You’ve been going about this money thing all wrong.

Don’t worry, though. It’s not your fault. We’re all to blame. Me, too!

Society, the media (especially what I call “financial pornography”) and the financial services industry have worked together harmoniously, leveraging your brain’s natural wiring to “help” you (a) make a lot of really dumb choices with your money (probably more than you would make without them) which (b) makes them a lot of money.

Even the people who genuinely WANT to help YOU (the good guys – and I put myself in this group) have wound up doing you a disservice by unwittingly sharing money myths that just aren’t true.

PLANNING & MONEY MYTHS

— Brittney Castro is a young financial planner. She’s smart. She communicates well and has built a decent practice serving “Financially Wise Women.” Her recent post, Four Common Myths About Financial Planning is a valiant effort to get the word out. It’s published on the MintLife blog so it will be seen by lots of folks, but it (like all the other posts there) won’t get much traction and won’t do anything to change your life.

— One of my favorite sites (Lifehack.org) just ran an article on the 7 Money Mistakes You Should Avoid if you want to be wealthy. The article is accurate. However, it doesn’t tell you anything you didn’t already know and I doubt it will change any of your daily decisions regarding money, either. In fact, because of the negative tone (“don’t do this”, “that is wrong”), your brain will be tempted to actually make MORE poor financial choices, not fewer.

Both of these posts and the millions that have come before them (including all of mine) miss the mark for two reasons:

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IT’S LOGICAL

I was attracted to financial planning as a profession because the linear and logical approach made sense to me. I’ve always liked to find solutions to problems. I know that’s a guy-thing and it gets me in trouble with my wife when I jump in to fix her problems, but that is just part of who I am. I’ve also seen first hand how being strategic and intentional gets better results than letting life hit you in the face. Planning can work so shouldn’t everyone do it?

All financial planning advocates start with this “solutions bias.” What could be better than knowing where you are and where you want to be … and having a plan to get there from wherever “here” is? It’s logical, it’s intelligent and it’s rational. It also works if you let it. In fact, it is essential for business success or for personal finances …

… And nobody cares. Financial planning doesn’t speak to that emotional limbic brain system at all. Since that system drives your daily decisions (including whether or not you keep reading this post), the message gets buried by all the other more-sensational things going on, like cat videos on YouTube, Ebola in the news and what the stock market did today – all completely worthless for improving your quality of life but you pay attention to them anyway.

FEAR BASED

We’re trying to apply logic to an emotional problem and that’s bad. What’s far worse though is that when we do address the emotional side of personal finances, we focus on one particularly destructive emotion.

Our whole “logical” approach to personal finances is fear based. It’s about resisting spending, avoiding mis-steps and trying to stay out of the poor-house. It’s not positive. It’s not heading somewhere good. It makes you feel bad. It creates stress and that stress is the root cause of poor decisions which will almost certainly give you more stress and make you feel even worse. It might have worked great in the old days to push financial products but fear is a terrible long-term motivator and shouldn’t be used by people who really want to help you.

Face it, your emotional brain isn’t wired to make good daily money choices. It puts too much emphasis on immediate gratification (and avoiding immediate pain – real or perceived) and can’t manage abstracts … and by the way, money is an abstract. Your finances are a mess without the logical, rational brain system so along comes a real financial planner (like me) who offers a whole bunch of fear-based logic, all of which feels like pain, sacrifice and self-discipline.

That’s a “life sentence of punishment,” not a “life.” Who wants that and why would you pay for it?

A DIFFERENT PICTURE

Let’s take a time out from money for a moment. Instead, think about something that you do well. Maybe you play an instrument, have a hobby or do a sport. Whatever it is, it should be something you enjoy doing – it makes you feel good.

For me, that’s soccer. I play recreationally twice a week. I’m good at the game although I’m no superstar. I make lots of mistakes, even on the fundamentals but I’m always working on getting better. I also love to play the game and that shows in the quality of how I play.

Even the best athletes in the world can improve. The effort you make towards that end is technically “work” but somehow you don’t mind it. Nobody who’s good at something minds doing more of it.

INSERT MONEY HERE

THAT’S how you (and everyone else in this world) SHOULD feel about your money …

… and you can, but first you have to throw away all the fear-based, mistake-avoiding, I-don’t-have-any-money-saved-so-I-must-be-a-bad-money-person, pre-programmed garbage that’s been crammed down your throat for most of your life.

Your money situation is what it is. You make lots of great financial choices every day. Can you make better ones? You bet! Can you get yourself into a better place financially than where you are right now? Odds are, there is lots of room for improvement but that improvement doesn’t have to be in the form of a strict budget or feeling bad about the choices you’ve made in the past or the amount of debt you happen to be carrying around with you right now.

CHEW ON THIS

Money is a part of your life, just like the food you have to eat. You don’t have to be world-class-excellent with it just as you don’t have to be a five-star chef or have a medical degree as a dietician to eat well. It does help though to understand your current resources for what they are and what they can and cannot do.

I know this may sound biased but I’ve seen how the knowledge, experience and perspective of a third-party professional can help accelerate your progress at getting better. I’ve seen that happen with my physical fitness, my soccer play, my business practices and my personal life (health as well as personal finances).

Do-It-Yourself is fun and all but it has serious limits.

That said, what’s most important is YOUR attitude about your money. If the person giving you financial advice (whether that be a spouse, family member, the media or a paid professional) is using fear based tactics or making you feel bad about where you are, you might want to try working with someone else.

John

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