Are you telling yourself a money story or a money fact?

Distinguishing between story and fact is an important skill to develop if you’re frequently worried about money.

Worry is a projection of fear into the future. And fear is natural. It’s an innate instinct designed to keep you safe by alerting you to danger so you can take action. The problem comes when one worry leads to another. Once you’re caught in this circular loop, your imagination runs wild and it’s difficult to get out.

This is where you’re most prone to engage in unproductive self-soothing rituals, such as overspending, overeating or mindless scrolling. This provides momentary relief yet it does nothing to solve the issue. In fact, it often makes matters worse.

You know this isn’t helpful, but you just can’t stop it.

Out of Your Mind

This happens because your brain processes feelings (worry, regret, anger) in one area, and executive functions (logic, ability to problem solve) in a different area. Only one of these areas can be active at any given time. So when your feelings are intense, they override your ability to think logically and plan. You are literally out of your (thinking) mind.

A quick way to stop ruminating and regain control is to write down what you are thinking. List all the things you’re telling yourself in that moment. (If your thoughts aren’t immediately clear, then tune into what you are feeling. This will lead you to the thought behind it.)

Next, ask yourself whether this thought is a factual statement or a money story. A factual statement involves only facts and is happening right now. Stories involve exaggerations, predictions or things that you cannot know for certain to be true.

Story vs. Fact

For every money story you find, write down the corresponding fact. Some examples include:

Story – I am going to be living on the street.
Fact – I do not have the cash to pay my rent today.

Story – I will never be able to retire.
Fact – I am currently not on track to retire comfortably.

Story – I’ll never be able to find another job at my age.
Fact – I am unemployed and over 60 years old.

Why should you care about being stuck in a fear-based story? Because it prevents you from finding a solution. For example, if you tell yourself the money story that you will never be able to find another job, then you will likely project a negative attitude which will make it more difficult. You may even give up, leaving you feeling helpless.

Recognizing the facts (I am unemployed and over 60 years old) returns you to your thinking brain, where you are able to think logically, brainstorm ideas, seek resources, and find solutions.

It allows you to begin to answer the important question: What can I do about it?


Emily Shull is a behavioral money coach and founder of Me Myself and Money. 
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