Remember your childhood, when it was easy to believe you could be anything? Maybe you wanted to be an astronaut, or a ballerina. Maybe you loved to pretend you were a doctor – or even the president of the United States! Wow! Of course, you were only 6 years old and didn’t know how to become those things, but that didn’t stop you from believing you could.
Then … well … life, right?
Over years and decades we can not only lose sight of our dreams, but also belief in ourselves to achieve them. Eventually, for many of us, we “settle” for what life has decided to give to us. It’s good enough. In fact, we wouldn’t even consider having the *audacity* to call a dream a goal.
I’ve given up on many big dreams in my life. Some I just stopped believing in, others I stopped believing in myself. Doubt followed by disappointment followed by failure … it can really do a number on your self-confidence.
But I want to share with you something truly amazing that I’ve recently discovered. And it’s not backed by just feelings or opinion, but science. Despite your circumstances, your past mistakes, your current situation – you really do have everything you need to reach your financial goals. By learning how to change your mindset, you can change your life.
But let’s start with where you might be at right now.
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Your brain doesn’t want you to change your mindset
When you stop believing in yourself and your own abilities, other areas of your life start to suffer as well. How you relate to your spouse, how you parent your kids, your performance at your job – how about why you chose that job.
Do you feel like you limit yourself to the safe choices in life? Do you believe that where you’re at is “good enough”? Maybe you even think where you’re at is as good as it’s going to get for you.
You’re not fulfilled, but that’s life, right? You have responsibilities, bills, kids, and hey – you’re not getting any younger. Some trains have left the station and aren’t coming back. You’ll just have to do with what you have, and you can live with that. It is what it is.
If I could put percentages on it, I would guesstimate that 88% of my beliefs reside in the “suck it up” category. Suck it up and just do what you gotta do – this is life!
But the other 12%? That small piece of my brain pie is saying something different. It’s very faint, almost a whisper. Sometimes I think it’s just a distant memory from my more optimistic youth. And yet, I feel encouraged by it, even elevated. It motivates me to expand my vision and challenge that other 88%.
I used to chalk it up to a persistent case of wishful thinking.
But then I learned that there are two areas of the brain that often work against each other. One part tries to keep you safe in your comfort zone, and another is activated when you start thinking you might want to go beyond the zone – you know, take some risks, dream big, believe there’s more to life! When these areas are both engaged, there’s a mental tug of war going on inside your head.
Many times, the comfort zone wins.
Your brain does want you to stay in your comfort zone
Have you ever experienced the difficulty and frustration with trying to create a new habit? Of course you have! Because it’s the same for a lot of people – you create a new goal, you write out a plan, you have every good intention of following through, and then … well … you don’t.
You’ll be happy to know that it isn’t just about being lazy or not motivated enough. You can partially blame your amygdala on this one.
amygdala: collection of brain cells where emotions are given meaning, remembered, and attached to associations and responses to them.
There is a section of your brain called the amygdala. In very basic terms, one of its functions is to keep you safe. To do this, it acts like an alarm system for intruders like Fear, Anxiety, Risk and Danger. When a threat is detected, your amygdala sets off the alarm and engages either the fight or flight response.
This can be something as serious as running out of a burning building, or as subtle as not raising your hand in class to volunteer. Both are risky situations, and both will set off the alarm.
But here’s the thing – the brain can interpret anything that challenges your status quo – in other words, *change* – as a threat. Some examples could be:
- looking for a better job to replace your crummy one
- learning a new skill to generate more income
- going back to school for that advanced degree
- even creating financial goals that seem impossible to reach right now
The amygdala tries to keep you in your comfort zone because that’s the safest place to be. Thank you amygdala, you’ve been doing an excellent job my entire life!
However, it can sometimes be like an insecure and controlling friend who wants you to stay exactly the same and never make any new friends.
Which means you can’t always rely on it to have your best interest in mind (*pun intended*).
Thankfully, there’s another part of the brain called the pre-frontal cortex that gives you the ability to make decisions, problem-solve, exert self-control, and act on long-term goals. It’s where creativity and big vision are born, and is your best friend when you’re learning how to change your mindset.
The tricky thing is that the amygdala doesn’t like this kind of fancy pants thinking – it’s too risky to have long-term goals! what if you don’t achieve them! you’re not smart/creative/skilled/etc enough! abort! abort!
And this, my friend, is where excuses are born.
pre-frontal cortex: area of the brain considered to orchestrate thoughts and actions in accordance with internal goals.
To reach your financial goals – *heck*, to even make those financial goals – you need to teach your pre-frontal cortex how to override your brain’s security alarm. This is part of how to change your mindset.
I’ll give you some ideas later in this post, but first let’s go over two mindsets that influence your relationship with money. One is based on fear, the other on faith.
If you’re currently living paycheck to paycheck then you could be filtering your thoughts through the first one, the scarcity mindset.
The Scarcity Mindset: fear of never enough
The scarcity mentality carries the false belief that there will never be enough – this can mean money, food, love, friendships, opportunities, etc. This sounds extreme but it shows up subtly in that 5% tip, or filling up your tank only halfway, or not inviting friends over for dinner because you can’t afford the extra groceries. Maybe you quietly judge your friend for buying a bigger house. Perhaps you convince yourself that nobody’s interested in making new friends at your age so there’s no point in reaching out.
