I recently had the chance to talk with Brent Kessel, author of the new book, It’s Not About the Money. Brent is one of the country’s only CFPs who is also a highly experienced yoga practitioner, meditator, and student of Eastern philosophy. As part of his research for his book, Brent interviewed two dozen thought-leaders, including spiritual teachers such as the Dalai Lama, Nobel-Prize winning economists, and Fortune 500 CEOs, to garner their wisdom on money, spirituality, and happiness.
I asked Brent to explain why people spend the majority of their waking hours thinking about, spending, or earning money. In his answer, Brent describes an exercise that I found to be very helpful. Here is what he said:
Our physiology is wired to constantly deliver messages about what threatens us and what will make us more likely to survive, more secure. Nothing in modern society is as closely tied to our survival as money. The key is to recognize that even when you’re feeling your greatest need or anxiety, your survival probably isn’t imminently threatened.
I encourage you to ask your worrying mind to exaggerate its worst-case scenario. Really draw it out. “I think I made a terrible mistake on that report for my boss. I might lose my job!” What else do you think might happen? “Well, then everyone will know how incompetent I am.” And what else? “I won’t be able to make the mortgage payments.” Keep going. “And then we’d have to move out, back into that crummy apartment.” And what would happen next? “My wife will become so disgusted, she’ll leave me.”
Then imagine how you would optimally respond if that worst-case scenario actually occurred. What would you do? Not “I’d be a basket case,” but instead “I’d move into my sister’s garage with a sleeping bag and air mattress, and make money working as a shipping clerk.” Be specific and realistic. You’re still going to want to survive, and will call on whatever resources you have available in order to do just that. Last, ask yourself what you think you ought to do right now. If you can’t come up with anything concrete, then just as you would to a child who is telling terrifying stories to his sibling, put your foot down and tell your worrying mind to stop speaking until it thinks of something you can do about the situation in the present moment.