#6: What the bloody hell is a ‘relationship with money’ anyway?

26th October, 2020

Welcome to the Idiot Money newsletter. The newsletter that knows that money is for life, not just for Christmas.

This week: becoming wiser with money by understanding that you’re married to money, divorce isn’t possible, and estrangement is illusory, so it’s better to work on the relationship than resign yourself to a loveless monetary malaise.

The growth in the use of ‘relationship with money’ is not matched by an understanding of what it is, and the importance of its implications. It is not a nice-to-have woo-woo supplement to more quantifiable concerns, but the practical hardcore root that determines if you’ll use the money in your life for good, ill, or churning in mediocrity.

Most of what you hear about cultivating a better relationship with money is well-intentioned, but bollocks. We want practical wisdom, not well-meaning woo-woo.

‘Wisdom,’ wrote Matthieu Ricard, ‘is precisely that which allows us to distinguish the thoughts and deeds that contribute to authentic happiness from those that destroy it. Wisdom is based on direct experience, not dogma.’ [Read more on becoming practically wiser here…]

Telling someone to improve their relationship with money by cultivating an ‘abundance mindset’ is cute, but when our problems are ones of self-deception, comforting labels are more likely to enable unhelpful behaviours than change them.

Our major money mistakes come back to three main sources of self-deception. That’s why the book opens with them.

But pointing them out is only the beginning. The point of self-deceptive beliefs is that we don’t see them as idiotic in ourselves. We may, on occasion, diagnose them in others, but our minds prefer projections to mirrors.

Mindset flaws are harder to correct than technical ones. From tribal politics to sports performance to investing, deeply engrained mental patterns aren’t rewired by reading a punchy op-ed.

Rewiring requires work, but because the changes happen slowly and unconsciously, we don’t do it, and because we believe changing our minds is as simple for us as it is impossible for everyone else, we don’t believe we need to. We remain blind to how our money worldviews are passively absorbed rather than actively acquired, and end up with a poor relationship with money as a result.

Self-deceptive beliefs reassure us that everything is fine, because we don’t see how things could be better. Our relationship with money is like one between two people who stay together through a combination of convenience and fear of not finding something better: defined by overlooking obstacles, not overcoming them.

A relationship with anything involves one thing meeting another thing and together creating a new thing that stands outside of each original thing, while at the same time changing those original things by virtue of the relationship. [Read on for more on the role of your philosophy in your relationship with money]

A person meeting money creates an expression of who that person is. Money is sitting there all inanimate, then a person comes along and chooses how to allocate it. In that allocation of resources, that web of decisions, lies the determination of whether the life it is shaping is a good one or not.

Your relationship with money is how you interact with money: how you think about it, and consequently act with it, and around it. It is about the role money plays in your life: how you connect money to who you are and what you value, and how you use it in a participatory process of becoming who you want to be.

The money bit is easy. The you bit is complex. The ‘you’ is the story you tell yourself about yourself – what Daniel Dennett calls your centre of narrative gravity.

The application of Dennett’s theory is described in detail in one of the most important sections of the book here.

Seeing ‘you’ as a story is key to writing and editing it into a better story, and using money to do so.

A story is a device for making sense of the world, of making the impossible inevitable. Because each interaction with money is both an expression of – and a stimulus to changing – who you are, your relationship with money is a process to be lived and observed, not a snapshot to be ‘discovered’ and ‘preserved’.

The way your relationship with money is mapped in your brain is either changing or being reinforced with every decision about how to make it, save it, spend it, invest it and even just think about it. As Iris Murdoch wrote: ‘The task of attention goes on all the time and at apparently empty and everyday moments we are “looking”, making those little peering efforts of imagination which have such important cumulative results.’ [Read on for more on how you are a brain surgeon]

Our relationship with money is a means of matching the story we tell the world about who we are with the one we tell ourselves. You do not improve this by thinking you can avoid it, either by delegating the decisions that shape it to someone (or something) else, or by denouncing money as evil or irrelevant. You improve it by editing it (a story for another day… or now, if you’re feeling impatient).

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