Can I just make a confession right now that I’m guilty of all the above?
But it doesn’t stop there. Operating out of a context of lack can have major repercussions on more substantial decisions. Like staying with your low-paying, unfulfilling job because it’s safe and the best you’re going to find. Or not investing some of your savings because you’re afraid you’re going to lose it. Also believing you’re too old to go back to school, or start a new business, or save for that dream vacation – there just isn’t enough time or money.
Kinda sounding like the amygdala is hard at work, right?
Now, you may be thinking “I don’t have anything extra to invest!” or “I’m deep in debt and can’t afford to go on vacation!” And to that I say I’m right there with ya. I mean, just *thinking* I have more than I do doesn’t put money in the bank, right?
But wait – there’s more…
According to an article on Psychology Today, when our minds are convinced that our material resources are scarce, our cognitive resources become strained. These brain-based skills are necessary to make good choices, but when we are under stress they can become unstable and this leads to a failure of our self-control.
When you perceive that you are broke, and you believe there is little you can afford, then you feel you must deny yourself the comforts of life. And the longer you try to resist these temptations, the weaker your willpower becomes – until eventually you end up impulsively charging that big ticket Amazon wish list item you’ve been drooling over for months. Felt good, right? Until you get the bill – then you tell yourself (again) that you’re stronger than the credit card and the cycle repeats.
But let’s not stop there.
On top of that guilt-ridden poop pile you can heap on the inability to keep your future in perspective. This is because the scarcity mindset keeps your focus locked in to what’s going on today – those decisions staring you in the face *right now* that can derail your future goals because immediate benefits take priority.
When our cognitive resources are zapped, we’re unable to plan effectively for the future and resist the temptations in the present. In other words, stress impacts our ability to make good decisions. Can anyone say maxed out credit card?
Honestly, the cynicism that is inherent in a scarcity mindset would be trying to convince me that all this mumbo jumbo might apply to some people, but not to me! I have self-control and I can reach my own financial goals with my own willpower, thank you very much!
Except one thing.
All of this describes me to a tee.
Living paycheck to paycheck? Check.
Holding back on the tithe? Check.
More focused on my current debt than my financial goals? Check.
Afraid to start investing some of my savings? Checkity check check.
I could go on but I won’t bore you.
So … the question is – am I doomed to stay stuck in the scarcity mindset, or can I choose to challenge my thinking and actually increase that 12% of my brain pie? Can I really change my mindset?
Turns out there’s a word for that 12% – it’s called the abundance mindset – and it’s pretty simple to make it bigger. (But that doesn’t mean it’s *easy*.)
The Abundance Mindset: there’s plenty to go around
Stephen Covey, the author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, coined the term “abundance mentality”. He defined it as ”a concept in which a person believes there are enough resources and successes to share with others.”
Well this doesn’t sound too tough to live by, especially in America. I don’t fear running out of water, or gasoline, or food. And I’m not afraid that success is limited to only the lucky few. So how does it apply to me?
The trick here is recognizing the gap between saying you believe something and actually aligning your actions with those beliefs.
Do I believe there are opportunities to generate more income? Sure.
But will I actually take action and do it? Eeehhh … probably no.
Why not? Don’t have the extra time. Don’t have any skills. Don’t have the gas money. Yada yada yada.
So what would I end up doing? Tighten my budget instead. Cut out all the fun stuff. Put off that family vacation. Scrimp and save what I can.
The abundance mindset is growth-oriented. Instead of holding on to as much money as I can because I’m afraid I’m going to run out, I could think of money as a plentiful resource that is available to anyone who makes it a priority to generate more income.
With a scarcity mindset, I can think that I’m stuck in my current financial situation and I just “have to live with it”. It’s a fixed thought structure that limits my belief in what’s possible.
But – because I have a pre-frontal cortex on my side – I can adjust my thinking so I believe that I’m capable of growing, changing, learning from mistakes – and ultimately making more money.
When I shift my thinking and change my mindset, I suddenly open myself up to opportunity and can see all the open doors around me instead of closed ones.
It has less to do with our circumstances and more to do with our thoughts towards those circumstances. And that’s great news, because I don’t always have control over what life throws at me, but I *always* have control of how I respond to it! This is how to change your mindset.
Again, it’s a simple adjustment but not necessarily easy. Just like we have habits with our actions, we also have habitual thought patterns that take intentional effort to change.
This is where the pre-frontal cortex comes in handy.
Mind the gap
The pre-frontal cortex – or PFC, as we’ll affectionately call it – can be activated in that gap between knowledge (stimuli) and action (response).
In every gap between what we know and what we do we’re faced with a choice. For example, between knowing you have a good idea and actually sharing it with your boss, you have the choice to speak up or stay silent. Maybe you have a habitual thought loop that automatically tells you to keep your ideas to yourself because they’re silly. You don’t even stop to challenge this thought because it’s been on auto-pilot for so long, you don’t realize you have a choice.
