May 12, 2017
We make dozens of financial decisions daily and experience a range of different money emotions – guilt, regret, frustration, happiness, sadness, anger, excitement, nervousness, confusion, anxiety – you name it, we feel it. They are just as much a part of life as the positive ones, but negative money emotions are the hardest to deal with.
If we allow our negative emotions to swing us around wildly – and make impulsive decisions based purely on how we feel at the time – we end up harming ourselves financially and damaging relationships that are important to us.
Here are 10 tips for dealing with negative money emotions:
1. Acknowledge the power of emotions. The first step in taking charge of our emotions is acknowledging how much influence emotions have over our lives.
2. Recognise and name the emotion. Before handling an emotion, we must first recognise it and name it. Writing them down can help us understand our feelings better. Be a dispassionate observer and look at ourself from outside the situation. (See here for more)
3. Notice how negative emotions affect our behaviour. Often an emotion can become a ‘trigger’ for a certain behaviour (e.g. “I’ve just got paid so I’ll treat myself”). Understanding these connections can help to break the cycle.
4. Be kind to ourselves. Accept we all make mistakes (nobody’s perfect!) and negative feelings are natural. We must learn to forgive, not blame – be kind to ourselves. (See here for more)
5. Accept the emotion, without judgement. Our emotions are what we feel right now. It just is. It’s going away soon anyway and it doesn’t define you. Even if it’s not the best feeling, just accept it for what it is, without judgement.
6. Remind yourself the emotion will pass. It’s important to remember emotions don’t generally last long. This helps us to let emotions go, let them ‘wash over us’ and allow us to move on. (Of course, if you experience a prolonged period of a negative emotion e.g. sadness, you may want to talk to a professional.)
7. Pause before acting. Our animal brain is programmed to react automatically but there’s no longer sabre-toothed tigers wanting to eat us, so we have more time. It might make all the difference. This is why writing our feelings down helps – it slows down our decision-making. Other ‘pausing’ strategies include deep breathing, meditation, or going for a short walk. So, before acting on an emotion, take time to pause.
8. Switch back to the present. When dealing with negative emotions, we can use a proven mental model like the one used by the New Zealand All-Blacks (insert link when published). In this approach, through repeated practice, we sense when we’re ‘overheating’ and ‘cool’ ourselves down when needed to make good decisions. In short, we switch back to the present by building ourselves an emotional thermostat.
9. Establish how realistic your negative emotions are. Our feelings colour our perception of reality and just because we feel a certain way doesn’t mean it represents the truth. Either alone, or through talking to someone, we can make sense of negative feelings and address them without fear and without judgement. As we would for a friend, it helps to step away from problems and assess them objectively. (See here for more)
10. Learn from the emotion. Finally, what, if anything, can we learn from the emotion? Try to identify its root cause or causes. Be careful not to over-analyse, it might just have been a completely normal and healthy negative emotion. If there is something to learn from the emotion, remember it and use it when faced with a similar situation in the future.