Bag Ladies, Money and Mindfulness

06/25/2014 11:51 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

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For a little minute, I was a millionaire. But I was so ignorant of money matters, such a mind-less idiot about paying any attention whatsoever to dealing with it properly, so terrified of losing it... guess what?

I lost it all.

When we give our attention, energy, thoughts, and actions to fear-based beliefs, that's just what we're cultivating in our life gardens. Fear-based beliefs and actions.

Fear-based stories don't always have great endings, and always feel crappy as we're living them.

Scared to Lose It?

From behavioral economics comes the theory that humans put significantly more time and energy into thinking about the possibility of losing something of value than we do into acquiring more of that same something.

We're way more afraid of losing what we already have than we want to get more of it. It's called loss aversion theory... because we're strongly averse to loss.

Scared to deal with your money, whether or not you have any? Too afraid to open the bills? What about those taxes?

Too timid to ask for a raise, or increase your fees? Need a second job but can't quite bring yourself to get out there and hustle?

Or maybe you've got money (not that's ever going to be enough) and hoard it, never taking that dream vacation or sharing very much with your beloveds.

Perhaps you use your wealth as a shield, attempting to protect yourself and your family from all those nasty dragons and monsters.

Clueless Victims

If it's just too boring, or terrifying, or hard to squarely face your money monsters, then what you're actively cultivating is a life lived as a clueless victim.

Think young Persephone abducted and raped by Hades. She was too busy picking flowers in the meadow to pay attention.

Believe me, I speak from personal experience... that clueless victim thing will come around to bite you in the ass.

More Fun

Adding to the fun is the brain's bias toward negativity, and the ways it's constantly scanning for danger. It can't help itself, that's its job.

A perceived threat is a threat is a threat.

No matter that it isn't real. If you're sitting on millions of dollars while your brain is worrying about the danger of becoming a bag lady, you're feeding the negativity bias. Things are bad, awful, horrible.

Or maybe you're just too busy picking flowers in the meadow to pay attention to the fact that you're not earning enough money to pay the bills.

Guess what? There's a part of you that knows what's going on, and is freaking out.

The "Danger, Will Robinson!" mantra causes you to clutch even harder, which reinforces the feedback loop that something's wrong.

Which very often causes something to end up being wrong.

Constantly on the look for danger +
a strong preference to fearfully clutch onto what we've got =
a recipe for catastrophic fear-based decisions.

Breaking the Cycle

How to break the cycle?

Mindfulness. Mindful awareness. Learning to carve out enough space to simply hold more of your truth is the first step away from the Bag Lady syndrome.

From that more expansive place, acknowledging what's real-life real, you can begin making (much) healthier money choices.

All of the clients with whom I work are dealing with complex issues of self-identity, self-esteem and self-confidence.

These accomplished, intelligent, worthy people are afraid of:

  • failure,
  • success,
  • power,
  • being perceived as not very nice,
  • not getting what they want,
  • having what they want,
  • dealing with their money.

Here's the deal. Each of your deepest fears shows up in your relationship with money. Money ends up being a pivotal relationship for which most of us are desperately unprepared.

Our relationship with our finances is a reflection of our relationship with ourselves and the entire danged world.

And so.

The more you can be quiet and still enough to hear your fears, using mindful awareness, the more you understand that those fears -- while very real -- are also just a story in your mind and not real. And the more those fears dissolve.

Leaving you with the possibility of living your life on your terms.

The Bag Lady Sydrome

Michelle Matson, author of Rich Chick, says

women often suffer from the "bag lady syndrome," the fear of being penniless, homeless and alone. They may escalate small money concerns into visions of total destitution. "It can paralyze you," she says. "You don't know what to do, so you don't do anything."

You can be paralyzed your entire life. You can move toward being a bag lady. Or, you can learn to use mindful awareness.

Can I just tell you? I sure wish I'd paid more attention to my mindfulness practice while I still had money in the bank.