Likewise, if you filter through a scarcity mindset, your mind might be looping the false belief that you are stuck in your debt, stuck in your low paying job, and stuck in worry and hopelessness about your financial situation. You believe your only choice is to stay in your low paying job, keep cutting corners where you can, deny yourself any of the pleasures in life, and keep taking that medication for your anxiety.
We have to be purposeful about the gap. Recognize when your circumstances are controlling your thoughts and emotions and ultimately your actions. Remember you have a choice for which thoughts to believe in.
When you challenge those limiting beliefs, you’re turning on the switch to your PFC. Every time you do this, your brain gets used to new thought patterns, quieting your brain’s security alarm. When you’re intentional about switching to an abundance mindset, more productive thoughts become the norm and are no longer considered a threat.
And get this – your PFC actually gets larger! The more you engage your pre-frontal cortex, the bigger it gets, the stronger it gets, and the more it wins at tug of war!
Isn’t that amazing??!
Of course, the amygdala is still going to put up a fight and convince you to stay in your comfort zone. That’s why it’s crucial, once you’ve activated your PFC, to be intentional with how you want to use it.
- Do you want to stop believing you are stuck in your current situation? Start envisioning a new reality for yourself.
- Are you tired of living paycheck to paycheck? Remember you have the capacity to increase your income.
- Are you overcome with everything that’s wrong in your life? Focus on those things that are going right, and capitalize on your strengths.
- Do you wish you didn’t always feel deprived of what you can’t afford? Keep a gratitude journal and write in it daily what you are grateful for.
Basically, for every negative and limiting belief that triggers an action (or lack of action), replace it with a positive and proactive counter thought.
With time and effort, those ambitious financial goals will actually become *part* of your comfort zone. They will be a normal way of thinking and believing.
So make those goals BIG! If you’re going to rewire your brain – which you can start doing today – why not widen those boundaries as far as you can and believe you can achieve the most compelling life possible? If you’re going to do the work to change your mindset, go big or go home.
How to change your mindset and reach your goals, starting today
Remember those cognitive resources I talked about before? It’s important to remember that while your old, negative, limiting thought patterns are still in charge, your good-decision-making abilities are going to be tested. It’s not going to be easy to change beliefs that are deeply entrenched in your mind. You’ll need to be consistent, patient, intentional and strategic. So start today!
To be intentional about changing your mindset, you’ll need to heighten your awareness of what stimuli triggers your emotions to go south. When you notice doubt, worry, anxiety, or anger taking over, have a plan to switch gears – from the amygdala to the PFC.
- Keep your financial goals on your phone so it’s easily accessible wherever you are.
- Create a vision board and hang it somewhere you’ll see throughout your day.
- Have a list of affirmations handy, or your gratitude journal available wherever you go.
- Get your phone out and listen to one of those motivational podcasts you subscribed to.
- Take time every day to read books that are inspiring and challenging.
- Pull out a pen and write down everything going well in your life right now.
- Keep track of your net income to stay on target
- Remind yourself that you are not defined by nor stuck in your present circumstances. There are unlimited opportunities for you to create the life you want!
- Most importantly, remember you have everything you need to reach your goals and be successful – and it all starts with your thoughts!
The more you engage your PFC, the stronger it becomes and the more influence it has on your beliefs and ultimately your actions. You can change the way you think – and that’s where it all begins.
When you have an abundance mindset, your thoughts are focused on what is possible, your vision is expanded to the opportunities that are available to you, and you strengthen your beliefs in your own abilities.
When your thoughts and beliefs inspire you to dust off those big dreams and give them a new name – GOALS – then your actions will start to align with what you value and you’ll be *crushing* it in no time! This is when changing your mindset changes your life.
In a nutshell
We are all faced with challenges. Life can unexpectedly throw us for a loop sometimes and it feels like we’re on a perpetual rollercoaster. Many times we can just feel out of control and hopeless.
I want to encourage you to challenge those limiting beliefs that hold you back. A belief is something you choose for yourself. A thought is just that – a thought. It’s not a fact and it’s not permanent.
Specifically, when it comes to your finances, switching from a scarcity to an abundance mindset will literally and positively have a “growth” effect on your financial goals. You will start to grow closer to achieving them, and you’ll even start to make them bigger than you would have dared before.
You can learn how to change your mindset. You don’t have control of your circumstances, and you don’t have control over results. But you do have control over your thoughts and actions, and this makes all the difference.
I’d love to hear some of your “mental” strategies for reaching your financial goals! Leave them in the comments for those who are still “stuck in the rut” and want to get out!
Other posts you may enjoy:
- Money Values: How To Align Your Priorities With Your Spending
- 9 Powerful Benefits of Setting Financial Goals
- How To Create Lasting Habits For Powerful Life Change
- The Mexican Fisherman: 5 Powerful Lessons To Live By
- The One Thing Book Review: Going Small Leads To Big Results
- 5 Ways Limiting Beliefs Harm Us
- 5 Money Lessons I Wish My Parents Had Taught Me
- 4 Disguised Fears Holding You Back From Achieving Your Goals
- How To Meet Your Future Self and Change Your Life
- A Willingness To Change: Here’s the How & the Why