Remember the concept of the 10,000 year old brain? 10,000 years ago, we would probably know about 200 people over the course of our lives, we were pretty much going to marry an extended family member, and the role someone was going to play in life was assigned at birth. (That is, assuming you made it through childhood–even 200 years ago, around 40% of children did not live past age five.)
The general point here is this: Our brains are adapted to a world of scarcity. We have a scarcity mindset because our brains are still stuck in a world in which there were lots of bad things happening but not a whole lot of “big picture” decisions to make. You didn’t waste time deciding on a career, or how to invest for a “retirement” you were never going to live to see. And you didn’t have to figure out how to deal with faceless bureaucracies or economic systems. You knew the people you dealt with and you knew them well. Danger was immediate and often deadly.
And in this world of 10,000 years ago, this world that our brains still sort of live in, emotions that we often now call negative were absolutely necessary. Fear? Fear kept you safe. Fear kept you alive. Anger? Anger protected you from your enemies when you had to fight–or at least make a convincing show that you could. The problem is that today, when our literal survival is rarely at stake, many of our emotional responses are still fight, flight or freeze responses. We deal with small interpersonal conflicts as if they are life-and-death confrontations. (Think of road rage.)
Just like anger and fear, the scarcity mindset made sense to our ancestors. There weren’t any supermarkets 10,000 years ago. There was no refrigeration. If you got the meat, you’d better eat it now. Whatever was available to consume right at the moment, that was probably the moment to consume it. There were some benefits, of course, to delaying satisfaction, but nothing like the benefits we enjoy today. Today, you are more likely to die from complications from eating too much than eating too little.
And on top of everything else, 10,000 years ago, nearly all of the time, if you got a little more, it means someone else got a little less. Your position on the social totem pole determined whether you got the little more, or the little less.
When we go into scarcity mode about money, it’s not “stupid” or even wrong. It’s just outdated. So when you wonder why it is that you can’t stop yourself from wasting money on foolish pleasures or pointless attempts to impress people, just remember that decisions that make no sense now might have made sense 10,000 years ago. It’s easier to change when you see yourself as needing to move forward from an outdated perspective than it is if you call yourself foolish or dumb.
In any case, it’s time now to move from scarcity to abundance, to move from survival mode to value creation, and to leave the paycheck to paycheck life far behind.
Remember that we all make decisions with our emotions, and that to change your mindset about money you are going to have to honestly deal with your emotional responses to money.
End envy by going after what you really want.
Remember that the actual experience of happiness is not easily predictable, but you have people whose experience you can learn from.
Achieve small victories and celebrate them.
Put yourself in situations where you won’t be tempted, and maximize your decision-making capacity.
And finally, let go. Let go of that scarcity mentality by letting go of everything you don’t need that’s holding you back. Give stuff away. Fold up your old clothes, thank them for helping you out, and let them go. As your behaviors change, let go of your old self just like you let go of your old clothes. It helped you out once. Now it’s time to move on.
Remember that you are pretty much the average of the five people you associate with most. As you continue to let go, be open to new associations and new possibilities.
Living within your means will buy you two things that no purchase can promise: security and freedom. It’s hard to describe just how much better life is without financial stress. You deserve that life.