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.
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