“Denial isn’t just a river in Egypt.”
There was once a time when I pretty much turned a blind eye to what was happening with my personal finances. Well, I didn’t turn a blind eye. I at least paid the minimum payment on my credit card and invested money in my IRAs, but I wasn’t nearly as diligent about keeping my affairs in order as I could or should have been.
Part of the reasoning behind my poor behavior was because I was living in Germany, and Monkey Brain kept telling me that I was only going to be there one time, so I needed to live it up while I could.
For those of you who are new here, Monkey Brain is what I call the limbic system. There are two main thinking parts of your brain. The prefrontal cortex, or Thinking You, is the one that is responsible for making you a higher order of species than the rest of the animal kingdom. It is like the responsible person in a bachelor party – the one that is supposed to make sure that everyone gets home safely and doesn’t have too many scrapes, bruises, and lurid stories. The prefrontal cortex actually thinks and cares about the future. Without the prefrontal cortex, you wouldn’t have literature, music, or reality TV.
The other main system in the brain is the limbic system. The limbic system was predominant when we lived in caves and chased woolly mammoths. It is quick, emotional, and almost entirely unconcerned with anything more than a few minutes into the future. It wants pleasure, and it wants pleasure now, so it affects your actions by whispering sweet little nothings into your ear, and subjecting you to all sorts of behavioral biases that convince you that you can’t live without that man cave or those Jimmy Choo shoes right now.
When I was younger and carefree, Monkey Brain was strong within me. He would portray my situation as me versus them, with them being people who wanted me to be responsible with my money so that I couldn’t do what I wanted to do. It wasn’t like I didn’t have pangs of remorse, guilt, and outright questioning myself for my behavior when I’d open up those credit card bills with ever-increasing balances. I’d wonder if maybe it was time for an intervention when Monkey Brain would figuratively pipe up:
MONKEY BRAIN: “NO! BEING RESPONSIBLE MEAN NO FUN. LIFE BORING!”
Me: “You’re right. I can’t have fun unless I’m spending every last dollar I have in credit! Charge it!”
I had the wrong mindset. I was framing my choices in terms of denial. To live responsibly, I felt like I had to give something up.
As we saw in “Why Denying Yourself Doesn’t Work in Diets or in Personal Finance,” denial is the wrong approach.
Plus, it’s the incorrect approach.