According to the National Financial Well-Being Survey, 43% of Americans say they struggle to pay their bills.
According to the Federal Reserve’s “Survey of Household Economics and Decision Making,“ 74% of Americans say they are doing ok financially. Whereas, nearly 40% don’t have $400 on hand to meet an emergency expense.
According to the Purchasing Power Survey, 34% of employees spend two to three hours per week at work thinking about and dealing with personal finances (because they are distracted by financial pressure and stress).
With stats like these, it makes complete sense when people have as a goal, “I don’t want to worry about money.” The statement represents an aspiration of sorts; it speaks to a sought-after sense of relief, stability and peace of mind.
Because in essence, when people make this declaration what they are really saying is…”I don’t want to struggle to pay my bills; I want to be able to meet an unexpected expense with ease; I don’t want to feel the financial pressure and stress I’m feeling due to overwhelming debt, divorce, job loss, or…”
So, it may seem as if I am being tone deaf when I say that the desire to no longer worry about money is the wrong goal to have.
On the contrary…I hear you loud and clear!
Before I make my case for why I believe, “I don’t want to worry about money” is the wrong goal, let’s chat about worry (of any kind) – otherwise known as the all-year-round grinch. Especially as we approach the New Year, a transition in time that brings with it high hopes for things to be different – including the wish to no longer worry.
First, What Worry Isn’t
At the risk of stating the obvious, the definition of worry as a verb is to, “allow one’s mind to dwell on difficulty or troubles.” As a noun, it reflects, “a state of anxiety and uncertainty over actual or potential problems.”
Either as a verb or a noun, in my opinion worry isn’t the same as thinking about what could possibly go wrong with your plans, and then coming up with just-in-case responses (i.e., plan b, c and maybe even d) if the worst comes to fruition. That isn’t worrying; that’s preparation. And as the adage goes: Preparation prevents piss poor performance.
What’s it All About
We humans are unlike other animals in that we have the capacity and tendency to think about the future – a future we can mark in days, months and years. Worry kicks in when we anticipate that we will somehow be unprepared for that future. Like maybe we will have missed an opportunity to make a choice that will keep us safe and secure.
So, we fret about a series of “what-ifs” – much of which resembles the worst possible outcome. Perhaps it’s a protective mechanism connected to fear and our “fight or flight” response. In either case, worry is either about not knowing how to correct something that isn’t up to par in the present, or about a future outcome you can’t control. In a nutshell: you can blame worry on the future.
Up Close & Personal
When you reflect on the year that is fast coming to a close, what did you worry about? As crazy as it sounds, this is a good time to take note of and journal about, without judgment, the things that caused you to worry – documenting the following:
- Were your worries irrational vs. valid? On what are you basing this assessment?
- What and/or who triggered your worry?
- What was the eventual outcome, and how did that compare with your initial vision/desire?
- Based on what you worried about, what do you want to avoid or to be different in the new year?
I view worry the same way I view fear: It’s not something to avoid. Rather, it is best to acknowledge what’s causing you to worry and then work to discover what it is trying to get you to pay attention to.
And, it turns out that what is true for fear is also true with worry: it doesn’t go away before you do something – before you take action.
You quell worry with action!
You quell it by getting even clearer about the feeling and/or result you actually want. You quell it by staying calm, staying open and remaining unattached to what may come next. (This is the “action” I find the hardest to do!)
Action is what helps you to shift from feeling helpless about and lacking control over what is worrying you.
When it comes to worries about money specifically, it’s hard, but important to remember, that the trigger may be your banking balance, your available credit or the market value of your investments. But in truth, what the worry is casting a spotlight on is how you are currently relating to money.
From This to That
As you might imagine, “I don’t want to worry about money,” is a statement I hear fairly frequently when I ask people want do they want with regards to money. And before I respond, I always warn the person that they may not like my answer (I want to bust their bubble gently).
Here’s what I always tell them – and am now telling you. Not wanting to worry about money is the wrong goal to have because it:
- Sets you up for constant dissatisfaction – with yourself and the state of your finances.
- Doesn’t reflect how transitions and challenges are an inevitable part of life, and typically cause a shift of some sort regarding what you do and don’t have, as well as your relationship with money.
- Takes your eyes off the ball. You end up focusing on what you’re trying to avoid – like not having enough, keeping enough or making enough money – instead of directing your attention and energy to what you can control, which is taking constructive action. (Action, no matter how “small” the step, is the best response to worry.)
So, as we zoom with ever increasing speed, it seems, into the New Year and the high hopes that come with, I hope you’ll embrace my invitation to go from, “I don’t want to worry about money,” to…
“I don’t want to worry about the same things when it comes to my money.”
The latter is a much better goal, and relevant regardless of where you fall on the income or wealth spectrums. Yes, the difference is subtle, but it is also extremely profound because these three words – “…the same things…” – acknowledge movement, growth and success.
Movement. Growth. Success. Aren’t these markers of what a good life (and a good year) is all about?!
P.S. Worry is nuanced and complex. With the above, it is not my intention to dismiss the serious issues that may cause you concern. But I do hope this missive can serve as a framework to help you more easily and quickly discern the difference between wheel-spinning worry that is useless, and worry that represents a red-flag that requires your undistracted attention.