Whether you’re pulling your hair out because you can’t seem to save enough money for your emergency fund or you’re having a hard time dealing with your significant other’s spending habits, various types of money anxiety can be triggered by what one expert labels as “thinking traps.”
These traps are part of a new psychological philosophy and stress management program called “meQuilibrium,” based on 15 years of research by psychologist Andrew Shatté, Ph.D., the author of “The Resilience Factor: Seven Essential Skills For Overcoming Life’s Inevitable Obstacles.”
The goal of his philosophy? To help people change negative thinking patterns, reduce stress and find more balance in life.
Below, Shatté shares six common thinking traps when it comes to money and your mind. See if you recognize any of them and read on to figure out how to retrain your brain (it’s not as hard as you think!).
Thinking Trap #1: Personalizing or Externalizing
What It Is: When a financial problem arises, you either think that it’s completely due to something that you did (personalizing), or you blame everyone around you (externalizing) instead of taking responsibility yourself.
For example, if you were to lose out on a promotion at work, you might be tempted to attribute that to your own weaknesses or solely to the unique talents of the person who got the gig. According to Shatté, these are extreme ways to think about the event. Not to sound like Goldilocks, but this all-or-nothing approach isn’t usually accurate—and you don’t always have a window into why the decision went the way it did, so don’t form conclusions without accurate data.
How to Stop: If you tend to personalize, says Shatté, it’s also easy to “catastrophize” the situation. You know what that looks like: “I always blow opportunities.” “I’ll never get ahead.”
However, one rejection doesn’t mean you’re never going to be successful. First, ask yourself if you’re blowing this into a bigger deal than this is, and if you’re doing some extreme self-blaming, ask yourself what you’d tell a friend who had this happen to him.
Admit to yourself that you can’t know that it was “all your fault”—or even a direct result of something you’ve done. “What did others do to contribute to this?” is another question Shatté recommends. Maybe there was a purely political reason someone else got the promotion instead.
Picture this: It’s 3:00 a.m. You wake up because there have been rumors that your company is downsizing.
If you tend to externalize, on the other hand, use the opposite strategy. Ask yourself: “What might I have done to contribute to this?” It can be hard info to look at, so writing it down may be helpful. Also try approaching the question from the perspective of someone else (say, your boss), and see what comes up. For best results, leave your list alone for a couple of days and come back to it in a couple of days when you can be more objective.
Thinking Trap #2: Magnifying and Minimizing
What It Is: “There’s a human tendency to magnify the bad and minimize the good. We are drawn to the negative,” says Shatté. Let’s say that you’re trying to save $500 per month for two years, and that the money will go toward a down payment on a future home. After three months, you find yourself focusing on the $10,500 that’s left to go and feeling overwhelmed. You might sigh and think: “I’ll never get there.”
How to Stop: Instead of focusing on the daunting, big-picture goal ahead, think about the $1,500 that you’ve already put away. The result? Rather than feel worried about the future, you’ll feel proud of the progress you’ve made. In fact, the best way to make progress is simply to get started with a good habit, and you already have.
But keep in mind that we’re actually hard-wired to give up just when we’re about to meet with success: In fact, a recent University of Pennsylvania study showed that often, the longer you pursue a goal, the farther away it seems, which can lead you to get sidetracked or to give up—even if you’re close to reaching the finish line.