Obsessing Over Money: The Truth About What If

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Obsessing Over Money

It was an early morning call, and I could hear the slight edge of controlled anxiety in her voice.  Therese told me she had a large sum of money she expected to receive at any time and she wanted to be sure she was ready for it.  The thought of that amount had her obsessing over money:  what were the tax implications?  Should she find a better, more protective corporate structure?  What did I think it could do to the family dynamic?

Those were genuine concerns.  But she also had dozens of “what if” questions racing through her head, day and night, she admitted.  They were concerns about things that hadn’t happened yet.  And probably never would.

By the way, that’s no different from the obsessive concerns that can run through women’s heads as they worry about the opposite problem:  not enough money.

Not that some of the concerns aren’t real … as Therese’s were.

Those real concerns should be addressed as part of the planning and actions we all need to create around our money, whether it’s too much, too little or just enough.  We need to know exactly what the demands are on our resources, and whether or not we can meet them.  And if we can’t meet them, what are we going to do about it?  Confirmation.  Plan.  Action.

But what I’m talking about here is the endless mind chatter over money that we allow to consume our thoughts.

It happens in cases where the inflow of money is irregular.  It could be the entrepreneur who is just starting her business and doesn’t have a steady inflow of money yet.  Or the woman who earns on commission.  But it also happens to women with a steady salary.  So the “what if” obsessing over money is not related to how the money comes in or whether there is enough.

It’s related to two things:  (1) the control and power we hand over unnecessarily to money.  And (2) the fact that too many of us continue to let our financial situation exist in our minds … instead of on a piece of paper, pinned down in black and white.

If you have your numbers written down clearly in terms of what comes in and what has to go out, and you have a shortfall, you know you have to deal with the gap.  Either you find expenses you can cut or you figure out how to bring in enough to cover the gap.  In this case, the “what if” concerns should be limited to the real consequences if you fail to do so.

On the other hand, if you don’t have the numbers written down clearly, the “what if” obsessing over money is endless.  It will take up residence in your mind, and edge out all attempts at creativity, productivity … and sleep.

A few of those concerns will be real.  But the majority will be about things that will never happen.

It reminds me of the familiar Shakespeare phrase “A coward dies a thousand deaths …”  (The whole quote reads “A coward dies a thousand times before his death, but the valiant taste of death but once.”)

Out of fear, the coward experiences every possible fatal mishap and tragedy in his imagination, but still only dies once.  In the case of your finances, why would you want to live every possible mishap and embarrassment related to your money … if only one outcome will ever occur?

Doesn’t it make more sense to know what that outcome might be?  And deal with it?

Let me know in the Comments section below what you do to keep the endless chatter from sucking up your precious time and energy.


Bio: Sharon O’Day lost everything at age 53: her home, her business, everything. But how could that be? She’s an expert in global finance and marketing with an MBA from the Wharton School. She has worked with governments, corporations, and individuals … yes, she was the secret “weapon,” if you will, behind many individuals in high places. Yet she did! Since then, with her finances completely turned around, Sharon has gone on to interview countless women. She’s done extensive research to understand how that could have happened, especially with her strong knowledge of numbers and finance.

The surprising answers are shared in her tell-it-like-it-is posts and articles. Today her mission is to show as many women as possible how to become financially free for the long term, through her coaching programs. She has developed a step-by-step plan to get past all the obstacles that keep women broke and scared … and from reaching the financial peace of mind they so deserve … if they’re willing to do what it takes!

  • I like what you say about getting the money out of your head and on the page. That shift in thinking can make such a big difference. In my case, once I saw money as “just paper,” and realized any time I needed more, I knew how to make it, my whole life changed. Money is such a funky subject. I always gain new insights when I come to your blog. You make money “friendly.” Keep it up. It’s a message that needs to be heard by all.

    • Thanks, Martha! What many women don’t realize is that–as important as
      money is to “grease the wheels” of our everyday lives–it is not a
      separate entity that holds our lives in its hands. It is representative
      of the time and energy we (or someone else) put into creating value.
      All you’re doing by putting it on paper is keeping tabs … 😉

  • Thanks, Martha! What many women don’t realize is that–as important as money is to “grease the wheels” of our everyday lives–it is not a separate entity that holds our lives in its hands. It is representative of the time and energy we (or someone else) put into creating value. All you’re doing by putting it on paper is keeping tabs … 😉

  • This hit like a ton of bricks ‘the control and power we hand over unnecessarily to money.” How many times have I done this and how it robs me blind! Love this insightful article!

    • Angela, as kids were were never taught that we didn’t have to hand over that power, so we just did it automatically. But now that we know that, we simply have to take it back! 😉

  • “What if” obsessing over money is not related to how the money comes in or whether there is enough. That one was revealing to me. Food for thought! Thanks Sharon..

    • Always happy to feed your mind, Norma. 😉 Truth be told, those are things we rarely talk about … or think about.

  • BettyLou Nelson

    Wow, You really give us down to earth advise we really need! Great post!

  • I agree with Martha that getting money out of your head and onto the page is essential. When you have too many figures and priorities swimming in your head, they prevent you from seeing the larger picture.

    • So true, Tom. It’s the old story about the forest and the trees …but here it’s even more costly if you can’t see it!

  • Shari

    I love the idea that we shouldn’t hand over our power to money unnecessarily. Why are we so wiling to do that — and not just in relation to money? Great post, Sharon.

    • Shari, no one ever told us we didn’t have to hand over our power when it came to money … or anything else. But if you look at the whole concept of personal responsibility, how can we be responsible if we have no power?

  • Alexandra McAllister

    Love the way you say to get the money out of our heads and onto the page! Quite an eye opener! Thanks so much for sharing this insight! Excellennt!

