Have you ever thought about what defines who you are? Why do we do things in a certain way? Why are some of us spenders? Why do some of us have a candid ability to find a high savings rate no matter what our incomes are? We are who we are today because of our past experiences, past successes, and past failures. We are creatures of habits, our past experience governs how we view things and how we make decisions in the future.
We are who we are today because we learn from our past. We base our decisions on things that we learned in the past. If there’s something new that we’re not familiar with, we immediately go through our past experience and try to find something similar and apply the same approach or decision making process that we did in the past. If our past approach or decision led us to a failure, we would apply a different approach, hoping to end up with a better outcome. Learning from our past is an excellent approach if we do indeed learn from it. As we gain more and more experiences, we hope to make better and better decisions. Unfortunately, from time to time we end up repeating our own history and not learning from our past. So we keep repeating the same mistakes over and over. Our past experiences also develop our habits, whether they are good or bad ones. Our decision making, our habits, and our logical approach to things, all decide who we are.
From a personal finance point of view, this is why some of us are spenders and some of us are savers. It is also why some of us are conservative with our investment strategies while some of us are aggressive with our investment strategies. Some are comfortable buying on margin or utilizing Smith Manoeuvre to accelerate their net worth growth. Some are not comfortable with the idea of borrowing to invest, no matter how safe it is. It is also why some of us have a clear view of financial independence retire early, yet some of us are muddy when it comes to that topic. All our past experiences, past successes, and past failures help define how we view things in our lives.
What happens if we do not have a past?
Imagine who you are right now at this very moment. What would you do if you were defined by who you are right at this very moment? Imagine that you still have all the knowledge that you have accumulated in your lifetime so far but without having any past experiences, past judgments, past belief system, and past limitations. What would you do differently starting from this very moment?
Without any past experiences, your decision making process and belief system will be entirely different. You will view this world differently. You will be living as if you’re a new person without any past and without any bias you may have developed because of your past experiences.
Given this new opportunity, what would you do about your personal finances? What would you do with your financial independence journey and retirement planning? Does this fresh and new outlook greatly change how you view your future? Does it make you feel excited?
Perhaps you are no longer tied to the idea that you need to work until 65 or later before you can retire.
Perhaps you are no longer afraid to start a business and become an entrepreneur.
Perhaps you are no longer afraid of making mistakes.
Perhaps you will no longer see investing in the stock markets as a gamble.
Perhaps you will develop a sound investment strategy and be successful in executing the strategy, rather than jumping back and forth between strategies.
Perhaps you no longer believe that you need to work your way up the corporate ladder.
Perhaps you will learn how to read and analyze quarterly and annual reports to aid you in making investment decisions.
Perhaps you will learn to be appreciative of life and value quality time with friends and family.
Perhaps you will start a budget system.
Perhaps you will appreciate the finer things in life and stop worrying about the small things.
Perhaps you will not be afraid to take some calculated risk occasionally.
Perhaps you will understand what makes you happy and content in life.
Perhaps you will start to pay yourself first.
Perhaps I….(fill in the blank).
By not letting your past dictate your future, the possibilities are endless.
Have -> Do -> Be
For many of us, we believe the Have-Do-Be, trajectory of life. But in fact, I think the Have, Do, Be is a fallacy and we can get trapped in believing in it. We are wired to believe that we need to have something first in order to do what we want to do, so we can be who we want to be (happy).
In other words, we tell ourselves that when I Have ___, then I will do what I want to Do, then I’ll Be happy. This results in the need for a new laptop, a shiny new car, a new iPhone, extra money, or a bigger house. Everything we do can only start if we have a certain item first. We must attain these items or we cannot get to the next step.
Once we have the items that we think we need, we can go to the next step of doing what we want to do. The new laptop means that we can start our online business; the shiny new car means that we can now go to work, the new iPhone means that we can now keep in touch with friends; the extra money we have on the side means that we can finally go towards saving for retirement; that bigger house means that we can finally host friends or family for an extended stay in our home.
Once we can do what we want to do, we think this will lead us to happiness. Or so we think! This fallacy results in the endless cycle of acquiring things in order to achieve happiness. For example, we may feel depressed that we’re turning 40 and that the world is crumbling down. So, to solve this depressive feeling, we buy ourselves luxury sports cars to cheer ourselves up. Hence the term mid-life crisis toy. 🙂
Ever wonder how we get into the never-ending rat race?
We make excuses to ourselves that we cannot do something unless we own certain material things. We slap limitations on our forehead so that it is all we can see. All we can see are the limitations instead of the unlimited possibilities. Without the access to these “necessary” items, we feel that we can never be who we want to be in life. We’re always going around in the roundabout and can never get out of it. Over time we lose our sense of contentment. We no longer have a clear sense of truth and we cannot differentiate between necessities and wants. We eventually become the mindless machine that purchases items not due to necessity, but rather because of habits and wants. The line between wants and needs begins to shift and soon enough we cannot clearly differentiate the two.
Ask yourself, can you really differentiate between your wants and needs anymore? Do you really need that smartphone that you touch every five minutes? Or is all you really need a basic phone that allows you to talk and text somehow? Are all of the extras that the smartphone provides simply wants?
