How Cognitive Bias Affects Your Finances

“Our beliefs are not true in themselves, but they become true in our experience if we believe them…When you change your beliefs about money, you can master money.
You can make a conscious decision
to change your beliefs
and create more money in your life.
The choice is up to you.” 
~Marc Allen, author of The Magical Path, Creating the Life of Your Dreams


Fellow blogger and Boston University grad, Darcy Jacobsen wrote about cognitive bias and it’s influence in the workplace (read full piece here). Taking two of her points and applying them in a broader sense… how our cognitive biases influence our beliefs and thus our finances:

Bias #4: “The Confirmation Bias”

People tend to ignore information which does not fit with their beliefs while they weigh agreeable information more heavily.

What it means to you: This is a great bias to remember when performance review time rolls around. Managers will be creating evaluations that fit with their beliefs about employees, and possibly discarding critical information. Make sure you provide managers with as much diverse, crowdsourced data about employee performance as possible, to avoid a single point of failure around this bias.

What it means to your finances: If your belief is “I never have enough money”,  you will look for evidence to support this belief and filter our evidence that disproves it. How about the fact that you probably have food in your fridge and gas in your car… or a Fridge and a Car!

Bias #8: “The Spacing Effect”

Information is better recalled if exposure to it is repeated over a longer span of time, rather than occurring only once or grouped together in time.

What it means to you: This means that your initiatives should be focused on long-term, iterative campaigns and programs to induce change, with many “touches” to encourage learning and information retention, rather than one-time, “big-bang” events, awards or announcements.

What it means to your finances: The VAST majority of our money beliefs are formed in childhood, so we have been “touching”  these beliefs for a long time. Writing a new belief of abundance and ease which initiates a “long-term , iterative campaign” which will encourage you to learn and retain a new way of believing and creating. Try changing from a belief of scarcity and victim-hood to one of empowerment and abundance, “Everything I need to create financial abundance is already inside of me.” (Find more new beliefs and ways to uncover your traps here)

Serenading My Inner Mean Girl

I have a few new habits that are making me feel pretty good. To combat my exercise deficit, I have started taking the stairs in the morning at work. I climb up to the top of the building, six floors, and then back down to my office on the fourth. While it is not enough exercise for optimum health, it is certainly better than nothing and is something I am doing consistently and I feel pretty good about it.

As I started my ascent to the sixth floor a few weeks ago I actually began to listen to the inner dialogue running through my brain. It was the usual hits: too lazy, too fat, too grumpy, in other words not enough of this and too much of that. Throw in some “as usual-s” to round it all out. It dawned on me that I had been berating myself since I had gotten out of bed that morning. I decided to drown out the outrageous negativity with relentless positivity. Fight fire with fire, right?

I started marching up the stairs to a little ditty that goes a little something like this:

“I am healthy, wealthy and wise,

I am healthy, wealthy and wise,

I am pretty,

I am worthy,

I am funny,

and I smell good,

I am healthy, wealthy and wise.

Besides ridiculous, I started to feel so much better almost immediately. This is my go to now when my brain starts it slow descent into self-flagellation and misery. Okay, I feel a bit like Stuart Smalley, but it shuts down my inner mean girl!

stuart smalley

How’s This For Exercise

Next time your inner critic gets out of control, try this exercise.

Take out a piece of paper and label one side Likes and the other side Dislikes. Leave the Dislikes side for later (or never), it’s always an option. Then start filling out the Likes. Don’t worry if they are not real things or not valuable to anyone or marketable. Just start listing things you like about yourself.

All About Me

 

Why not spend more time finding things to like about yourself? After all, “Wanting to be someone else is a waste of the person that you are.” ~Marilyn Munroe

 

Allowing

Allowing sounds so easy when you say it. “Me, worried? No, I am allowing the best possible outcome to unfold in this delicate, urgent, seemingly desperate situation.” Allowing is deceptively difficult because it involves a whole lot of NOT doing. Just thinking about NOT doing makes me start to feel like I need to make a list of all the things I will not do so I can remember to not do them… repeatedly.

Why? We all know at some level of our consciousness that our lives can flip in a moment. Accidents happen, diagnoses happen, wrinkles happen, crazy unexpected stuff happens and yet we grip with every ounce of ourselves to our belief that we know not only what is best for ourselves but also how to make it appear in our lives. We rarely stop to allow the idea that what we can imagine for ourselves as the best possible outcome is completely limited by just that, what we can imagine. For example, if we are absorbed by thoughts of how great it would be if we were able to just zip into the Quickie Mart for that over priced gallon of milk without a horrendously long line, we may just step over a winning scratch ticket that blows past our feet as we rush in the door. I recently read about an “Optimism” study in which researchers placed  a small amount of money ($1 to $5) on the floor in the hall outside their interview room. The study participants would pass through the hall alone before entering the interview room. The researchers found that the optimistic individuals were much more likely to enter the room in a happy mood waving the money and explaining how they had just found it in the hall. The less optimistic participants were likely to walk right past the money without ever having seen it.

