What causes you to go to the hospital emergency room? Whether it’s an accident, or some part of your body is suddenly dysfunctional, your current health, maybe even your life is seriously at risk unless you visit the emergency room fast. Then, as you await a diagnosis or prognosis, you are very worried and fearful. Doctors will assess your symptoms, take your vital signs, poke, prod, ask questions about your lifestyle, take some tests, and finally decide what to do with you. How will they fix you, and what will they recommend to avoid this type of emergency in the future? Is it a disease – self-inflicted, caught by contagion, or was it genetic? Did you break something, or did something break by itself? Is one problem compounding to cause another?
Your financial health may experience emergencies sometimes too. In a chapter of a book called Debt Reversal, I’m writing about such money emergencies you might find yourself in. Some of you could be on the verge of a panic attack, with emotions of fear, doubt, anxiety and insecurity, typically associated with the accumulation of debt. As you seek help, a “money doctor” would assess your symptoms of financial stress or challenge. Where does it hurt and why? Take a moment to consider your symptoms of a current or past financial emergency. The doctor will then look for what caused those symptoms.
But first they take your vital signs. How are each of your systems functioning? At the hospital, they may check your nervous system (brain), your cardiovascular system (heart), your digestive system (stomach), and your respiratory system (lungs). So your financial health could get a vital-sign check, analogous to this check of your physical health. With your “money brain”, they’d check what current beliefs you have affecting your other monetary functions. With your “money heart”, they’d check your dreams and fears, and your feelings (purpose, passion, spiritual destiny), for how they affect your other monetary functions. With your “money lungs”, they’d check your current income streams flowing in. Are you taking deep breaths or shallow breaths? Like oxygen, you’ve got to have money flowing in, or your money system dies. With your “money stomach”, they’d check your current consumption of money, and how it flows toward expenses, assets, or worthless spending. Is your money consumption digested properly for “energy” in your financial system or not?
How you think (brain) and feel (heart) about money determines how you make (breathe) and spend (eat) it. Your financial health or your financial sickness is determined by how you manage your monetary beliefs, desires, earnings and expenses. You can build financial muscle: strength leading to great credit, cash flow, abundant investments, and peace of mind. Or you can build financial fat: flabby habits leading to poor credit, excessive consumer spending, increasing consumer debt, decreasing cash reserves, growing pressures, fear, anxiety.
The current economic crisis has upset our financial “normalcy, often causing exaggerated beliefs about our individual situations. What thoughts and beliefs about money might have been the root cause of your current (or previous) financial crisis? These thoughts and beliefs lead to certain financial feelings. A continuum of these emotions might range somewhat like this: terror-fear-worry-anxiety-doubt-belief-hope-expectation-anticipation-excitement. If you can change your beliefs, your feelings will follow. What feelings have you had lately about your financial circumstances? Negative feelings come from negative beliefs. Do you believe you can’t make the money, or pay off the debt, or control the spending? What feelings do you think those beliefs will cause? Choose what your feelings are by choosing what you believe. What would you have to believe about your financial emergency in order to be excited, and filled with hope? What would you have to believe to access your creativity without distraction, or to solve problems better? Correcting the beliefs can get you on the path to correcting the spiraling financial challenge.
Beneath my own fleeting feelings of occasional fear is the underlying confidence that I will weather the storm. How do I know? Because I’ve been to the emergency room. I’ve had a financial heart attack that wiped me out. But I could still function, and as long as I could still “breathe” (bring some money in), and consume (pay basic expenses), I was okay. It shook me to the core, my lifestyle had to change, and I was ashamed, but I learned lessons that would change my life forever. I was forced to change my financial perspective. And from that came the positive belief that carries me today. I will always see the silver lining of every cloud of turmoil. My beliefs and feelings will always re-create the earnings and balanced spending. It may not be possible to experience a first-time financial trauma with much optimism. But once you get through it — and you will — you will probably learn to believe differently about your ability to recover. Search for the positive, wherever you can find it, the sooner the better. Perhaps you’ll be forced to pursue a million-dollar opportunity, which you were too “comfortable” to try before, but which might lead to amazing fortune. Perhaps you will learn lessons which will transform your life for the better. At least you will decide that this financial stability will never happen again. A heart attack usually awakens people to improve their diet (consumption) and exercise (breathing and muscle-building).
Discipline your money habits by giving the first 10% away to people less fortunate. In my experience, the greatest antidote to financial hard times is to give your way out of it. It may not make sense to get out of debt this way, but this habit has seriously cleared my clogged financial arteries of selfishness over the years. The results have been rewarding in many ways. The next essential habit is to save money for yourself. So you must restrict your spending so that these two habits are always done (giving and saving). Then you start to build financial muscle. Like exercise, you’re doing habits which build long term financial stability.
You must restrict your spending so you never go into debt. Never spend more than you earn. Debt is a cancer. It will consume everything else in your financial life. Bad debt is over-consumption on things which go down in value. Good debt is an investment in something which can be paid off quickly, or which goes up in value, or it’s an investment in yourself (learning, self-growth). Either way, debt is not fun. If debt is a symptom, what is the cause? Poor “eating” habits — the way we consume — creates the disease of debt. So what’s causing you to eat (consume) like that? Think about whether your financial health is similar to your physical health. What attitudes and feelings led to things that don’t work well in your life? You can choose to believe differently. You can turn a crisis into an opportunity.