We spend most of our income trying to acquire things in order to achieve happiness. Don’t have the money? Put it on the credit card and pay the minimum payment each month. Someone we know has a vacation home and seems successful – why don’t we copy exactly what they do by taking out a loan to purchase a vacation home that we can’t afford? That will for sure make us happy, right?
In this life path, we are always chasing that next new shiny thing. We are comparing ourselves with our neighbours, friends, and strangers. We feel that we cannot do anything in life because we haven’t accumulated sufficient things. So, we continue the never-ending binge shopping and never really end up where we want to be.
Be -> Do -> Have
Instead of the Have -> Do -> Be path, what we really should be following in life is the Be -> Do -> Have path. To start, we should be happy and content with ourselves right now at this moment. Happiness should not be externally driven. We need to be happy with ourselves and realize that other people or things cannot make us happy. Sure, people and things can give us a boost of a warm cuddly fuzzy feeling, but this doesn’t create true happiness. We have the ultimate power of our own wellbeing and how we feel. We should be in control over how we feel and not let external factors control how we feel. Once we are in a state of happiness, we are content with what we do in our lives. Be appreciative of who we are and how fortunate we are to still be alive today.
When we are happy and content with ourselves, this is when we can do whatever we want to do. Since we’re already content with our lives, we are empowering and allowing ourselves to do things without judging ourselves or allowing others to judge us. Because our belief system has changed, we no longer fall for the “keeping up with the Joneses” fatuousness. We no longer care what others think about us or how others judge us based on our appearances or how we live our lives. We do things because we want to, not because we need to please others. Our actions are no longer governed by an end result, or trying to achieve something. We do things because we truly want to do something and because we enjoy the process.
Since we no longer put emphasis on what we must have in order to achieve happiness, we feel abundance already, and things will appear into our lives automatically. When we can truly be ourselves, we can do anything we want in life and through that we can have anything that we need. When it boils down to it, it’s just pure peace and limitless love.
The looking forward symptom
We are always “looking forward” to something. We look forward to Fridays; we look forward to weekends; we look forward to our next vacation.
I think this is the wrong way to approach life. We need to approach life differently.
I believe what we should do instead is be present and be appreciative of what we have now. How do you know that you’ll still be alive 10 years from now, 1 year from now, 3 months from now, 2 weeks from now, or even tomorrow? We don’t know this and we cannot be certain. It’s a probability calculation when you think about it.
If we are constantly looking forward to something, we begin to ignore what’s going on in front of us. Have a little baby that needs his or her parents constantly? The parents probably are looking forward to this baby growing up and being more independent. But what the parents do not realize, is that this baby will not stay this little forever. The parents must cherish the special moments while the baby is small. Similarly, we may not appreciate spending time with our parents and instead look forward to having our own time. But what we do not realize is that one day our parents will not be with us anymore. By then it will be too late for us to wish to spend more time with them.
Constantly looking forward to something typically results in us regretting something later, because we ignore what is accessible right in front of us until it’s too late.
The stress factor
When you think for a few minutes, it may become obvious that this forward looking symptom is the main contributor to stress. Stress is really something that comes from our minds. We are stressed out because we’re looking toward the future and worrying about what’s going to happen. We, as humans, have a tendency to think too much about the future. In our heads, we think about what’s going to happen tomorrow, we think about what we need to do at work, we think about what tasks we need to complete, we think about who we need to talk to, and so on and so on. We are too busy looking forward into the future that we are ignoring what’s in front of us and what’s happening in our lives right at this moment.
I work in the high tech field so I have been dealing with extremely aggressive project schedules and face demanding customers on a daily basis. Many years ago I was constantly looking forward to the weekend, just so I don’t have to deal with the chaos at work. During the weekend, I was too busy complaining about work. I would think about what’s going to happen if I didn’t answer customers’ urgent emails. Would the project schedule be delayed? Would the customer give my manager an angry phone call because I didn’t respond in a timely manner? While I enjoyed my job and what I do, I would worry about the different project deadlines and absolutely dreading talking to customers on our weekly calls. I was a miserable SOB before the call and by the end of the call I felt like the world was about to end. I was stressed out about work. Although I looked forward to the weekends or a vacation, I found that when I was actually on vacation and away from work, I was constantly thinking about work – thinking about the what ifs. I was not able to relax at all.
It was absolutely miserable and I hated it.
On being present
Instead of looking forward to the future, I learned to start practicing being present and living in the moment. I learned that I do need to consider and plan for the future but focus on what’s happening right now. I stopped thinking about the what ifs and stopped thinking about the potential problems in the future. I stopped thinking about how my customers would react to my emails or the number of emails I was going to see in my inbox each morning. I stopped thinking about the weekly calls with my customers. I was practicing being present and living in the moment. When I started doing this, my stress level began to drop and I became a much happier person.
So instead of worrying about things in your head (they aren’t real!!) all the time and being stressed out about it, give that all up and start living in the present. Start enjoying the small things in life and cherish those precious moments like waking up in the morning feeling refreshed and still alive, giving your spouse or significant other a gentle kiss, seeing your kid(s) smiling at you, or having an awesome conversation with your co-workers.
Please take the time to think about how you are approaching your life. Learn from your past but do not let your past govern your future life. Follow the Be -> Do -> Have path. And most importantly, live in the moment, be present, and do consider and plan for the future.
Are you present right now as you are reading this post? 🙂