#81: Financial change that doesn’t start from your financial worldview is selling you short

4th April, 2022

Welcome to the Idiot Money newsletter. This week, becoming wiser with money by understanding that you are the God-like creator of your financial world, and it’s much better to embrace this power than hide from it, including:

  • Why financial planning advice that doesn’t link back to your brain is selling you short.

  • Why paying attention to how you pay attention is the most important thing you can do.

  • Why successfully tackling your finances requires tackling your financial worldview.

You know money with only half a brain. And it’s the stupid half. This prevents you making more (a lot more) of your money. By mapping Iain McGilchrist’s work to our relationships with money in this series of short lessons I hope to both introduce you to the best non-fiction books I’ve ever read, and help you do something about this.

Typical financial planning focuses on half-brained hacks: clever tips, tricks, and tactics aimed at changing your financial behaviour. These quickly hit a limit of usefulness, and ultimately block you from making the most of the money in your life. The only way to transformative improvement in your finances has to start at the level of your financial worldview.

Whole-Brain Personal Finance, Lesson #1: If you want to make more of your money, you have to aim for brain-based worldview change, not action-based behaviour change

Imagine you are having a conversation with a close friend.

How’s your posture? Your tone of voice?

How do you react to compliments? To teasing? To a forthright critique of your life choices?

What messages are being sent by the micro-expressions of your face and the micro-gestures of your body?

How is the friend reacting to your reactions to them? Do those reactions alter how you react to them in turn, and so on, in a grand interdependent recursive dance?

Now imagine you are having a conversation with a child, or a pet, or your parents. How have you changed? Does your pet see the same you your parents do?

Now imagine you are about to have a conversation with a total stranger. You can choose to attend to this stranger in any way you like. Maybe like your mother, or a lost child, or a mortal enemy. Perhaps with suspicion. Perhaps with curiosity.

The way you choose to attend to them will shape your experience. You will, to some extent, find exactly what you go looking for.

When you’re smiling, the whole world smiles with you…

This isn’t just a cute thought experiment. It’s fundamental to understanding how you express and experience your reality, from how you talk to your cat or how you appreciate poetry to how you approach solving problems or how you define success.

And, of course, it’s fundamental to making the most of your money.

In McGilchrist’s words (my emphasis):

If you are my friend, the way in which I attend to you will be different from the way in which I would attend to you if you were my employer, my patient, the suspect in a crime I am investigating, my lover, my aunt, a body waiting to be dissected. In all these circumstances, except the last, you will also have a quite different experience not just of me, but of yourself: you would feel changed if I changed the type of my attention. And yet nothing objectively has changed.

Attention changes what kind of a thing comes into being for us: in that way it changes the world.

Approach a stranger with interest, and they will likely prove interesting. Approach them as your country’s Fascist newspaper of choice tells you to, and you will – in a sense as real as it is depressing – create a different world.

This is a self-reinforcing process.

How you attend to [the world] changes what it is you find there. What you find then governs the kind of attention you will think it appropriate to pay in the future. And so it is that the world you recognise (which will not be exactly the same as my world) is ‘firmed up’ – and brought into being.

The upshot of this is that paying attention to how you pay attention is just about the most important thing you can do.

And paying attention to how you pay attention to the thing – money – that directs more of your decisions than probably anything else, is the most important part of this most important thing.

I’m going to repeat that: paying attention to how you pay attention to money is the most important thing you can learn about personal finance. Nothing else comes close. And without it, everything else will prove of crushingly limited use.

And yet, as near as makes no difference, everybody neglects it.

The main thrust of my thesis is that money, thanks to the unique way it is woven into our daily decisions, is a great tool for helping us pay attention to how we pay attention, for examining our lives. This is why ‘attention’ appears in about one-third of the newsletters so far, and why it’s right at the start of the book.

And yet the vast majority of people, regardless of their wealth, act as if the role of money in their life is not as a means of examining it, but as an excuse not to.

Your relationship with money shapes the way in which you pay attention, which in turn shapes your reality: your relationships to yourself, others, and the world.

Understanding your understanding

I hope it’s not too controversial to suggest that understanding your financial world is pretty handy when it comes to making the most of the money in your life.

If how you attend to the world changes what you find there, then how you pay attention must be fundamentally linked to your understanding. Your attention constrains your understanding.

The way we typically attend to money constrains our understanding of it, which in turn prevents us from making the most of it.

We can only know the world as we have inevitably shaped it by the nature of our attention.

This is why all financial advice is utterly pointless if doesn’t fit with – and ideally help to refine – the patterns of thinking mapped in your brain.

And it’s why to become wiser with money you need to tackle money stuff at the level of your worldview, as opposed to fiddling about with finding your ‘number’, hot investment tips, or early retirement hacks, tempting as the certainty these sort of things are selling you can be.

As Richard Tarnas put it: ‘Our world view is not simply the way we look at the world […] world views create worlds.’

And here is the point: the characteristics of the world created by your left-hemisphere – the narrowly focused make-believe world of models that would rather deny reality than adjust its model when that model is shown to have limits, as, being a model, will always be the case – exactly match those of the world created by the typical way we interact with money.

You can faff about around the edges all you like.

You can draw up a more detailed plan.

You can use a more powerful calculator.

You can find a prettier chart-making machine.

But it’s all bunkum if you continue to attend to money in an idiotic way.

Which, given we – especially in the modern West – already live in a world that is increasingly subject to and screwed up by the shortcomings of a runaway left-hemisphere take on reality, you will.

Until you take conscious control. Until you pay attention to how you pay attention.

The case for this is colossal, but making it will take some time. I hope you’ll stick with me as we approach it from an array of angles, a few of which at least I’m confident will resonate in such a way, you’ll never look at – and attend to – your financial world in the same way again.

Next post in the Whole-Brain Personal Finance series:

page#83: How money hijacks your hierarchy of attention

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