Life Laws, Money Laws
The methods by which we handle our money — spend it, save it, budget it, squander it — do not exist in a vacuum. They are influenced by our upbringing, our values, our habits, our travels, our educations, and an endless array of other factors.
In this regard, Dr. Phil McGraw's book Life Strategies: Doing What Works, Doing What Matters offers a concise and penetrating outline for personal living that can be effectively extended to many of the financial realms which so many of us inhabit.
Clearly, our personal lives and our financial lives weave in and out of each other endlessly. Work to lift one, and chances are you'll raise the other to a higher level also.
Nobody ever said life would be easy. But, in all honesty, you're probably not often encountering problems that necessitate daily mental battles with MENSA notables, either. "Getting it" is mostly about common sense. The catch? Common sense is a treasure — which means that it's often not quite so common.
In life, if you do stupid or careless stuff, then nine times out of ten, you get bottom-rung results. So why is it that so many folks muddle through their lives when the answers to their problems are often (1) not that complicated at all, and (2) not particularly hidden from their view to start with?
Because they simply don't get it. As Dr. McGraw writes:
So if life is constantly handing you more and more worry and stress, it's time to open your eyes. What's the problem, and why is it there? What are you doing wrong? Pay attention. Do some homework. Do some planning. Make some changes. You certainly can make things better, but to do that, you have to understand what makes the world — and the people in it — tick. Then you can truly forge ahead.
"The law is simple," McGraw says. "You are accountable for your life. Good or bad, successful or unsuccessful, happy or sad, fair or unfair, you own your life."
Success demands that you assume ownership of your life: your actions, emotions, thoughts, and above all, the consequences of all these things. No matter how many "bad breaks" may befall you, you are still ultimately accountable for how you live with and manage those situations.
"You will never, ever fix your problems blaming someone else," he writes. "That is for losers. Don't be a sucker just because it hurts to admit the truth."
Every day, people do things that are counterproductive to themselves, their families, and their goals and desires. The overweight man knows his eating habits are damaging him in many ways, yet still he heads to Burger King for lunch each workday, showing little if any restraint. The alcoholic knows his drinking binges are destroying his health and shredding what are left of any family bonds, yet still he keeps drinking. The middle-aged executive wife knows she really should get her debt and finances under control, yet still she spends her evenings dodging other family members so she can quietly watch QVC and order jewelry and home-decor items.
On some level, though, each of these self-defeating, self-sabotaging actions "works" for that respective individual. He or she is always getting some sort of payoff from it — subconscious or otherwise. Until that payoff is uncovered and dealt with, the behaviors will continue and the quality of life will further deteriorate.
Even the smallest, simplest problem in your life cannot be resolved until you acknowledge that it exists. You must be honest with yourself. You must accurately assess where your life is right now, and where it might be in the future. There is absolutely no place for any sort of denial in your life.
"If you're unwilling or unable to identify and consciously acknowledge your negative behaviors, characteristics, or life patterns," McGraw says, "then you will not change them, anymore than will the alcoholic who lives in denial. It takes courage and commitment to be brutally, genuinely honest with yourself."
You must see the truth, deal with the truth, and if necessary, work to change the truth.
Our world couldn't care less about thoughts and intentions. Look at successful people throughout time — it is unerringly true that life rewards action. People care not about what you meant, but about what you did. Insight and education are nice to have, but they don't produce results in the physical world. Begin to measure your life by real-world results, not intentions.
We all experience our respective lives through personal filters. Today's headline news, for instance, isn't good or bad in and of itself — it simply is. The "good" or "bad" labels are placed upon it by our values and perceptions. How you interpret and respond to your senses is determined strictly by you.
As long as you're alive, there will never be a day when every single one of your problems has been vanquished. Some days will, of course, be dramatically better than others. In the end, it is up to you to build (and enjoy) those particular "some days." Learn to be an effective "life manager." Work toward resolving, rather than enduring, your array of problems. Draft realistic expectations rather than naïve ones. Learn to regard success as an always-moving target. Without a conscious, well-considered strategy, more often than not, that success will elude you.
All human relationships are in a constant state of negotiation. Thus, they are always changing, with the participants repeatedly learning what is and is not acceptable in the relationship; i.e., they are learning and relearning the rules and boundaries of the relationship. "When people are aggressive, bossy, or controlling," McGraw says, "and it works — meaning they get their way — you have rewarded them for unacceptable behavior." Where are you providing payoffs for negative actions? Consider your response patterns, and tailor them accordingly. Conversely, what are the people in your life allowing you to get away with?
Remember: You get what you give.
"Of all the emotions in the human repertoire," Dr. McGraw writes, "hate, anger, and resentment are among the most powerful and self-destructive. To carry and feel that hatred is to pay an unbelievably high price, for the reality is that those feelings change who you are. They change your heart and mind."
Learn to deal with your anger, resentment, and other debilitating emotions in such a way that they are no longer a weight on your soul. When the time comes to forgive and resolve the situation, you must act constructively, assertively, and from a position of control. You're not doing this as a gift to the other person; you're doing it as a gift to yourself. The travels of life are difficult enough without you shouldering unnecessary emotional baggage.
"Not knowing precisely what you want is not okay," says McGraw. Be specific. Focus on what you truly want, describe it, plan for it in writing, and then head in that direction. Be bold and strong, but also be realistic. Be honest. Be watchful. And always require more of yourself than others require of you.