Over three decades ago Professor Stephen Covey wrote the The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. This book, which presents powerful principles for personal change, has been read worldwide and is critically acclaimed. I found its focus on underlying principles, growing self-awareness and emphasis on empowerment tremendously convincing. In fact, the potential of Covey’s approach to provoke new thinking and encourage change is so persuasive that I am embarking on a series of blogs which apply his framework to my own professional interest and passion: behaviour and action around money.
This first blog draws on the inside-out chapter, where Professor Covey argues that our perceptions shape firstly how we see the world and secondly how we then go on to behave.
Our perceptions (or money maps of the world) are initially created through an intermingling of different influences. These include our home environment, our friendship and extended family networks, the social and economic milieu in which these networks reside and (possibly) innate biological drivers. As we grow and develop another potentiality is introduced - the opportunity to use our own agency to shift perceptions and create new ways (or money maps) of seeing the world.
This means your early experiences with money are important. What do you remember about money at home? To what degree was it openly discussed? Was it a source of harmony or conflict? Who did the spending? Try to stay away (or at least minimise) any judgement on yourself or your caregivers, just begin to honestly surface these memories.
Then consider your close friends and work colleagues. It is highly likely that they will also be influencing your money map. What lifestyle choices are they making? How is money spoken about amongst your friendship circle? How do you react when they speak about holiday plans, new car purchases or dining out stories?
Finally, think about the social and economic context. Continuing the map analogy, these play a powerful role in shaping the contours of our money maps. Substantial corporate resources are deployed to influence your spending behaviour. These also operate on family and friends, compounding their impact on your money map.
Just a quick thought experiment to explore your money map: look at the image below and imagine you received this cash in an envelope. Take a moment to think through how your money map shapes what you “see” and influences your behaviour.
How did you see this money? Is it an unexpected windfall that you will immediately spend, squirrel away in a savings account, pay off debt, invest in equities? How honest would you be about this unexpected cash coming into your life - might you keep it a secret and not let family and friends know? Or may you freely share it with others?
Your decisions are shaped by your money map.
But – and this is transformational - it is possible to make conscious choices which shape and re-shape your money map. First recognise, understand and accept your map. Second, take action which leads to effective change.
Professor Covey argues that our effectiveness is informed by what he calls ”principles of effective living”. These include fairness, integrity, honesty, dignity, being of service, quality, patience and realising our potential for growth.
Many of these principles are also applicable in the financial space. Being honest around money influences financial conversations with family and friends, integrity influences spending decisions, being of service shapes career choices, patience plays a role in long term financial planning and personal growth allows the conscious control of money.
These character-based principles have the potential to create powerful money habits and decisions. Moving away from instant money fixes like speculating, day trading and lotto spending and instead making more mature money choices.
Developing such money maturity will take time and likely require patience, calmness and attentiveness. These offer a pathway to challenging deep money emotions, such as jealousy, acquisitiveness and ambition.
The first step is to recognise the powerful emotional drivers around money. Not judge, just recognise. Then think carefully about how you see money – often perception is the problem. For example, if someone sees money as crucial to status then it is possible to get in debt by over-spending. A quick fix technique might involve going on a strict money diet, cutting up credit cards and avoiding shops. But until the underlying emotional drivers around status anxiety are recognised and worked through, historic spending patterns will return.
This is where a shift in money paradigm becomes possible. Start to think “What are my perceptions around money?” “How do I see it and how do I use it?”
Use sound money principles to change financial habits from, as Professor Covey, would say, the inside-out rather than outside-in. Habits formed by external drivers such as marketing, peer pressure and so on lead to outside-in decision making. Taking control and making conscious money decisions means you are operating from the inside-out.
Such shifts are not easy, but as Roosevelt said, “nothing worth having comes easy”.
Look out for my next blog in this Positive Money Habits series and if you want to carry on the conversation, drop me an email.
Dr George Callaghan