Tuesday, September 22, 2015

What is Living in The Forest of Your Mind?

This morning while walking through a part of the forest covered in a thick dark tangle of brush, I heard the sound of an animal off to my left. It was too big to be a squirrel and it was close to the trail. Quicker than the speed of thought my lizard brain asked my higher brain, “Should I prepare to fight or should I run away?”

My higher brain began to create stories. First it told me the sound was probably just a deer, but it quickly added, “What if it is a bear?” For just a instant I felt a wave of fear. Then it subsided as I continued down the trail.

I will never know what was hiding only a few feet away from where I was standing. Most likely, the creature was telling herself stories about the bad intentions of the big man, “He has stopped and turned towards me. Is he getting ready to pounce?”

It wasn’t totally ridiculous. I have seen a bear perhaps twelve miles from where I was standing. Bears have been spotted on the mountain that is less than five miles away. However, this experience did cause me to ponder the value of some of stories that I tell myself, particularly the ones I choose to believe.

We are all limited by the stories we choose to believe. Our failures or our unwillingness to try to change always come with a story. We didn’t have enough money. We had a bad husband. We didn’t have a good enough education to get into the college of our choice. The evil bankers ruined the economy, so we can’t find good jobs.

Telling yourself what you don’t have--never helps. Telling yourself what you can’t do-never helps. Nobody cares what you don’t have or what you can’t do. What you can’t do or what you don’t have is never going to improve your financial situation or any other challenge you face.

Instead try telling yourself a different kind of story. I finally started walking on a regular basis after years of telling myself what I couldn’t do due to the limitations of a old lower back injury, arthritic knees, and a heart arrhythmia. One morning during my final vacation before retirement, in a moment of sheer frustration I told myself, “You can walk around the block.” So that is what I did. Fairly soon after that, I was walking 2.5 miles a day. Then I stalled out at that level for a year or more. Finally my daily totals started creeping up. Today I am walking 5.25 miles on most days, although sometimes I stop at 4.25 miles.

No matter how bad your financial situation, there is something you can do to make it better. Maybe you could sell something to raise a little cash. Maybe you could find a crummy part time job delivering pizzas. That is better than nothing. You aren’t going to hear this from many personal finance authors, but maybe you could apply for Government assistance. No one wants to stay on food stamps for the rest of their lives, but if you are in trouble that is why the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) exists. You and your family have paid taxes to support others. If you need a little help don’t be ashamed to take what the law provides for your benefit.

Just don’t let the thought of a bear in the forest stop you from going out for a morning walk. Ninety nine times out of hundred, the bear isn’t there. If the bear is there, chances are he isn’t any more interested in causing you any problems than you are in causing him any problems.

If you really have a bear infestation in your neighborhood, buy a shotgun. Just don’t let the bears (real or imagined) ruin your life.

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