Last week we discussed the most important step of changing a problematic financial behavior: becoming willing to admit that changing the behavior is important and to seriously contemplate the change. Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol took that step when he heeded a warning from the ghost of Jacob Marley.
The next step in the financial transformation process is probably the most difficult and requires the most courage. It is looking into the past to revisit the events in our lives where our strongly held delusions were formed. Scrooge resisted this step and tried his best to skip over it. Yet his guide, the Ghost of Christmas Past, gently turned him toward the past.
Bringing objectivity and understanding to entrenched financial delusions isn’t easy. Many people want to focus instead on obtaining more information on how to save, invest, or spend wisely. We try to jump into the present before visiting the past, which is typically the last thing we want to do.
Yet what we need most for transformation is emotional intelligence, which cannot be learned academically or developed by oneself. It must be learned emotionally, experientially, and in community. Just as Scrooge found a guide in the Ghost of Christmas Past, people wanting to gain the emotional intelligence needed to change their financial behaviors require the assistance of a financial coach or therapist. This is a journey that cannot be taken alone.
Once we have taken that difficult but transformational journey into the past, we are ready to become present and see reality with new clarity. While Scrooge was less resistant to looking at the present than the past, it was the one step that terrified him the most. Once emotional intelligence is gained, we must face replacing our faulty beliefs with accurate cognitive information. This is the place for learning about budgeting, debt reduction, investments, and other financial skills.
In Changing for Good, Prochaska calls this the stage of preparation, where we begin to acquire necessary knowledge and take the necessary steps to get ready to act. Scrooge’s guide, the Ghost of Christmas Present, helped him negotiate the present and obtain this knowledge. Our real-world guides may include accountants, attorneys, financial planners, and educational books and workshops.
When we gain accurate financial knowledge, we are ready to look toward the future to see where our previous delusional decisions potentially were taking us. Like the vision that the Ghost of Christmas Future unveils before Scrooge, the scene is often harsh. However, because of our preparation, we have the capacity and tools to enter what Prochaska calls the action phase.
Now we can begin to create a future that is consciously and deliberately planned. We can take control of our money rather than our money controlling us. Our guides can be financial advisors, financial planners, and financial mentors.
Many of us try to shortcut the transformation process by starting here, in the last step of looking toward the future. Sadly, without first taking the critical steps of viewing the past and learning the present, we often lose heart. This is why resolutions for financial change often fail, not because the goal is bad or unattainable, but because we are unprepared to go into action.
The end product of Scrooge’s difficult journey with the three Spirits was a transformed person, full of joy, generosity, and spirit. He experienced this transformation because he had the courage and conviction to start the process.
It’s not possible to give the gift of a financial transformation. It is a gift that can only be received. This Christmas and New Year, perhaps it’s time for you to receive yours.