The Strange Psychology of Money

I woke up deep in thought today, reflecting once again on the last 10 years as the decade draws to a close.  On my mind in particular was this very strange thing we call money, which in and of itself is nothing more than an idea.

Yet the mere idea of money consumes our lives, inflicts pain, brings joy, and moves people to coordinate their energies and work together towards a common good (or evil).

At this point in my life I’ve seen both sides of money.  I’ve never been fabulously wealthy, but I’ve been way way above average–AND–as close to bankruptcy as any man can claim without filing.

I’ve consulted for large corporations who write six figure checks without batting an eye, and worked with patients for whom my  six dollar sliding scale session fee meant skipping lunch that day.

I’ve got friends who are multi-g’zillionaires, and those who could care less about their bank account as long they have a roof over their head, food to eat, and people to love. (Nothing wrong with having BOTH by the way)

And  since I’ve been TEACHING marketing and entrepreneurship, I’ve been privileged to witness a number of students succeed  beyond what they ever thought was possible, but watched more stagnate, get in their own way, and suffer.

So I felt inspired this morning to begin a series on the strange psychology of money… the insights which hide beneath the surface, preventing most of us from getting what we really want in life, which, in my estimation, is not money itself, but the things which money empowers us to do, be, and feel.

I thought I’d start out with a personal observation to get us all going, but I’d be VERY interested in hearing what you all think below.  I’ll follow up with more later this week. (By the way, sorry for “going dark” these last few weeks, I was out in Milwaukee doing strategic planning with Rocket Clicks, and then I had to catch up on the latest installment of the Bulls-Eye-Marketing-Club)

1) It’s NOT Really Money That We Want:

Now, before you yell at me, please know I realize when you don’t have enough money to pay the bills, it’s hard to want anything else.  I’m not sitting here in some lofty castle, and I HAVE felt the personal sting of debt up to my eyeballs.

I also don’t want you to get the wrong idea.    I really DO like money.  In fact, I LOVE money, and I’d like you to give me some today please so I can give you more value.  (That’s the way it’s supposed to work, right?  Why do we all feel so guilty about saying so?  In fact, I think feeling guilty about asking for money is tantamount to saying you don’t have value to offer… something to think about, don’t you think?)

In the end, you see, I don’t think it’s really the money we want.

If you ARE having trouble paying your bills, ask yourself what you plan to do when you CAN pay them.  THAT’s what you really want.

Here’s where this really hit home for me.

When I was deep in debt and on the verge of bankruptcy, I embraced the classic goal-setting literature (Stephen Covey, Brian Tracy, Jim Rohn, etc).  I worked very hard on articulating both long and short term goals, attaching pictures to them, writing an overall vision statement, prioritizing it all, and then  isolating my single most important mission in life.

Initially it was to amass a large sum of money.  Very large.  Because I couldn’t see how I could possibly accomplish all my other goals without it.  Even health and relationship goals seemed to pale in comparison, as crazy as that sounds coming from a psychologist… that’s what soul-crushing debt can do to you.  (Note: it’s very easy to SAY we should put health and relationships before money… everyone knows you should.  But how many of us, especially on the brink of financial ruin, actually DO it if we’re really honest?)

Well, in order to really “stamp in the blueprint” into my psychology, I decided I was going to write out all my goals 10 times each day in the exact prioritized order, and the do some free-associative journaling to identify obstacles and opportunities.

The strangest thing happened.

At first, the financial goal seemed like it really DID belong in first position.  After all, the wolves were at the door, we were firing employees left and right, borrowing as much as we possibly could (not only from banks but from friends and family), and barely sleeping.

But one day I noticed that the goals refused to stay in the “right” order in my memory.  Some of the health and relationship goals were moving up the list, and I simply couldn’t recall the others until I had written those down.  It got to the point that I had to actually go back to my original written document because I couldn’t finish the list, even though I’d written it a hundred times.

As this was happening (over the course of a few months), it started to occur to me that I could easily accomplish a lot of these other goals no matter how much debt I had.  Climbing mountains, eating better, spending more time with Sharon and my dogs, making mastermind connections, getting a coach, etc.

As I started doing these things, I found I was HAPPY despite continuing to deal with the debt. (Which was STILL the pull-the-blanket-over-your-head-and-cry-yourself-to-sleep kind-of debt)

Maybe happier than I’d ever been previously.

Finally one day I noticed I’d written ALL the other goals before the financial goal.

And paradoxically, THAT’S when things started getting better … I think because when I really took care of myself body, mind, and soul, then and only then could I put ALL the pieces together for my marketing system.

Now, you might think this story ends with me dropping my financial goals entirely,  just “letting go”,  and “going with the flow”, or some such nonsense.

Not so.  Like I said, I LOVE money, and I’m continuing on with my well orchestrated and methodical quest to get rich… very rich.

What’s different now is I no longer  love  money for money’s sake.  It’s not this kind of vague, magical, mysterious and frightening force in my life who’s only purpose is to beat down the wolves at the door.

It’s something which empowers me to do what I want to do, add value in the way I want to add value, enjoy life in the way I want to enjoy life.   Which I think is the highest and best use of money.

I think when we crave money, get obsessed with it, and come to believe it’s the ONLY thing which can make our lives better, we’re actually expressing a deep fear of money.  And if we’re frightened of money, we’re ever so much more unlikely to allow it into our lives, don’t you think?

More simply…

Money obsession is really a hidden financial fear, and financial fear repels money.

Does that make sense?  (Do you agree?)

Last, I’m not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, and I still AM occasionally prone to retreating to a fearful, money obsessed state when I get a big tax bill, when we expand any of our businesses with more employees to reach “the next level”, when the economy tanks, and even, believe it or not, when I experience a mini-windfall.

But these feelings are always temporary now, and far, far less intense than ever before.

Because I’ve learned I can get what’s MOST important to me almost entirely without money.  Which paradoxically has freed me to make more, and help others do the same.

And please note I made this leap BEFORE the money started coming in.

If we only associate money with fear (even if it’s removing fear), I think we’re unlikely to ever have much.  Do you agree?

Let me know,

Dr. G :-)

PS – I’ve only got room for 5 more people in my personal coaching board, and then I’m going to close it for new entrants,  maybe for good. (I know a lot of people say these kinds of things to create a false scarcity, but it takes me a lot of time and it’s not the most lucrative thing I do.  I started it because I felt I needed to be closer to the market and see how people were actually implementing my hyper-responsive methods, but I’ve got enough people doing that now successfully, and because NOBODY has left since I discovered the new format, it’s taking  me a lot more time than I originally planned. )

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