The Secret Language of Money

At a number of business seminars and presentations, I passed out an index card and asked each person in the audience to write anonymously a single answer to each of three questions. The three questions are:

1. To me money means _________.

2. My current annual income is _______________.

3. In order to insure happiness and contentment financially, with no more money problems and worries, my annual income would need to be __________.

The answers to these three simple questions reveal how much more we attribute to money than it being a medium of exchange. Money has a range of emotional meanings hitchhiking on it: love, security, control, power, worth, freedom, success, status.

In over 90% of the hundreds of people I have polled, their annual income would need to be roughly double its current amount for them to feel happy, content, without money problems and worries. This is as true as for someone who makes $50,000 a year, and believes it would take roughly $100,000 a year in order to be financially content as it is for someone who makes $500,000 and believes that it would take roughly a million a year. And, in discussions after this brief poll, those who actually experienced their income doubling also doubled their "happy and content" amount: for someone who had made $50,000 and believed that it would take around $100,000 to be happy, when they had achieved $100,000 annually, they then thought it would take about twice that amount to be content and worry-free about money.

Money was always intended to be a symbol, so it is a ready stand-in as a screen onto which we project personal meanings of what we idealize, want, yet fear we don't have enough of, don't deserve, or can never have. Particular emotions, such as fear and greed, may predominate in the money arena. Strategies and game plans may be abandoned at times of excess stimulation ? when things are going particularly bad or especially good ? and bad investment decisions prevail.

Money's symbolism is uniquely subjective, though society adds metaphors of its own. Some of the meanings are outside the realm of logic, reason, and intellect. The issue of money may quickly spark ambition, insecurity, envy, fear, jealousy, complication, guilt, or any number of emotional reactions. If someone is competitive, insecure, or prone to fantasize and worry, money is always a reliable and tangible focus, a yardstick of many measures.

Many emotional and relationship issues can manifest vividly in the financial arena, focusing on money as the answer, the problem, or both. Money may be the common language of success phobia, impulsivity, and even fear of autonomy, such as creating financial crises from which to be rescued. Money symptoms include compulsions such as gambling, shopping, hoarding. Money may become the currency of addictions such as work, financial risk-taking, money acquisition, or impulsive spending. While we often make decisions on an emotional basis, the particular meanings and significance of money has a built-in readiness to be an emotional trip wire for meanings and decisions that are repetitive and limiting.

The more money represents unfulfilled needs or wants, the more promise it holds of happiness. The perpetual hope that more money will provide happiness sharply focuses what "enough" is. Someone who assumes that more money would bring more security or freedom may find that more money paradoxically brings a lessened sense of security and freedom. Or, if we could have just the right amount of money, then we could do exactly what we really want to do and have what we want. The "right amount" may be a specific figure, but if it is a floating figure defined by "more" it is perpetually elusive. But this illusion may not have to be confronted as long as the amount extends beyond the realized, and about double is a safe lead.

Understanding and changing money problems and patterns requires understanding your money story as part of a life story that you are creating each day. The beginning of evaluation of that story is to recognize that you are the author of that story. Whatever you think, feel, and do are active creations for ownership moment by moment.

Being loyal to a game plan and reaching a goal assumes having a game plan and attainable goals. First, construct a map to figure out where you are and where you want to go. Without a map, there cannot be a plan to get there; without knowing where you want to go, any map will do. Next, figure out how to get there. Primary problems with those who do not succeed include not knowing where they are, where they are going, not having a plan to get there, or getting distracted from their plan to get there. Having a map (attainable goals and measurable results) allows you to filter noise, to discern the route to where you want to go, and to recognize what is tangential or a detour in getting there.

Your life is the manifestation of your beliefs. Changing your mind changes your brain and life, as beliefs, goals, and visions drive action. Your experiences are always consistent with your assumptions: enhance the ones that work, and change the ones that don't work.

David Krueger, M.D. is an Executive Strategist/ Professional Coach ([email protected]). He is the author of 11 books including EMOTIONAL BUSINESS. The Meanings and Mastery of Work, Money and Success.

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