Sunel's Blog | What brushing your teeth and money have in common

Sunél Veldtman, | 29 July 2022

Have you ever noticed the exact order of your actions when brushing your teeth? Do you first open the tap, or do you unscrew the lid of the toothpaste? And have you ever tried to change this routine that you do repeatedly without conscious thought?

I have been trying to change the order in which I brush my teeth so I can conserve water.  It is a change in ritual, and it is proving to be difficult. I now have to be present and mindful when I brush my teeth. I’ve come to realise how often I do this task with my mind elsewhere (apparently this is really bad for your memory!)

I now have to consciously think about something that I have automatically done for decades. Why?  So that I can relearn the order of things. So I can reach my desired outcome – to conserve water.

My difficulty in changing this routine reminds me of the struggle to change money beliefs. In a recent client review conversation, a successful entrepreneur discussed his difficulty with accepting that there was enough money to slow down. Enough to relax a little, or even contemplate early retirement. We had on numerous attempts shown that he had enough money, likely even under the most difficult circumstances.  But it had not led to any change in behaviour. He still worked gruelling hours and expected the same of his staff. He still hadn’t found satisfactory support for his business and struggled to delegate.  All of which limited the financial growth he so desired.

When we unpacked his behaviour, we traced it back to a deep fear of not having enough.  We realised that he lived with a belief that he should be responsible, and that any slowdown would be irresponsible. Responsibility was thus the safeguard against not having enough.

This belief permeated every aspect of his life and had consequences. He could not spend enough time with family and friends. He often neglected exercise and other healthy habits like sleep. He rarely took a holiday and teetered on the verge of burnout.

One of his biggest dreams was to spend more time horse riding. But it couldn’t become a reality because he was a prisoner to his belief about responsibility. He couldn’t create the time and conditions for him to contemplate the commitment to horse riding.

Like the habit of brushing teeth, beliefs are often formed as a result of repetition. However, the root of the belief is typically a traumatic event - like bankruptcy in the family or a severe drought on a family farm.  These events are defining because they colour the lens through which an individual sees and experiences the world.  The coloured lenses also contribute to the repeated confirmation of an experience.  It is this repetition that grows a belief.

Our client sees that he needs to change and wants to change. Yet, he finds it almost impossible, because our brains become comfortable with our beliefs.  Beliefs which exist largely to protect us. Our client's beliefs led to his financial security.  He had been protected by his beliefs so far.  And his beliefs had proven his desired outcome.  To now change that is near impossible.

Change will only happen when his current reality becomes so painful, that he is forced to change. He may have a breakdown, or his spouse may walk out. Or he can consciously choose change.

It means that he must become mindful of his actions, just like I am doing with brushing my teeth.  And mindful of where his money beliefs result in unhealthy behaviours. Then he must repeatedly choose to alter his behaviour. Starting, for example, by limiting work to 10 hours a day by setting an alarm. He may ask his staff or family to help him by stating his intentions.

He may also need trauma therapy. Sometimes we have to convince our brains that change is safe and in our best long-term interest!

When our money beliefs are harmful, they don’t just result in poor financial decisions. They also drive a wide range of behaviours.  These impact our relationships, achievements, and eventually our ability to give back or feel that we are supported by the world.

Perhaps a good way to tackle money beliefs is to be reminded of them when we brush our teeth.

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Kind regards,