Financial Serenity

Zen stones

I have found one thing to be highly predictable in human beings…predictability. We love it! Our brains are actually hardwired to want to know what is going to happen next. Of course, many of us enjoy the occasional surprise. But, all in all, we feel much more comfortable with telling the future rather than being surprised by it.

We also are hardwired to do what is necessary to get what we need. By “need” I don’t mean the new iPhone or that gorgeous Coach purse from their spring line. I mean the real stuff like food, water, air and shelter. We are driven to fight for the death to meet those needs.

So, if we combine these two bits of brain wiring-to meet basic needs and predict the future-the result is a pretty strong drive to gather enough resources so that we can feel confident our needs will get taken care of in the future.

In our modern world, we don’t have to go out and kill anything to get food. At least, most of us in America don’t. Why not? Because we have created a token economy. A token economy (rather than a barter economy) is one in which a particular item(s) is chosen, given a value and used to replace actual goods and services. Yep, we are talking about money. When I treat a client for psychotherapy, I don’t expect that person to bring me vegetables, chickens, or gasoline in exchange for my time and expertise. They give me paper that I give to other people for vegetables, chickens, and gasoline. We are familiar with this concept.

My point is, we all want to know that we will have money (aka food, air, water and shelter) in the future (predictably) when we need it.  Basically, investing for retirement.

Here’s the problem. Some parts of retirement savings are predictable. (Your financial advisor can tell you which ones.) Other parts, not so much.

Guess what happens when we can’t predict the future, especially when it’s about future survival? We get weird. By weird I mean we get anxious, impulsive, protective. We do things that at the least make us feel uncomfortable and at the worst make us physically ill. Along the way, we can even mess up the parts of investing that ARE predictable.

The key to managing this anxiety provoking world of retirement investing is to manage your anxiety, not your money. That’s what financial professionals are for.

Let me offer a brief bit of advice (which I have taken the liberty of paraphrasing):

The (Financial) Serenity Prayer

God/Goddess/universe/great pattern of existence

grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

courage to change the things I can,

and the wisdom to not open my investment statements or pay attention to the stock market except for my once/twice a year meeting with my financial advisor who will then tell me what I need to know and when I need to know it
to be a smart investor.

Other strategies to manage anxiety, in addition to not opening our statements and obsessively checking the stock market, can also be helpful. These include:

~ Having a diversified portfolio so that a problem in one part of the financial world does not upset your entire financial plan. Again, this is when you speak to a trusted financial profession

~ Repeatedly bringing your awareness back to the present. Whatever happens in your future in terms of money, it hasn’t happened yet. That chapter of your life is not written. Pay attention on writing today’s story.

~ Focusing on what makes you happy right now: your relationships, your family, your work, the weather, Doctor Who, whatever! Ultimately, that’s what your saving money for anyway, right? It would be a shame to miss all of the good stuff you have now because you are worrying about whether or not you’ll have good stuff then.

Whatever you do, don’t avoid setting up and executing a financial plan with someone you trust. Once you do that, you are all set to let them worry about it while you get on with enjoying the life you have now.

Many thanks to Val Peck of Peck Financial Advisors for inspiring this post.

Risky Choices

It is not easy to take risks. Let’s face it, by definition “risks” provoke a little anxiety if not outright fear.

It seems to me that the older we get, the easier it is to maintain our own personal status quo. Even in early adulthood, the pressures of accomplishing our goals…finishing school…getting a job…making enough money to live on…forces us to stay an a fairly narrow path of priorities.

There are 24 hours in a day and we have to choose how to use each one of them. Do I take this precious hour and … do the laundry…complete that report…catch up on e-mail…or do I do something different, something that beckons but just doesn’t fit into my pre-established priorities?

Mostly, we have to do the laundry, complete the reports and catch-up on e-mail to prevent our lives from unravelling. But every time? Every hour, every week?  In fact, I would argue that we do far more damage to our lives by not making unconventional choices once in a while.

There is this great, amazing thing on the internet called National Novel Wrting Month (NaNoWriMo for short.) Have you heard of it? It’s crazy really. Every November, thousands of people from all over the world gather together on the Internet and pledge to write 50,000 or more words in 30 days. And they actually do it! I did it this past November.

You get a ton of support and encouragement from the incredibly enthusiastic staff of NaNoWriMo and the hundreds of volunteers who serve as writing cheerleaders. Yet,  in the end it comes down to you, the hour, and the choice. Do I take the less chosen path or do I fold the laundry?

During the month of November, NaNoWriMo provides the motivation to shift your priorities and choose the risky path. (They also offer Camp NaNoWriMo every April. Guess what MY priorities look like this month?)

Find your own personal NaNoWriMo and experiment with choosing the risky hour. Maybe you can pick the first Saturday each month from 8:00-10:00am to draw, or sign-up for that new Hip Hop dance class at the Y. Has your knitting been calling to you from that pile in the corner? When’s the last time you sang a song?

Try it. Make a risky choice for one hour this week and see what it feels like. It’s good for you.

How to Make a Successful New Year’s Resolution

2016 Resolutions

I don’t completely buy into New Year’s resolutions. I know that for some people, they work incredibly well. If that’s you, more power to you! Keep doing it and you do not need to keep reading this post.

For the rest of us, New Year’s resolutions often end up becoming another source for feelings of inadequacy and failure, ultimately reminding us of what we DIDN’T do in the past year.

It doesn’t have to be that way, though. If we shift our thinking about New Year’s resolutions from “goals to accomplish” to “directions to explore,” they can become a lot more helpful (and achievable!)

1. Don’t set your resolutions until you are ready. January 1 is just a date on a calendar, it doesn’t really mean anything. Give yourself time, after the craziness of the holidays, to let potential resolutions percolate through your thoughts organically. If you make yourself set resolutions because of the date, they may not reflect what you really want from your life.

2. Rather than thinking about what you want to “change,” “do,” or “fix” in your life, try out “expand,” “grow,” “stabilize,” “concentrate” or “explore.” Not only are these words more neutral in tone, they are also about a process of growth rather than a behavior correction (which even sounds bad!)

3. Rather than goals, think of your resolutions as experiments. For example, a typical resolution for lots of people this time of year is weight and exercise. Switching out “I will lose 25 pounds and work-out at the gym 5 days a week” for “I will look for ways to increase the amount I move my body. I will expand my repertoire of healthy recipes that I really love to cook and eat” could mean the difference between feeling like a failure and actually making a change  during the year.

For another example, if you believe that you are over committed , try “I will concentrate my time on the people and activities that really make me happy.”

5. If you are wanting to explore an area that feels really stuck, I highly recommend you get professional help. Professionals such as therapists (OK, my bias is showing), coaches, trainers, organizers, financial planners, nutritionists, etc, can make a real difference in our ability to make some shifts in stuck places.

If you want some help changing your goals to experiments, leave me a comment telling me your goal and I’ll comment back with a suggestion of how to make it an experiment.

Good luck and I wish for you all the small moments of goodness 2016 has to offer.