What is the question
The other day Mrs. T and I were talking about our financial independence journey and how far we’ve come since our financial epiphany. During our conversation, I kept talking about our future and what I’d love to do once we are financially independent.
“Why can’t we do these things now? You wrote a post about it, remember? And why keep looking forward to the future? What about enjoy the present moment here and now? What about spending time with the kids now? They don’t stay this young forever.”
She’s totally right! Although I write about these philosophical posts, from time to time, I am guilty of not following my own advice! As I started to think about living in the present, I couldn’t help but go back and re-read a post I wrote over four years ago. In fact, I thought the post was so great as a reminder, I figure I’d re-post it.
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 experience, past successes, and past failures. We are a creature 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 decision or approach 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. 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 experience also develops our habits, whether good or bad ones. Our decision making, habits, 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. It is also why some of us have a clear view of retirement planning, yet some of us are muddy when it comes to that topic. All our past experiences, past successes, and past failures all help to 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’re defined by who you are right now? Imagine that you still have all the knowledge that you have accumulated in your lifetime so far but without having any past experience, past judgments, past belief systems, and past limitations. What would you do differently tomorrow? None of your decision or belief system will be based on your past experience. You will base all your decisions on your current belief system. You’ll be living as if you’re a new person without any past.
Given this new opportunity, what would you do about your personal finances? What would you do with your retirement planning or financial independence journey? Does this fresh and new outlook greatly change how you view your future?
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 will no longer see investing in the stock markets as a gamble.
Perhaps you no longer believe that you need to work your way up the corporate ladder.
Perhaps you will develop a sound investment strategy and be successful in executing the strategy.
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).
Have -> Do -> Be
Unfortunately many of us fall into this fallacy. 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). 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 house.
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 up ourselves. Hence the term mid-life crisis toy. 🙂
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 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 purchase items not due to necessity bur rather habits and wants. The line between wants and needs begins to shift and soon enough we cannot clearly differentiate the two.
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 with, 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 well being 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 what we want to do. Because 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 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.
Because 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. Which in the end is really just peace and 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. 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 looking 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.
When you ponder 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 feel stressed 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 to 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 my customer’s 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, 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 vacation, when I was away from work, I was constantly thinking about work, thinking about the what if’s. I was not able to relax at all.
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 if’s and stopped thinking about the potential problems in the future. I stopped thinking about how my customers would react to my emails or how many emails I was going to see in my inbox each morning. I stopped thinking about the weekly calls with my customers. I was practice 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 be 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.
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? 🙂