“Prosperity depends more on wanting what you have than having what you want.” ~Geoffrey Abert
Nothing has the power to mess up my finances more than my own brain—or, more precisely, my ego.
According to Eckhart Tolle, the ego entails the habitual and compulsive thought processes that go through everybody’s mind continuously. Left unchecked, this constant ego monologue prevents us from focusing on the present moment. Instead, we get caught up in worrying about what happens next. Or, in my case, what I want to buy next.
My Ego Challenges
As a financial planner, you would think that I would have mastered money challenges! But the reality is, I have struggled as much as the next person because I allowed my ego to drive my decisions for almost five years.
When you’re a new financial planner, it’s easy to get caught up in creating the image of a successful planner—in fact, my first manager told me it was okay to go into debt to get a “successful” wardrobe!
And it doesn’t stop there; I bought the “right” car, the “right” house in the “right” neighborhood; and before long, I was exhausted from maintaining appearances. I may have looked like the perfect planner, but I sure didn’t feel like one.
I never enjoyed my successes, because I was too obsessed with getting the next thing on the list.
I finally realized that no amount of money would ever be enough to feel happy, regardless of what my ego told me. And so much money was going to maintaining appearances that I never felt truly prosperous, even though I was making more money than I ever had before.
That was the point at which I sold a successful practice and struck out on my own.
I decided that if I wasn’t happy with what I had, I needed to reboot. I don’t think everyone needs to take such drastic action; most people can simply bring more awareness to their decisions and start to course-correct as they go.
The reason I changed everything so dramatically—sold my business and my home and moved to a completely new city—was that I not only needed to get clear, I needed to recuperate. Letting my ego drive my life choices and burying my true self had made me physically sick, with hypothyroidism and adrenal burnout.
It took me another 5 years to heal and really understand what was going on—why I made the money decisions I had made, and what really felt like my own choices, versus the choices made by my ego.
The Four Ways To Tame Your Ego
You don’t have to be a slave to your ego. Whenever it rears its head, try these four steps to getting back control:
1. Become aware.
You can tell that your ego is present in situations when you feel yourself becoming stressed, defensive, outraged, offended, and angry. Your ego is telling you that there is a deviation from the ideal scenario, and you have to fix it!
Instead, remind yourself that perfect isn’t the goal anymore, and you’ll never “be” the ideal scenario if you want to be authentically you.
2. Stay present.
When you focus on the future, you’re making things up. You actually have no idea what the future holds! Financial happiness depends on your ability to disregard the worrying activity of the ego and stay present in the moment.
There was a time when I was trying to survive on very little money. One day, I was waiting for payment to come in the mail that was going to cover my expenses for the next week, and I couldn’t go grocery shopping until I opened the mail.
When I did, the payment wasn’t there. But rather than freak out, I brought myself back to the present moment: How much money did I really need right that very moment?
I realized that bills weren’t actually due for another five days. And, I had lasagna in the freezer and plenty of staples. I didn’t actually “need” to go grocery shopping—which meant that the check didn’t “need” to come that day.
Once I realized that, I was elated that I could have so little money in my bank account and yet feel so secure in the moment.
3. Focus on the essence.
Letting go of the “should” in your life—the specific structure or action the ego wants—allows you to focus on the essence of what you want instead of the form.
When I was looking for my first apartment out of college, initially I was obsessed with the idea of living in NW Portland, because that was the “cool” place to live. But when I looked at apartments there, they were noisy, old, small, and crowded—which was completely the opposite of the apartment living experience I had been dreaming of.
I realized that when I pictured my new place, it was somewhere quiet, green, serene, open, airy, and away from the hustle and bustle of business. So if I had rented an apartment where I was “supposed” to want to live, I would have regretted that decision.
By focusing on the experience I knew I wanted to have first—the essence of my desire—I was able to find an apartment about ten minutes away that made me much happier than I would have been living in the noisy downtown area.
Buddha believed that the origin of suffering is attachment to transient things—which not only include the physical objects that surround us, but also ideas. Abraham Hicks says you can have the essence of anything you want, but it rarely comes in the form you expect or want—but if you allow it, the result is better than you could have ever imagined.
4. Manage expectations.
The moment you become aware of your ego’s expectations around situations, the less power it has over you. I often notice it “leaking” when I am driving; if I am getting frustrated with other drivers, I know that I am buying into the way things “should be” instead of accepting “what is.”
When this happens, I take a close look at all of the areas of my life to see where I am letting my ego create expectations for me.
There is no specific object or thing, position, or status that you need to help define who you are in this world, or that in and of itself will help you achieve financial happiness.
The moment you let go of that, the real you is free to explore a life uniquely suited to you, and better—definitely more affordable—than you could have ever imagined.
How has your ego interfered with your money?
Photo by Ecstatic Mark
About Mindy Crary
Mindy Crary (MBA, CFP® practitioner and financial coach at Creative Money) helps you become a lot more educated (never inundated) about not just your money — but the whack job behind it. Check out Creative Money and sign up for free classes and more valuable money tips.