Measure it

Sunél Veldtman, | 08 August 2019

In my first blog I mentioned that the contact point between money and life typically carries a lot of emotion.  Often fear-based, the most abiding of which is anxiety.  

Anxiety is that feeling of nervousness or unease about something with an uncertain outcome; or a strong desire to do something or for something to happen, according to the dictionary. It is also defined as a mental illness of which 1 in 4 people suffer worldwide (WHO World Health Report).  I see anxiety frequently across the table in my workshops or my meeting rooms. It is a familiar feeling for most people regarding their money. It raises its head everywhere, regardless of social status or financial means. It is pervasive. An ever-growing monster.

I had been pondering writing about anxiety when a blog from James Clear hit my inbox.  He writes about habits. I’ve been following him for a while and have found his writing useful.

In this particular blog, The Evolution of Anxiety: Why We Worry and What to Do About It he unpacks the source of anxiety in modern society. In short, he explains that our anxiety can be linked to our brain development, which lags our evolution. Said another way, our brains are still functioning like cave-men brains. This means that we perceive all threats to our existence as imminent, whether or not they actually are.  We are simply not able to distinguish between imminent and distant threats. So, a lion lurking in the grass is as much of an imminent threat as the risk of running out of money for retirement in 20 years’ time.  The result is a vague, yet very real feeling of unease. All. The. Time.

That is, unless we choose to do something about it. Clear recommends breaking your issues down into small measurable steps. For example, if your retirement causes you anxiety, you can break it down into how much you need to save every month to ensure a comfortable retirement. When anxiety raises its head, you can tell it that you have it under control. Instead of focusing on a distant threat, which creates continuous nervous energy because your brain processes it as imminent, you can focus on your monthly retirement contribution.

I can confirm that this works. I have repeatedly seen how the angst literally dissolves away from clients when we show them the concrete steps they can take to make a comfortable retirement a possibility or better yet, that their retirement capital is already enough. By focusing on what they can control, instead of a distant disaster, they can control their anxiety.

In my own life, it has worked. When I broke my monthly budget down into a weekly spending limit, it reduced my own anxiety over our monthly budget. When I signed that debit order for my retirement fund deduction, I started to feel safer about our money.

Breaking down and tracking your goals into small, measurable units which are under your control, will help you too.