    • Alexandra, it sure takes the mystery out of things if you can see them … as opposed to imagining them. And imagining the worst!

  • Leslie Yerger

    Sharon, I really love the ‘coward dying a 1000 deaths’ analogy. That really states the issue you are talking about very well. Really valuable work you are doing there! Thanks so much.

    • Thanks for the kind words, Leslie. I adopted that phrase about ten years ago, when I hit the wall financially and realized I was in total denial about my money … and lying in bed at night fighting phantoms. Willie Shakespeare to the rescue! 😉

  • Taking your worries from the abstract (thinking), to concrete (written down) can help an individual “see” what is really happening in the money department. Excellent information Sharon. I love the audio link!

    • Thanks, Meryl. I’ve been putting those simple audio links on my articles for about a year now, and find that lots of people like to listen rather than read.

  • Powerful, Sharon…yes, knowing exactly where you are is so much better than obsessing over what “might be”. That applies to so many areas as well, doesn’t it? ; D

  • Great Post! So true of how important it is to get money out of your head and onto paper. I already do this, and I know if I didn’t it would drive me nuts obsessing over it and the unknown of where it all was going! It’s very helpful to “see” the bigger picture of it all on paper to know exactly where you stand in that department.

    • Congratulations, Erin! I thrills me to hear of women who have full control over their money … and the first step is obviously acknowledging it!

  • Write it down! Great advice about lots of things in life that worry us and not just money. Having a clear plan of action and knowing where you stand can take away so much fear from a situation. Thank you Sharon!

    • Ah, my buddy Carolyn. I love the journey you’ve taken in taking back so many aspects of your life. You’re a beacon for so many of us! Brava!

  • Pat Moon

    Sharon, you are so right about actually writing down our plans for our money even when it seems hopeless. It can open up our mind so we can actually see what the deal is if we are short or it will also help prevent us from making mistakes when we have a windfall. It also takes authority out of money to control us. Thanks for sharing your money wisdom.

    • Pat, if we’re only dealing with the “real,” it frees us up to make informed decisions. If we make them with all the demons and “what ifs” in our minds, that’s the sort of results we’ll get. I’ve watched what feels like a shift, a quieting, around what challenges you are facing. I hope I’m right!

  • Yes – write it down! That’s great advice when the mental chatter keeps whirling around. I also like to ask myself what I can do right at that moment because I really try and tame the negative chatter as much as I can!

    • You’re absolutely right, Moira. Action is the greatest weapon against disruptive (and endless) mental chatter. Whether it’s physical action, or simply the unraveling of what’s “real” by putting it on paper … action’s action! Congratulations!

  • MamaRed

    absolutely fabulous advice and that mind natter can really kick us in the backside…and all sorts of things seem to take up space, and it definitely doesn’t serve!

    • Makes more sense to leave the space in our minds to figure out how to make more money, doesn’t it, MamaRed? Much better than filling it with the circular thinking that is the result of chatter …

  • Daniele Holmberg

    As women, I feel like we always have needless chatter that is never ending in our heads. Sometimes when I am trying to go to sleep at night, it is so hard to turn off my brain and this article made me think of that. I think you are right about writing things down. Sometimes the only way to alleviate the fear and stress in your mind that comes from money and other things is to write things down,

    • The purpose for writing things down about your money, Daniele, is that you are acknowledging the reality of your money. What is, is. But you can’t deal with something (and fix it if need be) that you don’t acknowledge … so you go over it again and again in your mind, like a dog chasing its tail …

  • Lisa Frederiksen

    Oh dear – that endless mind-chatter – regardless of the reason for it, it can rob us of so much joy! Great post, Sharon, and this quote came to mind reading it:

    “I have been through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.” — Mark Twain

    I like this quote because it speaks to the futility of worrying about what may or may not happen once we’ve done as you suggest – “Confirmation. Plan. Action.”

    • Love the Mark Twain quote, Lisa. I hadn’t seen it before. I know I spent decades worrying — calling it “being prepared for any eventuality.” Then I realized how destructive and distracting the behavior was … 😉

  • Excellent post. Thank you for all of your advice. Great bio as well. Kudos on a job well done.

    • Thank you, Scott. I consider my weekly articles “sacred ground” of a sort, where I really try to provide actionable information to my readers. (Whether that action is in our heads or in our everyday lives.)

  • Lorii Abela

    Great insight over
    money matter – don’t let financial situation exist in our head, instead of on
    a piece of paper pinned down in black and white.

    • Hope the insight is useful to you, Lorii. It does make such a difference if people will take that insight into action … as with anything else. I’m sure you see the same thing with your clients … 😉

  • Another great article. Thank you Sharon. Xx

  • If I didn’t write everything down, I would drive myself crazy thinking about it, and I would forget what had to be paid when! Now I have a datebook that’s only for money stuff, and all my bills and known things that have to be paid are scheduled out for the whole year.

    • That’s a great solution, Lena. Sounds as if you even check your datebook regularly. You see, when someone’s determined to let the destructive chatter continue, they will go to great lengths to set up systems … and then ignore them. Congratulations to you!

  • ugh, you are soo right!!!! It took me five years and a lot of hand holding to stop my overly controlling mind to stop!!!

  • You fascinate me with your endless ways to say creatively: JUST DEAL WITH YOUR MONEY. And well-said, indeed!

    • Diane, it’s such a critical issue … and one that stands behind such a wall of denial … that I’m willing to come in through the front door, the back door, from wherever! And you’d be amazed how many stories, calls and emails I get letting me know I’m succeeding, bit by bit! That’s all I ask …