Does this look like someone who would grow up to hang out of helicopters in the Amazon as an aerial photographer? Who would meet a good-looking guy on the train going up to Machu Picchu, then go home to Rio de Janeiro, shut down her business and sell everything in order to go live with him in a thatched-roof hut on an island off the coast of Mexico? Or who would sell toll-road equipment for use in areas of Colombia where you were supposed to pay the drug traffickers to avoid being kidnapped?
Well, it is. It is me.
I share that in order to show how our early experiences form our futures. And how they are also the key to understanding a lot of our behaviors, including those around money.
Childhood Memories and Money Behaviors
A few days ago, I asked readers to tell me what they wish they could do differently … or wish they had done differently in the past … when it came to dealing with money. Here are some of the things they reported:
Some people find they get excited about something and spend money on it before doing the necessary research. This might involve “shiny objects” that bring instant gratification. Or investments that they’re sure will be the perfect solution to a problem they’re grappling with. No doubt they’ve had regrets about their purchases at times, purchases that they made impulsively. Where does impulse shopping come from?
Others are entrepreneurs with growing businesses who struggle with knowing when to hire someone to lessen their own work load. They’re weighing the fact that with help they should earn money faster. But they also need that earned money in order to be able to afford the extra help. It’s a vicious circle.
Could this be an issue with risk aversion? Or with believing that success requires extraordinary hard work, so they’re exaggerating the financial risk so they stay in that comfortable place? Or maybe, even with almost guaranteed success, their lack of belief in their own ability to succeed is causing them to exaggerate the risk.
Some are simply overwhelmed by their financial situation and opt to ignore it. They’d rather not face it, get clarity about it, and bring it under control. The explanation can most likely be found in my post on classic denial, Money Denial: Pretending Money Doesn’t Exist. But when it leads to burdensome debt, it could also be an issue with ‘deserving’ financial security and peace of mind.
Others take their eye off the ball. They find themselves in financial distress after having done everything “seemingly perfectly.” Until an economic upheaval, that is. In good times, it’s easy to make money with investments. Many of the supposed gurus look like brilliant super-stars. But the enthusiasm of ever-larger gains makes it harder to keep investments diversified enough to buffer a swing in the opposite direction.
So, what leads to relinquishing the well-being of our money to third parties? We know it’s hard for us to earn our money. So why are we so prone to accepting the advice of others as gospel when no one cares about our money as much as we do?
Some people report being overly indulgent with others, but not at all generous with themselves. Which of the issues within the classic repelling of money could this be? They’re all described in Repelling Money: Pushing Money Away. There’s also a slim chance of using money to manipulate or enable others, sometimes even employing the ‘victim’ role in the process.
Others let themselves get tripped up by the ‘I’m no good at numbers’ myth, as was the case in “Oh, No, I Don’t Know Anything About Money.” This came from our mothers’ desire to be sure we’d find husbands easily. We were discouraged as children from worrying our pretty little heads about money. After all, boys don’t like girls who are too smart. (This myth is busted, along with four others, in “Busting 5 Myths Women Buy Into That Keep Them Scared and Broke!” It’s available in the upper right-hand corner of this page.)
The list is endless. But what causes these beliefs and behaviors?
So How Does This Work?
The key to understanding and overcoming any such behavior is to look back in your childhood to find some event (or events) that might have triggered the belief behind it. This could have happened during infancy, when messages were embedded in our subconscious before our conscious minds became active, at around age 6.
After that, the conscious mind learned to filter out what was right and wrong, what was ‘about us,’ and what wasn’t. But earlier memories may still be sitting there, unaddressed and messing with your decision-making process. Releasing a memory and reversing the behavior is almost always a matter of:
- becoming aware of the memory,
- looking at it as an adult, and
- recognizing that it no longer is relevant to how you act today.
The event (or events) could also have occurred after age 6. In that case, the memories have simply been allowed to remain in your conscious mind with their emotional charge reliably triggering certain behaviors. The key there is to:
- return to the event in your mind,
- review the circumstances unemotionally, and
- determine if you were truly responsible for causing the event or if you accepted it because someone with greater authority put it there.
In either case, after all these years you’ll want to forgive the responsible person … and forgive yourself for allowing other people’s agendas to manipulate your life for so long.
Back to My Example
So what in my childhood could possibly explain my high-stakes, high-risk, adventurous, all-or-nothing life choices? Lots of “mind excavation” led me to recognize patterns: I had a daddy I adored, but whose attention I had trouble getting (starting when I was a baby) because he traveled constantly to what seemed like exotic locations for his work.
Maybe he’d notice me if I made myself bigger than life? I found all sorts of issues of perceived abandonment, of feeling invisible, of needing to be perfect (which is probably what saved me from getting into trouble).
He lived life with gusto and was a great story-teller, so I emulated his every trait, even surpassing him by putting myself in physical danger to boot. His antics led to major financial instability, seesawing the family between “very well off” and flat broke.
So I replicated his patterns, but with even more adrenaline. My highs were higher, and my lows were lower. Do you remember the song “Everything You Can Do, I Can Do Better”? Well, that was my life theme … until I understood he had worked himself to death.
Getting at the root of unhelpful money behaviors can be seen as drudgery or as an adventure. This is one adventure I can safely recommend you undertake!
[This article was updated March 7, 2017 … six years later. It all still holds true!]