As humans we are uniquely aware that we have brains and bodies capable of adaptability, that we can affect the course our lives take, that we can make choices along the way that vastly affect the quality of our lives-biologically, intellectually, environmentally, and spiritually. We have the ability to mold our very beings to become what or who we wish to become — and that includes intentionally becoming someone who earns a lot of money.
While some of us may have genetic and biological imperatives that may require medication or training to overcome, or at least to modulate, the vast majority of us have high functioning brains and thereby hold our financial destiny in our hands. Recent research has shown that our brains continue to be adaptable throughout our lifetimes; so, if you haven't primed your brain for financial success, there's still time. To get you started, here are seven fundamental things you need to know about your brain and how it relates to money.
1. You Have a Primitive Brain When It Comes to Money
Thanks to millions of years of evolution, we are highly intelligent biological organisms, but when it comes to making financial decisions, we can be unduly influenced by ancient brain skills, such as hair trigger responses to perceived fear. Our evolution not only drives the decisions we make when we face similar situations to those of our ancestors, but also those that our ancient ancestors could never have envisioned. Until very recent history-in evolutionary terms-humans were hunter-gatherers, living in small nomadic bands, seeking mates, procreating, finding shelter, foraging for food, and pursuing prey they could eat while avoiding predators who wanted to eat them.
Humans are not the only animals that make tools, show insight, or plan for the future. But no other species can match our phenomenal ability to forecast and extrapolate, to observe correlations, to infer cause from effect. Our brains are at least three times the size of gorilla or chimpanzee brains, but in the 200,000 years since Homo sapiens evolved, the human brain has remained roughly the same size. Most of the "modern" areas of the human brain, such as our left prefrontal cortex (considered the CEO of our brains) developed largely during the Stone Age and haven't changed much since.
In financial realms, domesticated food crops and the first cities date back only 11,000 years, and the earliest known financial markets, trading in food crops and silver, sprang up in Mesopotamia around 2500 B.C. Formal stock and bond trading markets came to be a mere four centuries ago.
All of which means that, when it comes to money, your brain has had a lot of catching up to do in a very short time. The more you understand the limitations that might occur as a result of possessing a relatively primitive brain (such as emotional reactivity when reflective evaluation is needed) and the more you educate your brain and bring it up to speed, the better chance you have of maximizing its potential in wealth creation.
2. You Are in the Driver's Seat
Your brain is a whiz at certain things: recognizing simple patterns or generating emotional responses in nanoseconds but lags behind on other tasks: recognizing and evaluating long-term financial or business trends, recognizing when patterns are truly random, or focusing on many things at one time. Your brain is also trained to respond to fear, and will assume some situations are dangerous even when they aren't. All of these abilities and instincts are challenged (and challenging to overcome!) when making financial decisions.
Luckily, we are at the forefront of new brain exploration, which is offering amazing insights into how the human brain works and how you can maximize your brain's capabilities. Thanks to breakthroughs in neuroscience, we all have the capability to understand a lot more about how this magnificently complex structure we call our brain operates and what we can do to enhance its development in all areas of our lives, including personal and financial well-being.
Spend time observing and studying the workings of your brain, its strengths and weaknesses in regard to acquiring wealth. Then, focus on developing skills that will support your quest, while concurrently tamping down behaviors, attitudes, or fears that hamper your momentum. Remember, your brain takes its cues from you: You are in the driver's seat when it comes to your brain.
4. Money Doesn't Motivate Your Brain
Money in itself doesn't satisfy a basic need for survival, like food, water, shelter, and sex. Money is just paper, after all; it's what money represents to us that has value. Money is therefore called a "secondary reinforcer" because, while it can be used to purchase a "primary" reward (food, water), it isn't a primary reward in and of itself. Actually, what you buy with your money might be a secondary reward, too! When using money, your train of thought can often go something like this:
Money (secondary reinforcer) à buy a yacht (secondary reinforcer) à attract a potential mate (secondary reinforcer) à fall in love (secondary reinforcer) à reproduce (primary reward).
Thus, money becomes more or less powerful based on your view of it and how you elect to use it. Unfortunately, your brain can have trouble with subjectivity. For example, if you have a huge dream peppered with lots of reinforcers, your brain may feel so overwhelmed that it will rely on emotion rather than logically decide which reinforcer needs to take precedence.
