t real. And pretend never feels good. At best, you’ll just feel ‘pretend good.’ What I’ve seen, for myself and for my clients, is that pretending isn’t easier at all. In fact, it’s way harder. It’s way harder to live with anxiety and guilt. It’s way more difficult to constantly be pushing your feelings aside. It’s way more difficult to lie to yourself.
10. It doesn’t matter. Telling yourself this lie will rob you of your own happiness. Minimizing suffering never fixes it. Recognizing the truth is the only way to permanently eradicate your suffering.