When we get ourselves into a space of allowing it doesn’t mean we give up or stop going to work or start eating ice cream until the money truck shows up. It means we consciously choose to be open to unexpected answers and solutions. In order to allow in this way, we must accept that we matter. Implicit in this belief system is the knowledge that a power greater than ourselves loves us enough to allow us to experience the life of our choosing. Why not respectfully request from life the found money kind of miracles that appear effortlessly? Then sit back and allow- make a list if you have to!

Let life happen to you. Life is in the

 

Tangled Up In Knots

pen and ink city

Imagine waking up on a quiet, snowy Saturday morning cocooned from the frosty cold outside your window by the comfort of  warm blankets and the knowledge that you have nowhere you have to be. As you open your eyes, you see your beloved wife standing next to the bed gazing down at you. As your eyes awaken further and focus more clearly, you realize something is not quite right with the sweet woman you married so many years ago. First of all, she is wearing the same paint splattered, baggy sweats she has had on for the last two days. She has apparently decided that showering was a waste of time since she wasn’t planning on putting on anything resembling an outfit. Also she seems pretty… pissed off. “Good morning, Honey. What’s going on?” You say hopefully.

“Well, I am not doing good, at all. We need to talk. There is some stuff that I am really not okay with.”

That’s when you see the fiery, slightly deranged glow to her eyes and you know what today will bring. You perform the most instinctual act of self preservation possible in this situation. You roll over, pull the covers up to your ears, and go back to sleep.

 

This was the scene at my house on a recent morning. First of all, God Bless my husband. He eventually got out of bed and, quite wisely, out of the house. Leaving me to unravel the tangled knots my mind had tied itself into. The relentless snow and it’s subsequent disruption to the normal pattern of my daily life was a fun break in the beginning. I tackled a pretty major home reno project I had been thinking about for some time. I enjoyed being home (in my sweats) and having no place to be for a while. At some point my mind started turning on itself in a misguided, cannibalistic act of survival.

 

escher drawingThe more I tried to reason my way out of the encroaching thoughts of failure, doom, shame and desolation the more they turned back in on themselves as if ensconced in the endless maze of an Escher drawing. The vague memory of a lecture I attended many years ago floated into my consciousness. The context of the lecture was different, but the principles applied to my situation completely. Imagine a triangle and imagine written on the three sides of the triangle are the words thoughts, actions, and feelings. Each side of the triangle holds up the others. If you alter one of the sides in some way, the shape of the entire triangle changes dramatically. So I was having no luck in changing the tone and tenor of my thoughts. I could alter my behavior! I showered, ate some healthy food, threw in a little laundry and felt a bit better. Although the sticky goop of despair still flowed freely in the form of discouraging and hopeless thoughts, I had an action plan. Find things that felt like relief and do them. For me that means: meditate, shower, call friends, work, declutter, and any activity that reminds and reconnects me to my feeling of connection or Oneness.

If you find yourself tangled up in a knot of good old fashioned yuck, try changing some behavior completely unrelated to the candleyucky part. Something little that makes you feel good. Clean off your dresser, put out fresh flowers, walk the dog, anything that feels like relief. Notice which people in your life make you feel this way too and seek them out. Focus your attention on what feels different than the yuck you have become accustomed to and watch for flickers of that something different. There are bigger forces than us at work in the Universe, I have it on good authority that February was an astrological butt kicking! Why would the entire solar system conspire to wring us like old dishrags? Who knows, but I suspect it has a lot to do with Yin and Yang, day and night, light and dark. Light yourself a candle in the dark and guard it ferociously when the winds begin to howl. It is through the blessings of the light that we make our way through the darkness and because of the dark we can appreciate
the beauty in the light.

 

The Themes of Our Lives

how to tell a story

Lives have themes. Recurrent experiences that appear in one form or another throughout our existence. These themes weave themselves intricately into all parts of our existence and all phases of our lives. Who knows how and why we choose these themes for ourselves. Do we pick them before we come into the physical world as lessons we chose to learn, are they shaped by our family patterns, do we simply act as magnets attracting to us that which we are holding inside? Whatever the reason… there is a reason,  a deep gift of levity and magic that is ours when we accept our themes as constructs we have cobbled together. Our themes give us a framework of belief and help us organize our perceptions of the world, they also limit what we allow ourselves to experience by acting as blinders to the infinite universe of Possibilities.

