01/03/2013 12:24 pm ET Updated Mar 05, 2013

Financially Fearless

As we begin a new year together, one resolution I would like to propose is that you make this the year where you transform your relationship with money. In our culture, money is often the thing that gets us out of bed in the morning or keeps us up at night, yet without all our hopes and fears and stories, money is simply a tool designed to facilitate the exchange of goods and services in the world.

At the root of all of our fears about money is the story that whether or not we have it (and how much of it we have) is a key factor in our well-being. And if that story were true, all the behaviors that most of us think of as "normal" around money would make perfect sense. After all, if our survival, well-being, and self-worth were dependent on our bank balance:

  • The majority of our time (at least 8 - 10 hours a day, five days a week) would be spent in the pursuit of making money.
  • Our education system would be designed to train children in the skills they will need to make money as adults, and higher education would be designed to prepare young adults to make even more money.
  • Once we had some money, we would do everything in our power to protect it from outside threat.
  • Those people who were unable or unwilling to succeed at the money game would drop out and blame themselves, others, or the game itself for their failure.

You would also find (in a world where the amount of money you had really, REALLY mattered) that there would be a number of well-meaning people who genuinely wanted to help those who had less, and their strategies would include:

  • Teaching people how to get by on less -- where to get bargains and how to negotiate better deals.
  • Teaching people better skills for financial management and accumulation, including budgeting, saving, and investing.
  • Teaching people better skills for financial creation, including creating proposals, selling, and marketing.

Does any of this sound familiar? Here's the problem with all of it:

It doesn't matter how great our strategies for success are if they're designed to help us solve problems that don't really exist.

The fundamental question in life is whether we live in an outside-in world, where what is happening in the world around us creates the thoughts and feelings we experience within us, or an inside-out world, where our experience of what we see around us is created by what's going on inside us. Which is the reflection, and which is the light? Which is the echo, and which is the source?

If the amount of money you have (or don't have) at the moment is genuinely the source of your well-being (or distress), everything we have talked about so far makes perfect sense. But if money is just another shadow on the wall of Plato's cave, then the game of money is just a game without any real stakes whatsoever.

Now imagine the following scenario:

You are offered a job working at a casino. In order to encourage other people to play, they will pay you $500 a night to gamble with the house's money. You will be given $50,000 in chips at the start of the evening; you will turn in whatever amount of chips you have left at the end of the night and leave with your $500 in your pocket.

What would that actually be like? Chances are, if you were able to quadruple your money you would be excited in the moment, but at the end of the night after turning in your chips you would forget all about it. Similarly, if you lost it all, you would likely be disappointed -- until you remembered that it was all just a game and the real payoff was already in your pocket.

Now take this a step further. What would it be like to play the money game knowing that everything that really counts -- your well-being, happiness, love, and self-worth -- are already yours to keep? After all, you were born with them, and the only thing that can ever take you away from them is a thought. There is nothing of true and lasting value you can get from playing the money game that wasn't already yours before you started playing and won't continue to be yours after the game is done.

You are playing with the house's money. There is nothing real at stake. And consequently, you can play fearlessly and with a sense of ease and fun.

That doesn't mean you won't take the time to learn the rules of the game, and it certainly doesn't mean you won't get caught up from time to time and forget that it's just a game. But you'll probably find yourself spending less and less time worrying about it and when you do decide to play, you'll play with the kind of freedom from fear and greed that shifts the odds dramatically in your favor.

How would you handle money differently in an inside-out world? Please share your thoughts and insights below!

With all my love,


For more by Michael Neill, click here.

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