Altering our natural behavior can be difficult but rewarding. In some cases, it can be vital. I am reminded of this every time I go snow skiing. When I stand at the top and look down the slope, my natural reaction is panic – to recoil and lean backward. Fearful, riding with my skis out front and my poles behind my shoulders, I go uncontrollably faster. I focus on the next few yards, unaware of my larger surroundings. I lose the ability to turn. As my leg muscles fight the inevitable, they contract sharply and painfully. Within a few minutes, I am winded.
However, if I succeed in overcoming the natural tendency to hug the hill backwards, life gets infinitely better. Instead, when I center myself over the downhill ski, leaning down the “fall line,” the skis take over, and do what they were designed to do. Making a turn is a simple thought, not a fight. I float on the snow. I smile. It is fun. But it’s not natural.
The freedom that comes from overcoming emotions can be a major accomplishment, a tremendous stress reliever, and sometimes a life saver. World-class athletes learn to overcome their doubts and trust their coaches. Pilots learn to wear blinders in the clouds and trust their instruments. By the time we are adults, however, we have been burned so many times that we hesitate.
And what does this have to do with finance? Whether it is spending, saving, investing, or sharing, we often have an emotional natural tendency – fear, greed, anxiety or excitement – that makes life unnecessarily harder. Some save like Scrooge and erode relationships as a result. Others of us panic and sell when we open the 401K statement. Some excitedly share generously, but with emotional expectations or resentments attached. Still others stay anchored to a house or a business value that may never come back.
Approaching money from a centered position, emotion-free, can be as difficult as facing the fall line. The good news is that, with time and practice, we can reach the point where we actually smile about it.