Is it possible to use mindfulness to overcome financial stress in today’s harder economic environment?
Yes, at least that’s according to Harvard University social psychology professor Ellen Langer.
In an excerpt of her exclusive interview with Financial Mindfulness, and republished here with permission, Professor Langer explains what mindfulness is and isn’t and how we can use it to overcome money worries.
“Stress itself is mindless,” says Dr Langer. “What people are doing when they’re feeling very stressed and worrying about money, is being mindless.”
“Events themselves don’t cause stress, what causes stress is the view you take of an event,” she says adding that stress requires a belief that something bad is going to happen, which is illusory because we do not know the future.
Dr Langer says when you are feeling stressed about an event or even a financial situation, try to consider some reasons why something bad might not happen, and actually why something good may even eventuate.
“If you say ‘what are the advantages of it happening then you can see them – because there are always advantages. Then you end up in the position, maybe it will happen, maybe it won’t – and whatever happens, things will be fine.”
“So as an example, we go out for dinner, and the food is good – wonderful. But if we go out for dinner and the food is awful – wonderful, because I won’t eat so much, and presumably I won’t gain weight.”
When it comes to money, Dr Langer says being mindless buys you nothing, but being mindful brings perspective and relieves financial stress.
“Remember, being mindful about anything is literally and figuratively enlivening. Being mindless with respect to anything is holding the world still, when it’s naturally varying, so it buys you nothing.”
“The question seems to be, so what should people do because they’re so stressed about money? The stress is based on an assumption that they know something bad is going to happen. But you can’t know the future.”
“Sure, people think: ‘what if I lose my job? I’ll have to give up my job, I’ll have to give up the house and I won’t be able to feed my family!’”
“All of that is just guessing. If that person said to him or herself: ‘what are reasons I won’t lose my job?,” then the stress tends to dissipate. Some people are going to lose their job and worrying about it doesn’t buy you anything.”
“If there are things you can do to prevent losing it, do them.”
“Mindfulness is very different from meditation,” adds Dr Langer. Meditation is not mindfulness, meditation is a process, a program one goes through to achieve post meditative mindfulness.
“You can more easily work mindfulness into companies, schools and so on without people having to spend 20 minutes twice a day to meditate.”
“To be mindful is to stay aware of what’s going on, once you recognise that things are not always as thought, then you naturally stay tuned in.”
“It’s when you believe 1+1 always equals 2 and always will be, and can be nothing else that you don’t pay attention to the context.”
“So now every time someone asks how much is 1 and 1 you’re going to pay attention to the context, are they talking about piles of laundry?”