“Worry is the misuse of the imagination,” said Dan Zadra. Much of my life I have spent misusing my imagination, attempting to prepare for crises that never happened, only to be blindsided by the ones that did. I am a classic money worrier.
The first unexpected financial crisis I remember was the October 1987 stockmarket crash. I was 21 years old, and had a small savings account and a 401K. A friend who worked at Smith Barney in my building came to my office looking like Chicken Little: eyes bulging, sweating, arms flailing, yelling, and grabbing his hair. Although I rarely become that animated, I could identify with how he felt.
Change My Thinking? Right.
Later, I heard, if I didn’t want to worry so much, all I had to do was change my thinking. Easier said than done, for me. It’s taken at least 10 years to begin to grasp how to think like a warrior instead of a worrier.
When it comes to money, there is ample soil for worries to root. To list all the ones I’ve had myself, and heard in my office, would take a whole book, but the most common ones seem to be, “What if I screw up this investing stuff?” “What if I don’t have enough?” or some version of, “What will happen to me in an economic catastrophe?” Worriers first imagine the worst. We don’t want to be caught unprepared. Yet now, I realize, it’s not possible to prepare for everything my worrying mind can create.
Warriors are strong in mind and body, but they know that physical strength and mental energy are finite. Both must be used resourcefully. Wise warriors ask:
– Is this something I can do anything about? In other words, is it within my control? If not, I am wasting energy.
– If I can do something, is it clear what that something is? If yes, then do it or schedule to do it.
– If it isn’t clear yet what I can do, then I must wait. While I’m waiting, I can use my energy to imagine positive outcomes, perhaps even outcomes that may not require my energy at all.
Taking Control Of What We Can
Several years ago, I met someone whose worry was that she may not have “enough.” At first glance, it wasn’t obvious whether or not she was right. So we talked about what she would like to do in her life’s next chapter. Her burning desire was to leave the corporate world and teach yoga full-time. She had assumed that would be out of the question. We talked about what sacrifices in her lifestyle – line item by line item – she would be willing to make, and not make, to achieve her dream. After running several scenarios through the financial planning software, she was able to craft her own version of “enough”. Through focusing on what she could control – her lifestyle and spending decisions – she gained warrior-like confidence. Her personal economic problems didn’t seem that big anymore.
I find that when I put as much energy into possible positive outcomes as I used to put into negative ones, it’s easier to let go of the worries. And letting go is one of the bravest warrior moves a worrier can make.