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Human Behavior

How Fear Clouds Reality

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My clients are terrific. They are all unique with their own special gifts and ways of looking at the world. I learn something from each of them. And yet, the way they feel when they first come to me is so incredibly heartbreaking….and unnecessary. It takes incredible courage to admit that their financial situation isn’t where they’d like it to be, and to bear their souls about the inner most secrets of their financial lives. Just that alone is enough for me to want to wrap my arms around them and protect them from further hurt.

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BUT, here is what’s so interesting about the incredible anguish they experience. It is their perception of how badly off they are compared to other people. It is their belief that they are stupid, or incompetent, or bad people. They see themselves as a tree with no leaves and broken branches – exposed, weak, and fragile. I see a tree full of leaves because I see their potential to grow and thrive with some new tools and a change in mindset.

My clients, like most people, see the façade of others who appear smarter or better at managing their money. They haven’t seen thousands of savings accounts, retirement accounts, and credit cards balances. And frankly, where they think they are in terms of the average North American, is not reality. Usually they feel they are at the bottom of money success, rather than alongside many of their peers who look financially successful but aren’t.

How Fear Clouds Reality

How do we create such anguish and heartbreaking pain hanging over us every…single…day?

1. Selective Filters

Anthony Bourdain wrote Kitchen Confidential, had two successful TV shows, and recently committed suicide. According to Investment News, it was rumored that Anthony Bourdain, based on his income and royalties, was worth about $16 million. In reality, his estate was around $1.2 million. His wealth was estimated based on income while his spending habits were ignored. Wealth is not what we make, but what we keep. Since we don’t see what others save, we compare ourselves to those who appear successful. Hence, the disillusionment.

2. We Assume Knowledge Translates to Action

The financial services industry has been teaching for over 30 years about saving for retirement. It is such common knowledge that people assume everyone is doing it. My clients feel they are the only ones who have failed miserably at saving.

When you search for “budget books” on Amazon you get 10,000 results, which is more than sufficient. And yet I know two recent authors who wrote budget books because their friends told them they needed guidance. Had these friends truly looked for help, a quick visit to Amazon would have satisfied their need. In reality, they didn’t really want help. We know we need spending plans, but just don’t do them. It could be fear of money, shame, or a challenge to fit it into our everyday busy lives. We assume something so common must be so easy.

Related: Taking Courage to Face Your Money Anxiety

3. We Collect Information that Reinforces Our Position

Once we’ve decided we’re bad with money, or failing, or worse than most people, we reinforce by looking for information that fits our beliefs. We beat ourselves up more, and the money fear grows within. We add the fear of deprivation on top of our fear of failure, and it grows. It affects our self-esteem, our happiness, and often creates paralysis. It is a vicious cycle.

Putting Fear in Its Place

When my clients come to me, our discussion starts with hope. Often their first question is “Will I be OK?” Their anxiety immediately steps down a level when they find out “they’re not the only ones”. We look at their financial situation and talk about possibilities. Once they know the next step, relief and a bit of control reduces fear another level.

Managing money fear takes patience. It may raise its ugly head if getting out of debt will take too long. It may raise its ugly head if learning about managing everyday cash is new and frustrating. But always at the end of our work together, every client says “I don’t know why I waited so long.” They leave proud and fearless.

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