Why do we make our financial life so difficult when it doesn’t have to be? One reason is that we want to feel better right now and our consumer culture loves to prime the “I work so hard, I deserve something” pump. Feeling stressed, unhappy, dissatisfied? Buy something – that’ll make everything better - temporarily... Except that after the initial glow wears off – usually by the time you get home – remorse or guilt set in, along with the now monthly payment that goes on and on. Yow.Read More
Ever spend money to calm the stress of a hectic, demanding week? Or grabbed your second Starbucks of the day because you deserve something good? These are examples of what we do to make ourselves feel better when the brain is stressed. We humans like to "think" we are so rational, but don't believe it. Stress makes us much more vulnerable to making less than good decisions. Hello weight gain and expanding credit card debt!
But are we addicted to stress and fear? "The more we reach for the doughnut (the Starbucks, the new shoes) without being conscious of how we're feeling - anxious, stressed, unhappy- the more we cement in the fear that's driven us to reach for it in the first place. In fact, the more we deny our fears with distractions, the more compulsive we become." (Lynn T.S. Intentional JOY)
Ted and Brad Klontz state that the human brain under stress is like a tilted table. Anxiety and fear make us feel off-balance and the brain then looks for ways to rebalance. (Mind Over Money.) Of course, our advertiser based, consumer culture supplies us with plenty of suggestions (commercials anyone?) that sit under the surface waiting for the perfect moment - Friday night, kids fighting in the back seat, dinner to be prepared at home - blam - McDonalds here we come.
An important thing to remember is none of this is really bad or wrong. We are human, flawed and imperfect. That's the deal. We also have choice. It's ok to want to calm, soothe and comfort ourselves. But, how? The gift of being human is that we have the ability to wake up, to become conscious and to practice new behavior. Think about this: Imagine the consequences of more healthy stress relievers? Yoga, breathing, a walk, a talk with a friend are all proven stress busting, brain calming methods that don't leave a residue of guilt. Or, do you continue to seek the easy solution and end up feeling worse over the long run? Start with baby steps. Awareness there's a problem is that first step.
When does the "gotta have it- want it now" lizard brain run over the rational, logical neocortex when it comes to how much money is enough? When the drug of "more is better" is fed over and over again with repetition. Dr. Peter C. Whybrow, author of "When More Is Not Enough," and chairman of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), connects the dots between the world economic meltdown and the ancient lizard brain that hoards for a rainy day. He states that even when there is an abundance of food and goods, the reptilian brain still acts as though there is deprivation. Michael Lewis, author of Boomerang, in a recent Vanity Fair article points to an interesting piece of trivia: overlay a color-coded map that highlights American personal credit over the Center for Disease Control’s map for obesity and you get a similar pattern. No big surprise there - overindulgence in one area of our life slips over into other areas.*(from http://www.mb.com.ph/articles/339566/lizard-brains-and-financial-crises).
As an addiction specialist what I know from 20+ years in the addiction field, hundreds of clients and research for Intentional JOY: How to Turn Stress, Fear & Addiction into Freedom, is that whatever we repetively do trains the brain, either positively or negatively. As Dr. Whybrow says, "If you follow the path of self-indulgence often enough, eventually you will lose the ability to self-regulate, (which is) a higher brain function."
In simple language that means that in times of plenty the reptilian or lizard brain doesn't know how to adjust it's hoarding instincts. Addiction anyone? I look at addiction as a continuum. At one end of the continuum are those of us in American culture that have no addictions and the other end are those whose lives are completely unmanageable with their addictions. These are the folks who have major financial, relational or health problems because of their addictions. Most of us lie somewhere in between and we still have choice.
I think the world financial crisis has the potential to awaken us to not only the mistakes we've made with money but to change the addictive beliefs that MORE will make us happy. Research shows that's an illusion and that once basic needs are met, more does not increase lasting happiness. Instead, to get the reactive lizard brain under control we need to face our fears, figure out how much is enough, and practice the discipline of daily right action.