I wear many hats – advisor, leader, parent, spouse, son, board member and coach, among other things. Several years ago, after coming home to a very busy household after a long day of work, my wife proceeded to have a conversation with me about something important in her life. The only problem was that my mind was so busy thinking about a variety of things that had gone on that day that I failed to really hear and understand what she was saying. Although thinking deeply and frequently about things has generally helped me in life, in this instance, it was clear that it was keeping me from being present. Moreover, the ongoing chatter in my head, along with the barrage of news, tweets, social media and other distractions that we are all exposed to every day, was increasing my stress levels, hampering my focus and generally reducing my daily joy. Therefore, despite having no background in or understanding of how to meditate, I made my first attempt that evening. I locked myself in our spare bedroom, closed my eyes and proceeded to quiet my mind. Although I had no idea what I was doing, in retrospect, that was a life changing moment because meditation has become a regular part of my life and it has dramatically improved my effectiveness, awareness and enjoyment of life (although my wife might suggest that my listening still requires work!).
In addition to calming the mind, reducing stress and improving my patience, being more mindful has had some surprising benefits. For instance, I tend to notice changes in my health more easily, such as when I’m feeling tired, stressed or out of whack. As such, I have not been sick as often, and when I do become sick, I tend to get over it much more quickly. I have since learned through my advisory role at the Buck Institute on Aging, that meditation can help prevent Alzheimer’s disease – a nice side benefit. Lastly, as someone who is in meetings with clients and colleagues on a daily basis, it’s helped me be more focused, clear and present. This has undoubtedly led to better decision making. All in all, the benefits have been substantial.
While I’m not suggesting that meditation is for everyone, the concept of mindfulness can be very helpful in making sound financial decisions. For instance, as professionals we understand that discipline is critical to long-term investment and financial success. Investors who can stick to a long-term plan are more likely to grow their wealth and achieve their financial objectives. However, the world can often feel like a scary place and daily news reports, websites and tweets, only seek to inflame fears. It’s no wonder that many (and perhaps most) investors lose their discipline at one time or another, resulting in below average outcomes. Taking a step back and being clear and attuned to what’s happening can be enormously helpful in deciphering what is truly worth acting on and what is just noise.
Spending is another area of one’s financial life where mindfulness can come into play. We all make purchase decisions every day, many of which are either unnecessary or excessive. I’m not suggesting that you should become a spendthrift; rather, spending can be a very enjoyable part of life when we are aware of what we are doing. Simply being aware of your purchases will not only keep you on track towards your financial goals but you will enjoy what you do purchase a lot more.
If you’re interested in learning to meditate, I highly recommend several apps that are available on the iPhone (and presumably on other devices as well). I use a paid subscription called “Calm” that includes a variety of different meditations. You simply pick a meditation, pick the length of time, and listen to the guided meditation. Another app called “Relax and Rest” is quite solid and it is free. The common misconception about meditation is that you have to quiet your mind completely. The truth is that meditation is more about focusing on something (your breath, sounds around you, how your body is feeling, etc.) and trying to bring your attention back to that something once your mind races off in different directions I’ve found that simply doing meditations consistently over time yields enormous benefits even when I felt I wasn’t doing them well initially. Perfection is never attainable and meditation cannot be won.
Mindfulness might bring to mind the notion that ignorance is bliss (or perhaps the other way around). I have found that being mindful does not suggest hiding from reality; rather, it gives me a greater understanding and acceptance of what is real vs. the noise created by the activity of life. In this day and age, it seems to me that mindfulness will be an increasingly valuable skill, particularly when it comes to managing one’s finances.