In the financial therapy program that I co-founded in 2007 with Dr. Ted Klontz, we taught and practiced a lot of “mindfulness” meditation. After a meditation we would often ask, “So what does this have to do with money?”
During the first part of the week, we got a lot of blank stares. Gradually, the participants started to see there is a significant connection between meditation and money.
Meditation helps us become aware of our interior beliefs and emotions about many things, including our relationship with money. By becoming aware of our thoughts and feelings, we are more likely to make financial decisions that are consistent with our values, life aspirations, and authentic goals. Many people are unaware of both their beliefs about money and what they are feeling. I know this was true for me.
Our money scripts—the thoughts and beliefs we have about money—drive our financial behaviors, usually involuntarily. They typically operate subconsciously, sometimes leading to impulsive “acting out” that takes the form of a poor money decision. Financial behaviors that don’t serve us well, and that we can’t change by will power, usually have underlying difficult emotions that keep the behavior locked in place.
If we can learn to separate our thoughts and money scripts from our feelings, learn how to actually feel an emotion (not the thought), we can gain clarity, authenticity, and abundance. This is where meditation comes in. It can help us begin to separate thoughts from feelings. Essentially, mindfulness meditation teaches us to “let the thoughts go and the feelings be.” Learning to quiet the mind, letting thoughts go and feelings be, takes time. It takes repeated practice. I find some days are easier than others. Some periods are easier than others.
Again, what does this have to do with money? Consider this: when an overspender is at the store and pulling out the credit card, what’s happening? Often, they are experiencing sadness, anger, or fear that’s been triggered by some event, and they are attempting to soothe or “medicate” the difficult feeling by shopping. What if that person knew how, in that moment, to let go of the thoughts and identify the feeling they were experiencing? To consciously be aware that, “Oh, I am really feeling some fear right now.” Just recognizing and acknowledging what they are feeling will often result in them putting the goods back on the self and putting their credit card back in their purse or wallet.
The experience I just described would be a meditative moment. Meditation does not have to be about a 20-minute block of time. It can be practiced in many, many ways.
Many people struggle with practicing meditation and that is normal. It’s called a “meditation practice” for a reason. There is no such thing as a “meditation perfect.” Meditation is one of the most difficult methodologies to practice. That is probably why it’s so effective.
Meditation is one path that can lead a person to identifying feelings, feeling them, and dissolving difficult feelings—which is paramount to ending repetitive destructive behaviors. Another way that can accomplish this is therapy, which is often necessary. Meditation is a great tool that can augment financial therapy; it’s inexpensive and can be done almost anywhere in any circumstance.
I know this is hardly typical material for a column on personal finance. Yet I’ve found the integration of interior concepts and tools such as mindfulness meditation can change a person’s ability to make sound money decisions like nothing else I’ve experienced in my financial planning career. Increasing your awareness of the emotions driving your money behavior is an essential step toward financial as well as emotional wellness.