We need do nothing more than notice. Notice how we have a refrain of self doubt or disgust, a refrain of self pity or outrage. Then allow ourselves the luxury of stopping for a moment and asking ourselves, “What would I rather have? What would I have room for in my life if all of my space wasn’t consumed with this?” All it takes is a moment to step out from under your story and allow the magic to drop into your life. What you do with whatever shows up is your business!

ask yourself

 

This Year, Breathe

whale breathing

It’s inevitable this time of year to not think of resolutions or at least things you wish could be different in the year ahead. It’s also inevitable that the overwhelming majority of these resolutions will be abandoned almost before the New Year even begins. While there are many reasons for this annual ritual of unrequited hope for new beginnings, the reasons for abandoning these resolutions can be quite simple. Instead of making us feel hopeful and inspired, they often remind us of how yucky we feel about ourselves or certain parts of our lives.

The resolution made from a place of self loathing, disgust or disappointment is doomed before it has a chance to even truly begin. When we set out to distance ourselves from the parts of ourselves we believe are undesirable, we are creating an even stronger attachment to those very feelings, habits and relationships. The stronger we push against something, the stronger we are connected to it. So this year go ahead and make resolutions if you feel the need. Nothing wrong with that. But take a few moments for yourself when you make them and as you think of them in the days or weeks ahead. Moments to just breathe and feel what it is to be a person who has parts of their being they wish were different. Breathe some more and allow whatever feelings come up to be felt and accepted without debate. This is you, all of you. Complicated, conflicted, confused and so completely amazing. Breathe some more and allow the blessed moments to flow. The moments when you are at peace for an inhale, when you have a blessed moment of peace.

If it all comes back on the exhale- so what, you’re human. Keep breathing and creating space in your life for more of the blessed moments of being. You are worth it.

Holiday Hustle

I am not saying I am lazy, but I do enjoy a relaxed pace in life. Once in a while it is fun to have a few days of hustle and bustle. When I am consistently busy and rushing, however, I start to get a kind of mania of accomplishment and effieciency. I start creating intricate lists scheduling activities within activities and potential quick errands to knock out while traversing the town. It is so attractive and dazzling feeling efficient and competent and organized. Yesterday I reached the tipping point when I crossed the line into certain manic, frenzied rushing about. My mind spinning 100 miles an hour as I zoomed here and there getting so much accomplished!! Somehow as the day went on my list continued to grow and instead of feeling proud of how much I had accomplished I felt desperate to simply get through to the next activity. At a certain point a realization came over me that I had gotten to that place. The place where emergency action is required. Indeed the only way I know to cure this kind of mania is to slow down and take some time to do things like meditate, breathe DEEPLY, take a step back from the rushing thoughts and realign my priorities. Why is it that slowing down like this somehow makes me feel more efficient and relaxed at the same time. Who knows, but it does. I can resume being a rational human being and actually enjoy the Holidays. Today I was the calm presence in the Holiday lines amidst the frenzied, super efficient, list makers of the world.

Feeling Frustrated? Try Throwing It In Reverse

complete 180

I find myself having the same frustrating discussions at work day after day. One of the students I work with tends to get stuck at different points throughout the day. What this child will do is designate something as not fair and then proceed to try and engage in a discussion about this unfair situation… for a long, long time. The rational approach for me to handle this situation is to engage in a discussion, explaining the reasons behind the decision or the rule, i.e. “No  peanuts at the peanut free table because it is unsafe for the children with allergies”, and be done with the discussion. The difficulty is that this student is not actually interested in reason or rational discussion. This kid wants what this kid wants and is willing to talk to you until your ears bleed to get it. The other day I tried a new approach and got surprising results.

Rather than trying to convince my student that I was right, I threw it in Reverse and started offering up loads of reasons in favor of this kid’s opinion. “You are  so right! It is an outrage that other kids can sit at your desk when you are not there. It is your private space! They could touch your stuff and that would be a violation. I would feel like knocking somebody out too.” I piled it on real thick and encouraged him to do the same. We determined that the rule was stupid, grown ups do stupid things, kids do stupid things, people should just listen to and respect what this child decides to is right, and on and on. It was all very dramatic with throwing our arms around and bouncing our fists off of the desks. Laughter too, in the midst of these deep and overwhelming feelings, we had a few belly laughs too. Every time my student tried to redirect the conversation back into an argument by getting me to defend the rules- I kept it firmly in Reverse. I whole heartedly told this student to trust their feelings and not go along with anything other than what they felt was right and important.  After about 5 minutes my student basically gave up on arguing with me, (most likely writing me off as some kind of nutball), and deciding it was way easier to just do the classwork than to expend any more energy on being right.

