I still remember the night my husband told me about our debt. Yes, I do remember the number; though, this changed so much that it didn’t really matter.
I remember much better how I felt.
Gosh, my emotions were like a forest touched by autumn: the whole palette of negativity was present.
I was angry; angry with my husband for not telling me and angry with myself for not caring enough to spot the signs.
I was sad; sad that our youngest son was to grow up without the small luxuries of comfortable upbringing, sad that I may not be able to continue supporting my parents. Just terribly sad.
I was scared; scared of deprivation, of losing my home, of not being able to retire. Scared that my life has ended and all my dreams and hopes for the future have been extinguished.
Have you ever felt like that?
I bet I’m not alone. Our financial situation is so intimately twined with the hopes and dreams for our lives, for the lives and well-being of our children and families, that emotion inevitably sneaks in.
It doesn’t have to be a negative emotion; there is research showing that most people who trade on the stock market lose money because of emotion. It is either the fear of loss or the elation of a successful trade.
Different emotions, the same outcome.
Are you still wondering why you need to take charge of your emotions when dealing with your money?
Here is why.
#1. Emotions lock you in the moment. This in turn prevents you from seeing and planning for the future.
#2. Emotions interact very powerfully with behaviour. Negative emotions, for instance, can make you feel like you never want to get out of bed. Positive emotions can make you feel invincible. Either way you’ll be a fool to trust them.
#3. Emotions can make you do things you will inevitably regret. It doesn’t matter whether you just went on a shopping spree because you felt down or you told your partner something unforgivable. Emotions make you behave like a dumb ass.
#4. Emotions cloud judgement and inhibit decisions. Yes, you heard me right. Many would tell you that you act on the basis of facts. This is not so. We act depending on our judgement about facts. So if your emotions enter, judgement is clouded and you are very likely to make the wrong decision.
#5. Emotions jump areas of your life. When you feel down about something in one area of your life this can easily pervade other areas of life. You feel bad because you are in debt, next you feel that you’ve been a failure all your life and… You see where this is leading?
#6. Strong emotions impair your learning. You know I think that the most important thing in our lives, the thing that makes us decent people, is learning. This doesn’t have to be learning from books: let’s face it, we learn more from and through other people. Well, information and knowledge can’t penetrate the walls of strong emotion.
#7. Emotion means that you can’t plan. As I said, emotions keep you in the moment. It’s even more serious than that: negative emotions make your future unimportant, positive emotions make your bright future a certainty. In either case there is nothing you could do.
Yes, emotions don’t mix very well with managing and controlling your money.
What is the remedy?
Well, you can try cutting emotions out of your financial life but let me tell you: you are likely to be as successful as someone who doesn’t play the lottery is winning it. You can’t switch your emotions off.
Who wants to be like Mr. Spock, anyway?
What you could do is take charge of your emotions.
Here are seven tried and tested ways to take charge of your emotions when dealing with your money.
#1. Get the facts. I told you that when I first heard about our consumer debt, my rationality drowned in a cocktail of fear, anger and sadness. What I haven’t told you is that I feared that we maybe in financial trouble long before my husband actually told me. One thing that helped me cope with these negative feelings was getting the facts about our debt. Within a couple of weeks I knew exactly how much we owe (down to the last penny) and who our creditors are. Interestingly, although I found other debts and this increased the overall number, I felt much calmer and much less fearful. The anger was something else!
#2. Use auto-suggestion. Now this sounds a bit wacky but there is nothing weird about. It is just that if you repeat a particular sentence enough times you can trick your brain into shifting into a different emotional mode. You can learn more about autosuggestion and how to use it here. Try it! After hearing about our debt, I didn’t do much else for a week; I just repeated under my breath: we’ll be okay. Then I felt less scared and ready to tackle the situation.
#3. Meditate. I’ve never been very good at this one but people around me say it helps. Given the sense of calm and clarity meditation brings, it’s worth a go.
#4 Exercise. This is not about taking a 15 minute stroll with your French poodle. This is about running until your feet will go no further; about doing resistance exercises until your muscles start singing with tiredness; and about swimming until your mind is so Zen you can focus on only one thought. This kind of exercise can help you take charge of emotions.
#5. Flip your emotions. We may have big, fat brains but these are not hard trick. One way to take charge of your emotions is to learn how to change them, how to transform negativity into irrepressible excitement. You see, at one point I started referring to my debt as ‘negative wealth’. Most people thought that I’m just being silly about the whole thing. In fact, this was my way to flip my emotions: while thinking about my debt, paying off my debt made me feel really upset and resentful, eliminating my ‘negative wealth’ made my heart sing. Because every time I made a payment, I increased my wealth.
#6. Go to ‘Ground Zero’. Our fears are always more scary than the reality of them. One way to take charge of your emotions, particularly negative ones, is go to ‘Ground Zero’: this means writing, in some detail, what is likely to happen, what your life will be like, if your fears become reality. So, what are you waiting for? Take a piece of paper and write couple of paragraphs about life after your worst fears have been realised. Not so scary eh?
#7. Automate your finances. Last but not least, a way to take charge of emotions when dealing with your money is to take yourself out of the equation. Your emotions cannot mess up your financial life, your plans for financial health and your dreams and hopes for retirement if you create direct debits for paying off your debt, making a payment into a savings account and contributing to your retirement plan. You can automate your investments as well by buying index funds and using investment platforms like Nutmeg, Betterment and rPlan. When I need excitement I play with my self managed stock portfolio; when I need to feel calm I move money to my Nutmeg investment ISA.
Emotions are what makes us human; emotions are what makes us sink to the bottom of despair, jump with joy and burn with passion. Still, emotions can be in the way when dealing with matters of personal finance.
In this blog post, I set out seven reasons why it’s a good idea to take charge of your emotions when dealing with money. I also suggested seven easy and actionable ways to take charge of your emotions .