Getting to the heart of your desires and breaking down your financial dreams into smaller, more attainable goals will make it easier for your brain to help you deliver the goods. Setting concrete goals, broken down into manageable steps, will offer clarity in keeping your brain focused on what you need to do to reach your goals.
5. Your Brain Needs a Personalized Definition of Wealth
When a prominent financial expert spoke to a large class of graduating college seniors, she asked the largely female audience how they felt about the word "wealth." Nearly all of the young women-all of whom were very bright-either didn't relate to the word wealth or thought that wealth was something other people would achieve rather than them.
In digging a little further, the financial expert found that these same women related strongly to desires for financial security, becoming good at managing money, and achieving peace-of-mind. While money in itself wouldn't motivate them, these other desires did. But because of their inability to connect the dots between money and their desires, they would very likely have difficulty acquiring wealth.
Defining exactly what wealth looks like to you — and what value you place on it — is an important component to the process of acquiring wealth. Your brain will give precedence to whatever you repeatedly focus upon or ask it to do, which means creating a personalized definition of what wealth means to you and how you plan to achieve your goals enlists your brain to focus upon what needs to be done and helps you establish and adhere to priorities.
6. Your Brain Needs the Decks Cleared
Like the graduating women, each of us comes into adulthood bearing personal money scripts, conscious and unconscious ideas about money: how one makes money, how one manages money, how someone with a lot of money behaves, and how much is enough money, for example. These scripts arise from our experiences with money in our families and our communities. Whether we realize it or not, these primary messages influence us and may work against us in our quest for wealth.
Consider the kinds of messages you may have received. Did your father tell you that wealthy people were rude and arrogant and didn't understand or value the important things in life? Did your mother express the idea that women are helpless when it comes to making and managing money? Did your family always live close to the financial edge, or was there always enough for your needs-and some of your wants?
Your brain will make assumptions based on past experience, but, basically, it believes what you tell it to believe. Thus, examining these messages (and their effects on you) and challenging them will enable you to re-educate your brain and make different decisions about wealth than you have in the past. Make a list of all the negative (and positive) money scripts you acquired to date and then systemically review them, deleting or editing them to more closely reflect what you now know to be true. Gaining this kind of clarity will help your brain pay attention to and reinforce what you now believe. Review your list often (during meditation would be ideal) to reinforce your brain's new beliefs.
7. You Have a Highly Adaptable Brain
Yes, you can absolutely train your brain to succeed, to accomplish what you want in life, to become the best you, to make measured financial decisions, to maximize its function in relation to achieving your dreams, and so on. It will require focus, intention, dedication, accountability, action, and persistence, but you can reshape your brain to experience and create greater wealth.
Before you go charging off, here's a list of bad news vs. good news to round out what you fundamentally need to know about your brain and money:
The Bad News:
- Your brain has evolved slowly and still reverts to ancient responses, which can unnerve and thwart your best efforts upon occasion.
- Your brain is hard-wired to feel and react quickly and instinctively to fear; reflection comes in third, long after panic has set in.
- Unless challenged, your brain will settle into neuronal ruts.
- Your brain will degenerate: unused synapses will dissipate and no new synapses will form unless challenged.
- Your brain chemistry can create unbalanced behavior.
- Your brain loses certain firepower as you age (but gains new abilities).
The Good News:
- Your brain is at your service.
- Your brain will create new synapses when new activities require them.
- Your brain will bolster and reinforce existing neuronal pathways, as needed.
- Your brain can be rewired, employing atypical regions to perform required tasks.
- You can do things that will improve your brain chemistry; and, if necessary, you can use medication to improve brain function and emotional reactivity.
- Your mind can teach your brain to tamp down fear.
- You can train your brain to focus, learn new skills, and grow.
- You can do things that will help your brain remain supple and healthy.
- Older brains do become wiser brains. It's never too late to learn new tricks.
Sounds pretty good at the end, doesn't it? That's because there's a wealth of actions you can take to train your brain to get rich, and we're going to talk about a great many ideas and ways to execute them in the coming weeks. Please stay posted!
This article was cowritten by Susan Reynolds and Teresa Aubele, Ph.D.