Although a lot of the claims being made about mindfulness these days can sound like hype, it works for a reason.
When we become aware of what’s really going on in our minds and bodies and step back from the need to immediately change it, we create an opportunity to respond intentionally and effectively.
That applies to managing your money, too.
In her book, “The Art of Money,” financial therapist Bari Tessler explains how to heal the painful relationship with money that many of us have, and learn new practical and emotional tools for handling it.
One of those tools is something Tessler calls ‘the body check-in.’
Tessler recommends doing a body check-in whenever you interact with money in any way. That can include paying for things at a store, having a conversation about money with a partner or parent, checking your account balance, or any other situation in which you need to think about money.
A check-in involves six steps:
- Pause what you’re doing. Take a moment to turn your attention inward.
- Take a few deep, slow breaths. You can close your eyes if it feels right.
- Try to be open and curious about what’s going on for you. Without passing judgment or trying to change anything, start to notice the feelings and sensations that come up. Notice physical sensations, like the feel of your clothes on your body or the way your back presses up on your chair. Notice your breath.
- Now turn your attention to the emotions you’re feeling. See if you can name them, and notice how and where you feel them in your body. Is there a knot in your stomach? Are your teeth clenched in frustration or anxiety? Let yourself be aware of these feelings without trying to change them.
- Pay attention to your thoughts, including memories, mental images, or self-talk. Are you criticizing yourself for not paying attention well enough? Notice that thought too, and let it float by.
- Now, if you’d like, you can change the way your body is working right now. You might release a part of your body that’s holding tension, or deepen your breath. You don’t have to change anything if you don’t want to — just notice.
A body check-in can take 30 seconds or 30 minutes, depending on what you need and how comfortable you are with meditation. It’s okay if yours is more toward the 30-second end of that spectrum.
It may seem like a lot to do this every time you interact with money, but as you practice it, it’ll become second nature. And being aware of how you feel, physically and mentally, can help you make better financial decisions.
Here are a few ways:
As Tessler discusses in her book, many people grow up with some sort of shame around money — and that’s not limited to people who come from impoverished or disadvantaged backgrounds.
Even if you grew up in a financially comfortable home, your parents may not have, and may have passed along some of their money shame to you.
Unexamined shame can drive a lot of impulsive or unintentional financial decisions that we look back on later with even more shame. Bringing that shame into the light helps it dissipate and creates space to make decisions that are more in line with our values and goals.
Suppose you receive a medical bill in the mail. Before opening it, you do a body check-in and notice how much anxiety has suddenly come up for you.
During your check-in, you identify thoughts like, “I could just throw this into the trash,” or “I wish I could run away and pretend this never happened.”
Maybe now you understand a bit better why you keep procrastinating on calling the hospital billing department and asking about financial assistance. Although it may seem like naming the anxiety you feel doesn’t change anything about your situation, it does.
The simple act of naming feelings helps them seem more manageable.
That doesn’t magically erase your medical debt, of course, but it can empower you to make that phone call you’ve been avoiding and get yourself on a payment plan.
While waiting in line at Best Buy to pay for your new laptop, you do a body check-in and identify feelings of pride, excitement, and anticipation. But if you take a moment to look deeper into these feelings, you might realize that there’s more to it than that.
Maybe you’re proud of having saved up for something nice when saving has always been a challenge for you. Maybe having a laptop that can run the photo editing software you need will allow you to finally get your photography business off the ground.
Our feelings around earning, spending, and saving money can have a lot to tell us about what really matters, and where we should focus our energy next.
Of course, ‘money mindfulness’ won’t magically solve debt, poverty, or a society with rising income inequality. The point of tools like the body check-in isn’t necessarily to “fix” any particular financial problem. It’s to learn more about yourself and to get better at coping with difficult thoughts and feelings.
That way, when there is something you could be doing better with money, you’re more likely to figure it out. And when there isn’t, you can practice self-compassion and let go of shame for things that are out of your control.
Miri Mogilevsky is a writer, teacher, and practicing therapist in Columbus, Ohio. Miri holds a BA in psychology from Northwestern University and a Masters in Social Work from Columbia University. In October 2017, Miri was diagnosed with stage-2a breast cancer and completed treatment in spring 2018. Besides cancer, Miri also writes about mental health, queer identity, safer sex and consent, and gardening.