We usually turn to a vice when our thoughts seem dangerous on a subconscious level. Recognizing such a vice helps us learn important things about our behavior.
Have you ever been browsing an all-you-can eat buffet, presented with a plethora of healthy and unhealthy choices? Salad or pizza. Green beans or french fries. How do your choices play out in these situations? I know how it usually ends up for me.
Pretty often, money is to my mind as pizza is to a salad: An unhealthy distraction. It becomes a vice to help me avoid facing other things that are on my mind. Paying attention to this tendency helps me push through things I resist, which are usually the most important things.
Understanding how I use money as a vice helps me to prioritize what matters.
A vice is usually concrete
Money is concrete, and it’s universally agreed upon. If I hand you a $10 bill, there’s no doubt that it exists, and there’s no disagreement about what it is. “Yeah, that’s $10.”
This easy-to-grasp, universally understood nature of money makes it easy to latch onto. Our brains can identify and process it with minimal effort. Therefore, money is always there (even — and especially — if it’s not).
Here’s what I mean:
Do rich people think about money? Hell yes!
Do broke people think about money? Hell yes!
Does a middle class family with working parents and kids at home think about money? Hell yes!
Money is behind the scenes of every decision every person makes. To buy a house, take a job, go to grad school, have children. In large part, that’s because money is concrete and universally agreed upon.
We know the costs associated with doing certain things. We understand how those costs impact our quality of life. Money is so concrete, that our understanding of it is implicit.
The mind, on the other hand, is anything but concrete. It’s amorphous and ever changing, sometimes impossible to understand.
Mental issues that aren’t dealt with can destroy quality of life. But these issues are tough to pin down and process. They are so abstract that, at times, we flat-out deny they exist at all.
When my mind gets loud, I think about money
Due to the abstract nature of the mind, when it gets loud, it’s natural to resist it. It’s easy to distract ourselves with something that’s decidedly not abstract. We all have vices for situations like this, and one of my vices is money.
If I don’t like what my mind has to say in the morning, I think about money. When I’m unsure what to do next, I think about money. If I’m feeling uneasy about the future, I think about money. When I think about freedom and achieving my dreams, I think about money.
I count it, analyze it, move it around. Multiply and divide it. Track it, chart it, and graph it. Then, I read and write about it.
What’s that famous Snoop Dogg line? Mind on my money and my money on my mind. Yeah, something like that.
I’m currently sitting in a cafe writing this. Before getting here, I was managing my money. I had to shut the computer and leave the apartment before I convinced myself not to. I recognize the OCD tendencies here, and I’m working on dealing with them. It’s not easy to admit to this level of obsession.
A vice distracts from our struggles
The reason I think so much about money is because it’s concrete, and it’s something I’m good at. I’m proud of my financial accomplishments; they’ve allowed me to take risks I’d have never thought possible. I’ve absorbed so much information about personal finance that I’m confident in using my knowledge to help others.
There’s no doubt in my mind that I kick ass at money.
But this is an exception to the rule, because there aren’t many things I think I’m good at.
I’ve struggled with anxiety most of my life; it has driven many of my past decisions. Anxiety drove my desire to escape my job last year. It kick-started my interest in personal finance in the first place, because I saw money as an escape from the sources of my anxiety. This was an inaccurate projection, of course.
Anxiety hinders my ability to write consistently, to engage with the blogging community, and to share my work. I have a hard time feeling like my output is enough in both quality and quantity. I have difficulty believing I’m not awkward or annoying to whoever I’m engaging with.
I acknowledge these struggles, so I make a point to celebrate every small accomplishment.
Did I share something I wrote with my social networks? I celebrate it.
Did I tweet out a podcast I was featured on? I celebrate it.
Did I comment on someone’s blog to share my insight or story? I celebrate it.
Did I request a meeting with someone I respect immensely? I celebrate it.
Celebrating these accomplishments, no matter how small they may be, gives me momentum to keep going.
What’s your buffer of choice?
Understanding how I think about money has helped me realize it’s a buffer from the things that make me uncomfortable. My mind is drawn to money like a magnet when it senses danger in whatever else it’s doing — such as trying to create.
But it wasn’t easy to give myself the space needed to acknowledge this.
(Unrelated: The term ‘buffer of choice’ reminded me of this song)
In a distracted world, it’s harder to pay attention to the mind than it is to not pay attention. We face so much competition for our attention, that we forget to acknowledge ourselves. Just have a look around next time you are in line for coffee or waiting for the train. Notice what everyone is doing.
But paying attention is the most important work to be done. The accumulation of dollars won’t solve problems of discontent, even if watching said accumulation provides a respite from it. Paying attention to what’s deeply engrained in us is the only thing that will help us understand who we are.
This doesn’t apply just to money mindset, it applies to anything that can serve as a distraciton from what matters.
Only when we pay attention can we move confidently in the direction we want to go.
Why am I sharing all of this today? I’m not seeking sympathy or feeling sorry for myself. I’m sharing because it’s powerful to acknowledge our shortcomings so that we can push through them.
We all have vices; money happens to be one of mine. We all have struggles that are difficult to admit to; anxiety happens to be one of mine.
Paying attention to how we interact with our vices can provide the information needed to stay in check. Paying attention to our struggles can provide a glimpse into the inner-workings of our minds. It can shine a light on the things we work harder to avoid than to confront.
I love money, and that won’t change. I’m not claiming to be better off without it. Nor am I diminishing the power it has to influence my life and my time.
My attitude towards money simply needs to be controlled. When something becomes a roadblock to general productivity, or when it becomes a distraction from more difficult things, that’s a problem.
Do you have a vice that distract you from focusing on what matters? What’s one thing you can do today to diminish the power of that vice?