Politics has been screaming at all of us for the better part of 6 months, and we naturally tend to give attention to what screams the loudest. I caught myself last weekend constantly thinking about politics, which is only to be expected when we’re deluged by political news and discussions wherever we turn.
As a way of changing my internal channel, I CHOSE to go for a very cold run down by the river, akin to taking a cold plunge. Doing sprints in the freezing air does something transformational to your lungs. That day, it woke me from my drunken political stupor and inspired me to recognize a somewhat surprising parallel.
My thought was this: When it comes to politics AND money, it’s important to develop a routine that allows you to engage at a high level, and then strategically design when and how you will go deeper into this world (that is, your personal financial world or the political news from the outside world).
Admittedly, it’s been hard not to engage amidst ongoing dialogue, family dynamics, crazy TV that has felt like a bad reality show (whether or not you watch the actual news shows). But with intention, you can choose if and how you engage, and in a way, how you choose to engage with your money works along the same lines.
With money, we often don’t want to think about it until it starts screaming at you that something needs to change. This type of screaming can take many forms, such as:
· You don’t have enough money in that emergency account to cover a new roof, when there’s a leak.
· Your savings account has too much in it and you know you need to do something with that money but aren’t quite sure whether to pay someone to help you or just do something yourself.
· A parent dies of COVID and you are reminded that you haven’t updated that will and power of attorney that you have been vowing to update for years.
Obviously, these situations indicate that we haven’t been engaged enough with our money, making plans and taking strategic actions proactively to stay on top of the various aspects of our financial world.
Need to know and engage vs. keep on autopilot or on ice
Completely living in the dark and choosing not to address any financial weaknesses is counterproductive. Blanket denial doesn’t serve you, your cash flow statement or your family (see the previous list of screaming signs that ignoring finances didn’t actually lead to bliss). But freaking out and losing sleep over a standard market correction also doesn’t serve you well.
Constantly checking bank accounts, obsessing over theoretical expenses or panicking about worst case scenarios that are, in all honesty, fairly remote possibilities in a distant future isn’t healthy engagement. That kind of thinking creates a drain on today’s energy and happiness without doing anything to effectively improve our financial position either now or later.
We need to achieve an appropriate balance between full-on day-to-day engagement with our money and only keeping up with the key points at a high level. It’s similar to the balance I strive for in politics, where I like to know what is going on with our government at a high level, but until it knocks at my door or starts affecting my family, my business or my tax return, I’m not going to do deep dives to understand the minutiae (nor am I going to keep watching the Capitol siege on repeat 12 hours a day).
Creating this balance is a matter of selective engagement, so we’re involved enough to be confident in our choices and path, but we’re not over-invested in the details, which can derail our productivity and disturb our peaceful outlook.
Your mindset matters
How you view your accounts, balance sheet, personal financial world and the broader economy is critical to your perspective on life.
And it’s not only your mood and mental well-being that suffer if you let yourself get sucked into negative, obsessive thought patterns around money. That just creates more stress and a higher likelihood of poor decisions — not to mention encouraging us to adopt denial as a financial. strategy. It’s a lose-lose situation that we can avoid through an intentional approach to healthy, balanced engagement.
I choose to remain positive and engaged on a daily basis, but to have several behavioral procedures in place to catch myself when I find myself going down a bad road.
Your techniques might be quite different than mine, but it’s important that you have these behavioral backstops as well, in whatever form works for you, to keep your engagement both positive and productive.