THE BLOG

It's Not About The Money

03/28/2008 02:48 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

As we start another new year, there is an energy of renewal in the air. That which has been frozen will soon thaw. That which has been buried will soon flourish as the days begin to grow longer. This energy of renewal often creates a wave of energy to change our unsatisfying habits. And in this age of excessive debt and consumerism, the habits that so urgently need our attention are financial in nature.

My work in the world concerns the integration of our relationship to money with our spiritual life. So much of what drives our relationship to money is unconscious, out of the light of our conscious awareness. Because of this, one of my favorite exercises is based on the Yogic word Asteya, which means truthfulness. By becoming exceptionally truthful about our present relationship to money, we are able to see the ways in which we are constrained, and with guidance, transform our financial life into the one we truly want. If we allow these motives to remain unconscious, our resolutions are doomed to fail.

In my years of being a Certified Financial Planner professional and workshop facilitator, I've noticed that we all have a 'shtick' with money. I like to ask my clients and workshop participants, "Where is your shtick most powerful when it comes to money?" Be brutally honest about this. "What's something financial that's been hard to admit to other people?" It might be something about how you spend, an investment failure, a hidden secret in your family business, your income or savings level, or how much debt you have.

When I first asked myself this question, I realized that I wanted others to see me as generous, although I had been quite frugal, even to the point of being called a tightwad, during most of my financial past. I also wanted to be seen as successful by women, because I felt that this would create additional emotional security in my romantic relationships. Lastly, because I hang out in yoga and meditation circles, I didn't want to be seen as an ambitious and driven businessperson, for fear of being perceived as a "sellout" or "capitalist pig."

These represented what I call in my book, It's Not About The Money, my 'Money Mask'. The paradoxical thing about a Money Mask is that it never brings us the payoff we think it will, even if we surpass its conditions for success. At bottom, it is using money to try to fill our ego's needs for acceptance, belonging, and connection to others. The paradox exists because our strategy actually works for a short period of time. My moments of generosity, success and tempered ambition did bring me the desired result in other people's eyes. But the ensuing peace was completely impermanent.

Most people are doomed to follow the dictates of their Money Mask over and over again. The unexamined mind knows that it was able to create some relief and peace, no matter how short-lived, by following a particular strategy. To get a better sense of your Money Mask, answer the following questions:

* What do you know about yourself regarding money that you would rather not know?
* How do you want other people to think of you when it comes to money?
* What is the most shameful thing for you about your relationship to money?
* In what areas of your life are you most unrealistic and dreamlike with money?
* What thoughts do you have about money that are most distorted? Be specific.
* What feelings do you have about money that you find most uncomfortable?
* What behavior patterns with money have you most relied on to avoid facing difficult feelings?

Answering these questions sheds light on the darkest, most unconscious areas of your relationship to money. Once you are aware of your Money Mask, you can clearly see how it has dictated many of your financial behaviors and habits, especially the unsatisfying ones.

If you want to use this new year to renew your relationship to money, answer the questions posed in this article, and set the stage for a conscious, intentional financial future.

Brent Kessel is the author of the newly-released HarperCollins book, It's Not About the Money, and the co-founder of Abacus, one of the nation's top sustainable investing firms. For more, please visit www.BrentKessel.com.