Why What You Think Is What You Get
"In a few minutes," I say, "I am going to ask you to mill around the room carrying your money in your hands. When you are face-to-face with another person, you are either going to give or receive money. If you're the giver, decide whether you want to give some or all of your money away, at which point you will say, 'I'd like you to have this.' If you are the receiver, you are going to take the money and say, "Thank you. I appreciate it." When you come face-to-face with your next partner, you are going to go through the whole process again. Before we actually do the exercise, I'd like you to imagine that the exercise is over and you're back in your seats. Tell me about the cash you have in your hands at the end: Is it more or less than what you started with?"
A 30-year-old named Catherine says, "I will end up with less because I have to. I will feel terrible if I end up with more than I started with. In fact, I will feel terrible if I end up with more than anyone else."
I notice one of my longtime students walking to the back of the room as she nonchalantly stuffs money into her bra. No one can see her but me, since they are all looking toward the front of the room, but since this too is part of the pattern we are exploring I imagine that Marion believes she has no other choice.
According to psychiatrist David Krueger, author of The Secret Language of Money, we understand situations by giving them meaning. And the meaning we give them is in the creation of beliefs—which, once formed, become the template for how we see ourselves and how we behave. We then spend the rest of our lives acting as if our subjective beliefs—I am dumb/lazy/unlovable, I will never have enough, money corrupts, rich women are bitchy—were reality itself. We believe that the way we see our situations is the Way Things Are; there is no other way. And our actions proceed accordingly.
Why it's important to deconstruct your deepest beliefs
Catherine says, "It ended up just as I thought it would: I have less than anyone else, less than I started with. I can breathe again."
"I ended up with more than I started with, and I feel antsy, like I have to give it away quickly. It's what I do with my money in real life. I have it but can't hold on to it—I fritter it away on expensive things that, when all is said and done, are meaningless to me."
As we talked about what happened during the exercise, it was apparent that their beliefs about money were expressions of what they believed they were allowed or not allowed to have in the rest of their lives. Their predictions about what would happen were almost exact descriptions of what actually happened.
It is impossible to replace one set of beliefs with another by only using what the New Age movement has labeled "Affirmations." You can repeat "I am lovable" a thousand times a day, you can sing it to yourself when you go to sleep and think about it the minute you open your eyes, but if an earlier belief or conviction of being unlovable is installed in your psyche, you will be wasting your time because you won't believe yourself. If you don't do the actual work of deconstructing your fundamental beliefs, the affirmations have no place to land or stick; they won't work.
It wasn't until we lost our savings to Bernie Madoff that I first understood what I believed about money. I watched my father lie, cheat and steal. I watched my mother spend outrageous amounts of money to get back at him. I saw how he used money to wield power over my mother, my brother and me. I felt humiliated by my desire to have his love, get his money and stockpile things.
How your money beliefs create your reality
But I was also acting on another core and seemingly conflicting money belief: that there wasn't—and would never be—enough. Enough love, enough money, enough rest, enough food. The frenzied hunger for more was part of the air I breathed as a child, and I did a valiant job of carrying on the pattern as an adult.
It has always been true that you act according to your beliefs and, since the way you act has consequences, your beliefs manifest in the world through various situations. When you act out your beliefs, you see the results of your actions everywhere.
Geneen Roth has appeared on many national television shows, including The Oprah Winfrey Show, 20/20, The NBC Nightly News, The View and Good Morning America. Her work has appeared in numerous publications, including O, The Oprah Magazine, Cosmopolitan, Time, Elle, The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune and a regular contributor for Good Housekeeping. She's the author of nine books, including The New York Times best-seller Women, Food and God: An Unexpected Path to Almost Everything. Her newest book is Lost and Found: Unexpected Revelations About Food and Money.
What's Really Eating You?
What your cravings can tell you about what you really want
How to find the hidden gifts (even when the worst happens)
What are you hungry for? Hint: It's not food