Saying you are going to do something is easy. Actually doing it is another thing altogether. How many times have you set a goal for yourself and then just not been able to reach it? Have you thought about what is keeping you from losing that weight, getting that raise or hitting those new sales targets at work, improving your marriage, buying that dream house, or even accomplishing your life’s purpose? We all carry “backpacks” stuffed with heavy emotional “rocks” collected over our lifetimes. Those backpacks, with those rocks, weigh us down and make it harder and harder for us to reach our goals and achieve our life’s purpose.
“How much does your life weigh? Imagine for a second that you’re carrying a backpack. I want you to feel the straps on your shoulders. … Do you feel the straps cutting into your shoulders? All those negotiations and arguments, and secrets and compromises. You don’t need to carry all that weight. Why don’t you set that bag down?”
– George Clooney, as Ryan Bingham in Up in the Air
As a certified financial counselor and coach, I see the effects of these “rocks” on people all the time. Their past decisions and current habits weigh them down. Rocks filled with financial stress, emotional stress, relationship stress, and physical stress fill their backpack. They struggle to see a clear path to their goals while staring at their feet with the backpack straps cutting into their shoulders. All of us have some rocks in that proverbial backpack. In my experience, individuals and couples are carrying financial stress if they are experiencing any of the following:
- Arguing over finances – the leading cause of relationship issues and divorce.
- Are “broke” all the time – 75 percent of Americans live paycheck to paycheck.
- Have overwhelming personal debt – Utahns rank the 10th worst in the nation for total personal debt and have an average of over $31,100 in student loans.
- Have no money for emergencies – 69 percent of Americans have less than $1000 in the bank and cannot pay for a simple emergency like new brakes for the car.
- Cannot retire – over half of Americans over 55 years old have zero retirement savings.
- Are physically or emotionally ill – financial stress causes significant health and emotional issues, including anxiety, depression, alcohol/substance abuse and, sadly, suicide.
- Not performing on the job – employees with financial stress are 11 times more likely to have sleepless nights, 10 times more likely to not finish daily tasks at work and 2 times more likely to be looking for a new job.
- Simply do not know what to do – financially stressed people face embarrassment, humiliation, shame, and fear as they struggle to communicate with their spouses, to pay the bills, to reply to creditors, to set realistic goals and save for the future.
Personal Finance is 80% behavior related and only 20% head knowledge. Overcoming financial stress is rarely about simply making more money, finding a better interest rate, or finally using the company’s 401 (K) match. While those are good things, they do not address the root causes of stress. Overcoming financial stress is about understanding and changing behaviors and habits with money. Individuals and couples who successfully toss the financial stress out of their backpacks have learned:
- How to understand and acknowledge the root causes of their financial stress.
- How to communicate better about money and financial matters.
- How to set aside the cultural money messages for a moment and focus on what is important to them and their families in order to plan and set goals for the future.
- How to budget and live within their means, to save for emergencies, and to get rid of suffocating personal debt including student loans.
- How to save for retirement, fund their children’s future education, buy a house, and live their American Dream.
People who have no financial stress walk taller with a lighter backpack, have their eyes off the ground and up above the horizon, and enjoy their life’s journey toward their goals and dreams. Their relationships improve, their health improves, their job performance improves, and their outlook on life improves. Tuning out the cultural messages and focusing on one’s personal financial situation can be really hard to do. If you are sick and tired of being sick and tired about money and financial stress, consider seeking professional financial counseling and coaching to help get you started and pointed in the right direction.
About the Author
Don Hickman is a Dave Ramsey Certified Master Financial Coach and owns/operates A Helping Hand Financial Coaching along with Hickman Group, LLC (Business Consulting). He has helped 100s of people and small businesses find financial peace. He served in the Air Force for over 25 years before retiring as a Colonel in 2012. Don serves on multiple northern Utah non-profit Boards and is a volunteer with the US Paralympic Nordic Ski Team. He lives a life of purpose, including checking off his bucket list. One of those bucket list items was trekking in Nepal. In 2012, Don spent two months collecting vital field research data on the Himalayan glaciers nearby Mount Everest with a team from the University of Colorado.
Pictured on the left: The author on Kala Patthar with Mount Everest in the background. (November 2012)
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