We are all like this student when we make broad proclamations about right and wrong or the way things are vs how they should be. We make these statements based upon our beliefs which are based on our own skewed interpretation of reality. I am trying this approach on myself now. When I start to get steamed up by a belief that something is unfair or wrong, I just throw it in Reverse and I immediately start to feel better. For example, “I never have time for myself” becomes, “I always have time for myself.” It feels unnatural at first, like I am trying to swallow a lie. I just continue to repeat it to myself, “I always have time for myself.” as I am faced with books I have been wanting to read, projects not yet begun or never completed, and piles of unfolded laundry. Magically my brain starts to find validation for my new thought. Suddenly I see possibilities where before there were none. Voila!

Our thoughts become our beliefs. Our beliefs become our reality. Our reality is expressed in our words. We don’t have to believe these words, these in Reverse statements for them to work. We just need to begin to say them and our mind will do the rest of the work for us.

 

The Path of Least Resistance

joseph campbell we must be willing

We all have the parts of our lives that we wish were different. For many of us it is our weight, but it could be career, relationships, finances, or maybe all of the above. The fly in the ointment is that the more we fight to change these parts of our lives, the more we engage in a tug of war with ourselves. I know, for myself, the moment I decide I am going on a diet, I become ravenously hungry. The longer I punish myself with memories of talk show hosts holding up lumpy, gelatinous replicas of what “five pounds of fat” looks like, and feelings of defeat and loathing while bathing suit shopping… the more I EAT!! What if there was a way to drop the rope and walk away from this endless tug of war that is draining our energy, focus and self-esteem?

We can give ourselves permission to have things in our life that we wish were different. End of story. We can do that. We can decide that, yes, I can’t stand my relationship with my mother-in-law. We don’t have to like or be happy about the ways things are, but we can come to a place of acceptance. “Yes, I deeply, truly, desperately wish I was 20 pounds lighter.” Then we can begin to back away from the constant berating and anxiety circulating through our mind around this subject.  I have heard health coaches who say, “Don’t worry about removing unhealthy foods from your diet. Just keep adding more healthy foods and the unhealthy ones will get edged out over time.” This idea is a beautifully painless way to change any area of your life.

Another approach is to change seemingly random habits or behaviors and trust that the ripples of positive energy will flow into all areas of your life. Here is an example of how this could work. Hilda really wants to begin a workout routine but it has just never come together. She has a gym membership, workout videos and even a treadmill, but she still can’t seem to stick to any kind of regular routine.  For a very long time Hilda feels very badly about her inability to stick to a regular exercise routine and believes it shows her lack of motivation and discipline. She often feels guilty and depressed because she feels unable to gain momentum in this area of her life. One day Hilda realizes how good it feels to have a nice clean bathroom. She doesn’t do any back flips or cartwheels, but she is proud of herself for a job well done. She feels important, productive and cared for when she has taken the time to clean this part of her home. Hilda begins to get excited about cleaning her bathroom. She doesn’t have a schedule or anything,  she just begins to notice when she has let things go a little too long, and she begins to pay attention to how nice it feels to have a clean bathroom. Now Hilda has the nice clean bathroom and is enjoying it so much she begins to see other parts of her home that could use sprucing up. After she gives the fridge a much-needed scrubbing, the grout on the back splash gets bleached, and then she even cleans out the dryer vent. She’s on a tear! It feels so good to take care of herself and her home. She feels proud of… HERSELF. Now, without struggle and sacrifice she realizes that she has begun to walk more and has been meeting a friend at the gym. She has begun to incorporate exercise into her life because it makes her feel good! You can equate this practice with the person who says, “I don’t know how I quit smoking. I tried a thousand times before and couldn’t do it. This time it just stuck and it wasn’t really hard at all.” The reason it” just stuck” is they had laid the groundwork by effortlessly making changes that empowered and motivated them.

Beginning to incorporate more of what makes us feel good into our lives changes everything about us. It turns our attention from what we “can’t stand” about ourselves or our lives to what makes us feel strong and successful.  We will always have parts of our life that, we feel, need work. That is not shameful or embarrassing. That’s life! Accepting who we are is the rock that sends the ripples of change throughout our entire existence. It is the magic that allows us to release our strangle hold on what we believe we need and to begin to relax into the flow of what is possible. Never underestimate the power of the path of least resistance!!