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In Stumbling Upon Happiness, author Daniel Gilbert explains a few fundamental characteristics of how the human brain works. He completes the sentence The human being is the only animal that ______, by filling in “thinks about the future.” He indicates that the brain is an anticipation machine and its ability to “make” the future is the most important thing it does. The skill of expecting something next is a uniquely human tool.
In tandem with the faculty of expectation, our minds are built to exercise control.
This was a revealing point for me, and certainly explains a lot. My brain is wired to be in control, and that’s that. I don’t even like riding in the passenger seat. Not controlling the speed of the car and the braking gets my stress juices flowing. Even worse, if it’s not my car, I don’t decide when I can leave. There’s the anticipation factor working its way in. Not only do I struggle with not driving, I am thinking about when the drive home will occur.
I also excel as a project manager. I like to call the shots and make decisions, directing adjustments along the way, and finding solutions.
Gilbert writes of research that shows when humans are robbed of their ability to control a situation they may become unhappy, helpless, hopeless, and depressed. Studies conducted with nursing home residents had some unfortunate end results, but nonetheless, unequivocally proved the concept. These elderly folks were given several scenarios where they were told they could or could not influence the situation. The group with control were happier and healthier than those that were deprived of decision making. A higher percentage of individuals in the no-decision group met their demise over the residents that were able to manipulate their situation. Not having control actually caused death. That’s quite an impact.
Furthermore, the satisfaction aspect of control sometimes causes individuals to believe that they can produce a certain outcome, even against tremendous odds. Gambling is a good example of this. Everyone thinks they’re going to come out the winner, right?
The act of exerting control elicits a gratification effect that’s pleasing to the brain. There’s a spectrum of contentment and happiness that’s associated with the ability to pull the strings. This is evident when one considers the mentality of the clinically depressed. The loss of control is typically a perception of depressed individuals. See how this can add to your mental well-being?
Crossover to Financial Goals
When creating financial goals, use these tricks to your advantage. Because we already have innate imagination and control skills to draw on, why not stretch them? When the control muscle is exercised, your mental health is positively impacted. The simple act of performing an activity and seeing the results guarantees strong vibes of achievement, that’s how the brain rocks. Behavior follows thought process, therefore, once you establish a deliberate thought pattern for your money goals, your actions will gravitate toward it.
All you need to do is create a list of the end results you intend for your financial position and give it some energy.
Do a Mind Dump of Your Money Goals
This doesn’t have to be fancy, but the more precise you are, the better it will work. If you have to start vague, at least start. Jot a few things down, walk away from the list and come back in a few hours. Let your ideas simmer. Later, try to be more precise. For example, instead of “I want to retire and travel,” change it to “I want to take one cruise every year.” By narrowing down your idea of what travel means to you, you can integrate the cost of a cruise into your estimated retirement expenses to make it a reality.
Play Captain of Your Ship
You can steer your ship any way you want. Apply the anticipation concept by stepping into the future to give yourself a clear vision. Have some fun with this, really let your imagination go for it.
Control What You Can
Some people have a misguided notion that they can’t control anything. There might be things that you have no influence over, so focus on the things that you can control. The stock market, layoffs, and others’ opinions are a few of the things that you can’t change. But steering your thoughts to plan, save, and spend wisely, are within your control.
How would you apply your control skills?