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Archive for July, 2010

Financial Planning

Tuesday, July 27th, 2010

As a kid, it was how many weeks of allowance would buy what you yearned for. But as you move through life, the complexities of financial planning increase. That’s not bad, just something to be aware of.

It’s hard to know how much is “enough” for what might come along after you stop working. And it’s hard not to get sucked into valuing yourself by the number of digits in your investment account–if you have one–once work no longer provides an identity.  But if you have determined what’s enough and are fortunate enough to have more than that, why are you sitting on the rest?

Those of us over 50 hold over 75% of all the financial assets in the US. What are we doing with that?

I’m not stumping for the non-profits with that question. It’s a quality of life issue that each of us answers a different way.  Those answers depend on the money available, sure.  But the effectiveness of these decisions also depends how well we assess our priorities as we make money decisions.

Are you telling yourself you “don’t need” that new furniture  you really want when there’s money available for it? When you do that, you’re living from a scarcity mentality that impoverishes your whole life.

The flip side of this issue deserves a good look, too. Do you need to get your teeth fixed but can’t because you “don’t have the money for it”–while you continue to smoke or head for the casino three nights a week?  It’s all too easy to make decisions based on childish emotions or miserly adult ways when neither serves you well.

These aspects of financial planning are important to consider no matter how much or how little money you have to work with.  “How much” isn’t the operative phrase here.  “How well” works better.  As in “How well will doing this meet my needs?”

I grew up in a large family that didn’t have money to spare. ” We just did things a bit differently than some of the other families in the neighborhood. Mom made the soup we ate. (We naively assumed Campbell’s was a luxury.) We created many of our toys and came up with our own games complete with rules. The Mother Lode in all that is that every single one of us is creative as an adult–in how we decorate our homes, how we solve our problems, how we live our lives.   Our parents blessed us with wisdom on how to use our money well rather than savvy on how to amass a lot of it.

Financial planning is not just a matter of “having enough money.” It’s about balancing what you have with what you believe in and want to do–whether it’s a world cruise, starting an heirloom vegetable seed business, funding a school in a Third World village, or treating yourself to a cookie.

Give yourself the gift of good thought in all this. it’s not about how much money you have. It’s a about what you choose and how it enhances your life.

It’s What You’re THINKING That Matters

Thursday, July 8th, 2010

Well-being is more dependent on the way you see things than most of us realize.  Being mindful instead of letting someone else’s labels define you, your health, your challenges, even your strengths can make a major difference in the quality of your life.

At the moment, I’m into Ellen Langer’s book Counterclockwise:  Mindful Health and the Power of Possibility.  This isn’t a New Age exhortation to do affirmations and expect blessings.  Langer is a social psychologist who’s been researching the mind/body link scientifically for decades.  She and her students at Harvard have done study after study with amazing results about the power of little things that are conveyed in words.

In the study for which the book was titled, they took groups of nursing home men on a weeklong retreat where they recreated the year 1959.  One group of men was treated as if it were that time.  The other was asked to reminisce about that year while the same music, movies, etc. played.

Both groups came out of the experience with their hearing and memory improved.  On many measurable dimensions, they “got younger.”  Astounding results, to be sure.  But even more amazing, those who actually re-lived the year improved more than the others–on intelligence tests, posture, gait, height and weight.   Photos of them taken at the end of the week were judged by people unaware of the study to be younger than the ones taken at the beginning of the week.

In Langer’s words, “It is not primarily our physical selves that limit us, but rather our mindset about our physical limits.”  What are you doing about that?  What are you thinking?

Henry Ford’s famous quote, “Whether you think you can or whether you think you can’t, you’re right.” is another way to consider this phenomenon.  We set ourselves up to succeed or stumble, sail through challenges or become chronically ill with what we tell ourselves.  That’s why some people can live through Dachau and some have a heart attack just dealing with traffic on Monday morning.

One of the places that has a lot of potential for a better life is how we perceive control.  Are you the only one who knows the right way to do things?  Does everyone else need your perspective to get things done?  That’s not reality, but some of us take on a lot of stress assuming that.

How about the opposite—where you assume you have no control?  If you tell yourself that someone else has to make you happy, improve your work situation, help you eat better, or make you lose weight, you’re eliminating the one person who can really make any of those things happen—YOU.

The truth is, you don’t have all the control and never will.  But you do have more than “none.”  All of us do.

Another perspective that works against our well-being is the idea that aging is linear and inevitable.  Once one piece of your body starts to have problems, the rest will follow.  The path is inalterable.  Studies support that people who see health problems as a temporary blip recover better than those who see their illness as the first step in the staircase down to total infirmity.

Even though social scientists confirm the importance of consciously choosing how we see the world and our place in it, it’s not that easy.  The vast majority of the images and ideas we hear, watch, and relate to are mind-numbing and contagious.  Each of us is different in many, many ways.  But it’s natural for a society to expect similarities.  You have to be your own watchdog on this.  Forgetting one person’s name doesn’t mean your memory is gone.  Many older people remember more than those two generations younger.  (My dad could still tell you the names of the guys he served with in WWII when he was 84.)

The mind-body link is a huge piece of good health.  Much of modern medicine ignores it. Society ignores it.  That doesn’t mean you have to.  Pay attention to what you are telling yourself all day every day.  Get rid of the junk that implies “less than,” “unable,” or “decline.”  It’s far worse for you than a greasy burger with fries and a giant milkshake.


Freedom — To THINK, To Act on Principle

Thursday, July 1st, 2010

Our right to freedom in the US is broader than carrying guns and assemblying to protest or support something.    We also have freedom of information and freedom to pursue what we believe in.  What do we do with all that?

It’s too easy as Americans to equate our beautiful right to the freedoms we enjoy as citizens with a “don’t fence me in” attitude.  I can be what I want and do what I want (as long as I do no harm) and that’s it.   The “I can be me” of it is just the start though.  How good a “me” can you be?  In the US, we have a lot of protection for taking ourselves to the top.

But to the top of what?  Too often lately, it’s been to the top story of greed or petty bickering, to the top of who makes the most as a CEO or sports figure, to the top of what a nun I had in 7th grade aptly termed “a manure pile.”  None of that stuff is worth the effort to get it in the long run.

Here in the US, we can do more than that.  As a nation, we’re languishing because we’re not.  If we want to truly be Americans, then it’s time to accept that sometimes life is hard and that blaming someone else instead of dealing with it is cowardly.  We need to get off this bickering kick in the halls of decision-making and get serious about finding solutions.  “My” way only works when you’re the only one involved in the situation.  “Our” way is always the product of negotiation, good will, and respect–and a desire to get on with what needs to be done.

Nothing in our Constitution holds holy our right to be right.  That document–and everything this country is built on–comes instead from our right to do right.

The next time you decide someone else is wrong, remember this.  Find a solution not a fight over who’s gonna win the right to be right.