Yesterday was like any other day at work: droning away amidst tedious tasks. Often times, I let my mind float and wander while I conduct mindless work. It’s relaxing and takes my mind off the fact I am utterly bored out of my mind. But yesterday, while my mind was floating down a road of emptiness, a sudden revelation appeared and crashed into me with the force of a semi-truck. It’s my story of shame and resentment.
I was born in Seoul and moved to Canada before kindergarden. My wife was born in Canada; her descendants came from England. My wife has always desired to teach our future children Korean. And every time she has mentioned it, she has been met with either complete disinterest or stoney silence from me. Why? Well, until yesterday, I had not even thought about why I reacted this way – I just reacted almost instinctually, without thought and reason.
Now, this reaction is rather peculiar because I pride myself on being a very logical and rational human being. I approach almost everything with logic, rationality, and reason. I try very hard not to let emotion interfere with my decision making process. Yet, my cold and callous reaction to my wife was anything but logical and rational. Why? Well, for that, I need to tell you a story.
When I was a child growing up in Canada, I encountered both blatant and subtle forms of racism and bullying. I really took it to heart and it hurt me very deeply – hurt and pain I still apparently carry around to this day. This made me feel very shameful. I was embarrassed, frustrated, and angry about being different. This pain made me vow to be as “un-different” as possible, so that I wouldn’t have to feel such hurt and pain again. It pushed me to disowning my cultural and ethnic heritage growing up. I did everything in my power to blend in. I was that Asian guy all throughout school who was the lone Asian guy in a group of white, caucasian friends.
Trying so hard to fit in caused me to see the world in a very one dimensional manner: all things white, caucasian, and Canadian were good, everything else was bad. Especially anything to do with my own ethnic background. I remember really resenting my parents for trying to get me to goto Korean school as a child. This horrified me because this was exactly what I was trying to actively avoid. I didn’t want to learn how to be more Korean – I wanted to be more Canadian. Korean school just accentuated the fact that I was different and I resented it vehemently. I resented the fact that while I was trying to not be different, I felt like my parents were “forcing” me to be different.
Emotional Decision Making
Now, at this point, you must be thinking “whoa, Steve, you might need some therapy.” Yeah, I know, it’s some deep subconscious psychological shit I am apparently still dealing with.
Anyways, how does this all tie in? Well, my responses to my wife were very emotionally-charged responses. Take a look at that picture up at the top again. That picture was inspired by a memory of something I had read in Steven Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
Between stimulus and response, there is a space.
In that space lies our freedom and power to choose our response.
In those choices lie our growth and our happiness.
Those words and the picture above must have been my greatest takeaways from that book because that is literally all I remember about the book. And this is where I came to the realization that for all the logic and rationality I thought I carried myself with, there were massive blind spots in my life where emotion and irrationality stilled ruled. Blind spots where the gap between stimulus and reaction is very, very narrow.
And it is bad to have a narrow space between stimulus and reaction. Just look at my reactions to something utterly logical and rational: teaching your child a second language. Of course you should teach your child a second language! Hell, they are going to find the world a much more competitive place than even we, the millennials, currently occupy at the entry level. To think that I would react so blindly with irrationality makes me shudder. Why? Because I would never approach money and investing with such emotion and with such a narrow space between stimulus and reaction.
Money and Debt
When it comes to stimulus and reaction, those who let emotion control their decision making process have a very narrow gap between the two. Those who use logic and reason in their decision making process have a larger gap.
When I was being floored yesterday with the revelation that I was being highly irrational in my response to my wife, it made me think about how emotion affects our money making decisions. From readings in behavioural finance, especially Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahnman, I’ve learned emotions have a huge impact on our money making decisions. And this is not a good thing.
It got me thinking as to why so many people are so utterly terrible with money. From spending frivolously to getting deep into credit card debt, why do people make the same mistakes over and over again? Could it be that some long ago trauma associated with shame, resentment, anger, and/or other negative emotions influence bad money habits? Do people spend mindlessly because they are trying to fill some long forgotten pain? And if so, is this what is making the gap so small between stimulus and reaction for people with bad money habits? Is this a lightbulb moment for you?
Well, what do I know? I’m just some guy telling you a story, an idea, and a hypothesis. But I found it profound enough idea to sit here and write this post out. Because if you are going to take one thing away from this post, I want you to consciously and continuously strive to increase that space between stimulus and reaction in all aspects of your life. Only in that space can we make intelligent and informed decisions, both in money and in life.
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