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Relaxing the Lizard

lizard in the sunAn image we often associate with lizards is basking in the sun. Imagining such a relaxed reptile might be a useful tool for making wiser financial choices.

As discussed in a previous column, to make the best financial decisions, we need to keep our limbic system, the lower or reptilian brain, calm in the presence of a perceived financial threat so it does not shut down our cerebrum. Then the right brain can recognize data, the left brain can reflect and analyze the data, and the response is a reasoned one that is in our own best interests.

It does little good to work on training our left brain in investment strategies and money management tools until we get the lizard under control. The million dollar question, literally, is “How does one learn to do this?”

According to Dr. William “Marty” Martin (www.aequuswealth.com), a marty_martinlicensed clinical psychologist and money coach, the primary way to keep our reptilian brain from shutting down our left brain is through mind/body practices such as meditation. It is essential to train the brain’s limbic system to become at ease with difficult emotions and sensations. The “dis-ease” with uncomfortable emotions such as fear is what results in cutting off input from the left brain.

Years ago I thought anything to do with meditation was religious in nature. While it can be, what I’ve learned is a secular practice called mindfulness meditation. This is about becoming aware of your thoughts, emotions, and body sensations. Mindfulness meditation involves accepting our emotions and allowing ourselves to feel them instead of trying to avoid or soothe them. The more we train our brains to do this, the less likely we are to become overwhelmed by emotions that lead us to make unwise choices.

To get started, I would recommend taking a course on mindfulness meditation. Mind-body exercises, such as those taught by Drs. Gay and Kathlyn Hendricks (www.hendricks.com) are excellent. Instructional CD’s are also available, with some of the better ones done by Jon Kabat-Zinn.

Another extremely successful methodology for taming the lizard is financial therapy. Financial therapy is an emerging field which as yet has no precise definition or professional standards. I define it as working with a trained therapist and financial planner, using a variety of experiential learning methods.

A third methodology, still scientifically unresearched, is something called “brain training.” This is a non-invasive method, somewhat of a distant cousin to bio-feedback, that is gaining a lot of popularity. I’ve known a number of people who have undergone this process and have reported excellent results in bringing their brains into a state of balance. For more information go to www.brainstatetech.com.

Once you have some practice in getting your limbic system under control so that lizard is relaxing in the sun, you can turn your attention to training your cerebrum. For me, since my left brain was so dominant, this meant spending a lot of time and money just to find my right brain.

Those who are right-brain dominant will need to focus on developing the logical, analytical left brain. My first recommendation is to start learning from people who have a track record making good money decisions. People who come to mind are Warren Buffet, Dave Ramsey, and Suze Orman. Read their books, take their courses, listen to their CD’s. I also have some good left-brain financial information, as well as more detailed explanations of mindfulness meditation and financial therapy, in my co-authored book Conscious Finance.

brain trainingDeveloping better access to both sides of the brain is an investment that can pay off in many ways, including wiser financial choices. Happy brain training.

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