One of the big challenges for the Post-Executive is living without the monthly salary check. That big, warm, fluffy blanket of a wodge of money landing in your bank account every month is something you’ve become very used to and it feels dangerous when it’s not coming in any more. You feel exposed and vulnerable, even if you are reasonably secure for the short term.
There’s a very good reason why we feel this way and it’s to do with how our brain works. We tend to think of financial matters as a bit boring, a bit cerebral and intangible, so we might assume that they are dealt with by the reasoning part of our brain, the hippocampus. That’s not how our brain sees it.
It equates financial matters with security and so these thoughts are processed by the amygdala, the prehistoric part of our brain, also called the lizard brain. This is the brain of our ancestors and it concerns itself with three things only – sex, food and safety. It’s also the part of the brain that controls our fight or flight response and it is plugged directly into our nervous system.
So when you think about money, your fears go straight to your lizard brain and it puts you into fight or flight mode, filling your body with cortisol and adrenaline. You may know that you are financially secure but that’s in your hippocampus and you’ve already woken up at three in morning in a cold sweat before it’s even in gear. This is known as a amygdala hi-jack and it’s quite normal, if rather unpleasant.
That’s why you feel as if you are in danger, why you feel vulnerable. And that’s all your lizard brain needs to know to fire up. It seems irrational but back when the world was full of real danger, like massive bears and sabre-tooth tigers, it was this response that kept our ancestors alive and led to us being here today.
This really does affect everyone. In a recent article J K Rowling, one of the richest people in the UK, spoke about how she had “a real worry about money that was completely irrational” just before she had her son. Well, as a mother-to-be, safety would be uppermost in her mind and so it’s not surprising her concerns got magnified by her lizard brain, so much so that it took over and set off her fight or flight response.
One way to reduce this anxiety is to go through an exercise of looking at the worse case scenario. So ask yourself ‘what if I only made X thousand pounds per year?’, where X is a low figure compared to your previous salary. Whilst the implications might be unpleasant, you will come to realise that you can meet your basics needs on a much lower level of income, and so satisfy your lizard brain that the ‘danger’ is much smaller than previously imagined.
If you are feeling really brave you can ask the question “what if I lost everything?”. Once you have worked out what your strategy is to recover from that is, you will get your financial worries into proper perspective. Granted, getting back from losing everything would be a tough experience but you would realise that it wouldn’t kill you either and that’s all that your lizard brain is really concerned about.