When finances weigh on the mind, relax and focus | Paul Fain
What is “mindful financial planning?” What do terms like “mindfulness” or “being present” really mean? Is this column about to go “woo-woo” into emotions and feelings? Hang with me.
What space does your head typically occupy? The past, the present, or the future? Are you aware of your thoughts? Do you sense your emotions? Here’s the deal, if you are more aware (mindful) of your thoughts and feelings you can make better financial decisions.
My head space tends to ricochet between the past (would’ve, should’ve, could’ve) and the future (what if?). Honestly, I experience a lot of unnecessary stress by not being present in the moment. I am not unique. Consider personal finance, thinking about past or future money experiences produces strong feelings in people such as fear, anger, jealousy, hope and excitement. But we need to be careful making present financial decisions in the midst of strong emotions.
So, how can we improve our financial wellness? Regarding the past, take financial mistakes to heart and then let go of the baggage. We are human. We will occasionally make poor financial choices. Go easier on yourself and move on.
What about the present? Today is a new day. Be aware of your needs, wants and wishes. Understand what motivates you to spend and save money. Be realistic. Prioritize your financial goals. This is all under your power!
Be more aware: Our minds and bodies have an automatic response to financial situations – a gut feeling. In the moment, pay attention to these responses and the messages they can relay. For example, a feeling of unease may be an indicator that you are about to make a financial decision that is against your better judgment.
The unknowable future can cause persistent stress for many people, especially worry about future financial security (or family, or health, or societal issues!). To bring a sense of calm to my anxieties about the future, I am learning the practice of meditation. I am not referring to contorted sitting positions, burning incense, and chanting a mantra. Simply put, meditation is the practice of regularly setting aside five to ten minutes to sit comfortably, to quiet the mind, to relax the body, and to focus on the natural rhythm of breathing. It is paying attention to the thoughts and feelings that emerge during the focused time.
According to a 2018 article in Financial Advisor magazine, “Mindfully following the breath trains attentional capacities. Noticing when the mind has wandered from the breath develops the capacity of awareness. Mindfully following the breath inclines the mind-body system to a more centered and balanced state of operations.”
From an article at Mindful.org referring to a meditation study, “Meditation helps you become less reactive and more responsive…those who regularly meditated every week were less likely to be reactive to failures and setbacks, less likely to dwell on the past.”
Kind of like “stop, drop, and roll” if you are on fire, “pause, relax, breathe, be aware” is a mindful way to approach your personal finances. Curious to learn more about meditation? Check out the Ten Percent Happier app at www.tenpercent.com.
This article was originally published in the Knoxville News Sentinel on February 20th, 2020.