Getting Out of H.A.R.M.'s Way - Part 1
"Once we know our weaknesses they cease to do us any harm."
~ Georg C. Lichtenberg
Ever feel like you can’t figure out why you’re not getting where you want to be financially? It’s not even about whether or not you might be struggling financially.
It’s about feeling like you’re not making the progress you should be making…you know, like being on a treadmill. You’re taking forward steps, but staying in the same place. It might even feel like one step forward, two steps back. Either way, there is a feeling of not making forward progress.
When you feel like this, sometimes the best course of action is to stop focusing so much on where you’re trying to go, but instead, to get still and figure out what’s limiting you. Underlying the reason we sometimes experience financial frustrations is the fact that we don’t identify and deal with what’s tripping us up. It’s time to uncover your stumbling blocks. Consider the wisdom of one famous author:
“You cannot fix what you will not face.”
Baldwin’s words are 100% true, but the big problem in applying this wisdom lies in the fact that people are naturally resistant to change. Fixing issues is hard in and of itself. Facing our issues…Whoa! Now that proposition is likely to be met with some resistance. We want change to occur by having things change rather than changing ourselves.
When it comes to finances, as well as other things, it’s easier for us to do one of two things: 1) Try to figure out what external events must happen to make the circumstances change, or 2) voluntarily or involuntarily adjust to a change in circumstances. They are both paths of least resistance when compared to having to look at ourselves, recognize our blind spots, and fix what we come face to face with. Our brains are wired to help us maintain the status quo so we won’t have to change. It is easier to fixate on figuring out the financial fix that will resolve our problems. This causes an obsession of seeking solutions that focus squarely on money while avoiding the behavioral influences in our finances, which we have greater control over.
The implication here is NOT that people are making deliberate choices to avoid dealing with their financial issues, nor should you assume that. This is often the case, but here, I’m dealing with something more organic about our human nature. Surprisingly, our brains and our mental wiring actually create blind spots that trip us up. Research in the fields of behavioral economics and neuroecomics explain ways that our blind spots hinder us financially. We do not always see things as accurately as we think we do, so we repeat patterns of behavior that don’t serve us well financially. This should come as no surprise if we consider the wisdom from Proverbs:
Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the LORD weighsthe heart.
We don’t always perceive things fully or properly. So how should we deal with influences that are inherently part of our human nature? First, understand that it requires the work and effort of honest self-reflection. Second, defer to the work of the Holy Spirit to weigh the heart. Otherwise, your own intuitive thinking and your way of believing that you’re right keeps you blind to what you’re not seeing. You need alternative insight. David was wise enough to ask God to help him in this regard. “Test me, LORD, and try me, examine my heart and my mind.” (Ps. 26:2). Ask God for discernment in recognizing your hidden issues—the stumbling blocks you need to uncover, face, and then fix.
The practical point is this: there are inconspicuous influences that perpetuate financial problems. This begins a blog series on Getting Out of Harm’s Way. I’ll expose 4 impediments that are common areas of H.A.R.M. within our finances. I’ll briefly mention each one here so you can start thinking about their relevance in your own circumstances, but focus separately on each over the next several blog posts.
H.A.R.M. (Habits, Attitudes, Rationalization, Management)
Habits are repetitive, compulsive actions controlled by a part of your brain outside of your conscious awareness. Becoming aware of habitual behaviors that can be affecting your finances is a prerequisite for change. It’s not just breaking habits either. Starting new habits may be necessary. What habits do you need to pay more attention in order to focus on your next area of change?
You likely have a distinct ‘money personality’ that describes the way you handle and manage money. Money attitudes motivate financial choices. These attitudes, however, can be in conflict with our larger life goals and priorities and result in disjointed decisions. Do you have any attitudes about money that dominate or influence the way you deal with your finances?
Sometimes we use our money in ways that knowingly go against our better judgment and reasoning because our impulses get the better of us. We then find a way to justify our actions to validate our decisions. It’s almost like telling ourselves a little white lie that we really don’t even believe. Can you think of any purchase you’ve ever rationalized and later regretted?
Money management relates to your entire financial life and financial plans. It requires the skill of self-management. Included are the ways you plan and set goals, evaluate financial choices, perform recordkeeping, and practice resourcefulness. In what ways might you be falling short in managing your financial life and what areas of improvement will you start focusing on?
It can be difficult to resolve financial problems with narrowly focused thinking. Take a more holistic approach as you examine your financial situation. Carve out some time this week to pray and journal about what comes to mind as you evaluate sources of HARM. Consider both things that you are doing, and are not doing and determine if you are limiting the potential of your economic success.