What is Mindful Finance, and how can it help you access the full range of your decision making power?
These (and many others) are the questions we will explore in the coming weeks and months, starting today. In this 17-minute episode you’ll discover:
- How to create the space to make a financial plan that offers long-term happiness
- How mindfulness practice literally changes the anatomy and function of your brain
- Why the present moment and non-judgment are the cornerstones of mindfulness
- Why, according to a former paramedic, emotions around money are stronger than those around illness and death
- How to counter stress by uncovering the storyline behind painful feelings
- How mindfulness is the perfect complement to the rigor and clarity that benefit financial decisions
Listen to our first broadcast below…
Episode 1 Transcript:
Jesse Grimes: Welcome everybody to the Mindful Finance Podcast. We’re delighted to have you joining us today. My name is Jesse Grimes.
Sol Halpern: And I’m Sol Halpern. Jesse and I run a boutique wealth management firm, Highlander – A Mindful Finance Company, out of Boulder, Colorado. We’re talking to you today about Mindful Finance, joining mindfulness and finance together and what the benefits of that could be for you.
Jesse, maybe you want to tell us a little about what we’re gonna go over today and we can take a look at the scope of what our conversation’s gonna cover.
Jesse Grimes: As Sol said, welcome everybody. We’re excited to be doing these.
Today we want to talk about three topics. First is we just want to talk about mindfulness; you know, what is it, what does it mean to us, why are we interested in mindfulness? We then want to start to look at the science behind it. We’ll really get into some of the scientific studies: what they’re showing, the benefits that mindfulness can have on our life, our emotional, our physical life. And then finally we’ll bring in the finance piece and we’ll join those together and talk about Mindful Finance and how that can be beneficial to think about your finances from a mindful perspective.
So the first thing we want to talk about is mindfulness. What is mindfulness? Jon Kabat-Zinn has probably the most well-known and strongest definition and I’ll just read that: “Mindfulness is paying attention, in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally.” So that’s a great working definition of mindfulness. And so we’ll talk about some of the key pieces in there: the paying attention, present moment and nonjudgmentally.
Sol Halpern: For me, mindfulness and particularly the mindfulness practice of meditation has been a key part of my life growing up. I remember being in junior high school and having had meditation practices, having done weekends of meditation and feeling like I had an advantage in a certain way that I could even recognize just at the level of being able to have some familiarity with my own mind and what is happening there. It is really beneficial for me to have the space around things that mindfulness creates. For me that’s probably the biggest advantage. I feel like I have an ability to have a bit of perspective in the face of anything that arises in my own life and in my own experience that gives me the ability to sit with something, and then instead of reacting to it, just act from a place where I can maintain my view of wanting to be of use to people, wanting to be of use to the world. Not feeling like your mind is running away from you but rather that you’re familiar with what’s going on with it and you have the advantage of some perspective when these circumstances arise. So it’s been a wonderful and an extremely important part of my life throughout my entire sphere of life but in business in particular, and in the service industry of helping people with their finances, it’s essential I would say.
Jesse Grimes: So I thought I could say a few things about what is mindfulness. You know, mindfulness can look a lot of different ways, there’s a lot of different practices. I think probably the most common one that people hear about or know about is meditation, and that’s certainly a very strong, classic mindfulness practice but there’s a lot of other ones. We heard the definition from Jon Kabat-Zinn: pay attention on purpose and really trying our best to stay in the present moment. And to do that nonjudgmentally. And so again, you can think about both sitting meditation, you could think about contemplating a slogan, maybe taking a walk and just really kind of noticing the trees and the birds. There’s a lot of different things you can do.
Sol Halpern: This mindfulness practice, and mindfulness in general, which we’re talking about is completely secular. It has no allegiance to any spiritual or religious tradition. It’s just a way that human beings have found to access these qualities in themselves that they want to have access to, and to limit or begin to work with the difficult aspects of life in a more creative and more productive manner.
Jesse Grimes: So as I’ve said one of these key practices of mindfulness is actual meditation practice and again, that can look a lot of different ways. For me really what it looks like is sitting down, noticing my body through taking stock of my body, kind of feeling where I’m at in that moment, you know, feeling my emotions, feeling my thoughts, noticing my emotions, noticing my thoughts. And really just trying to stay with that. It’s not about getting away from it. It’s not about going into another state. It’s really about just becoming very much aware of what’s actually happening in the present moment. And as I start to get away from that present moment, I think about my day or I think about all the challenges that may be coming later in the day and I start to create storylines, I just try to come back to actually where I’m at. Come back to the feeling in my body, come back to the thoughts that are coming and going and really just trying to stay in the present moment.
You know, what brings out a lot of discomfort, I think for myself and for others in the world, is not so much intense emotion but it’s really the incredible intense storyline that happens there. You know, you get in a fight with someone and then all of a sudden you’re a million miles away from actually relating to that person and you’re thinking about how you been wronged and how they’ve been wronged, and all of a sudden you’re very far away and you’re creating very solid storyline that might not actually be accurate. And so mindfulness is a way that allows us to come back into that present moment and actually just touch our heart, relate to what’s going on in a direct and simple way. And that can be very beneficial.
Sol, do you want to say anything about your experience of mindfulness and meditation?
Sol Halpern: Yeah, thank you. My experience has been that what happens when I have done meditation or I’m feeling in a space that is infused with mindfulness or has that context happening, I feel a lot more clarity around decision-making. I feel a lot more clarity around what’s happening and why it’s happening in my body. So if I’m feeling uncomfortable about something or if I’m not sure I’m understanding something, it doesn’t cause me fear and stress. It causes me instead curiosity. Some kind of message is coming through to me from these informations. Rather than them being things that I should be pushing away, they become things that I should be actually listening to. And I think that’s a real key for our discussion here around mindfulness and finance, which is that experiences that we have, whatever they may be, joyful, painful, etc., that happen within the context of our financial lives are not things to be disregarded, but rather they’re the things that give us the keys to sanity that can come from your financial life if you engage with it in this kind of a context.
Jesse Grimes: Yeah, that’s really great. It doesn’t mean that it’ll all work out just the way we want it, but at least it will be a sort of honest and direct relationship with our money, versus some kind of convoluted, disconnected reality.
Sol Halpern: Yes, I wanna add in here this is not only just anecdotal conversation and evidence from our perspective, but actually that science has been uncovering and proving you could say all of these facts. Jumping into that I thought I would share with you a little bit of information that came from a Scientific American article which I read recently: “MRI scans show that after an eight-week course of meditation practice, the brains fight or flight center, the amygdala, appears to shrink. As the amygdala shrinks, the prefrontal cortex associated with higher order brain functions, such as awareness, concentration and decision-making, becomes thicker. The connection between the amygdala and the rest of the brain gets weaker and the connections between the areas associated with attention and concentration get stronger.” This article goes on to say that Adrienne Taren of University of Pittsburgh, a researcher there, says that “the scale of these changes correlate with a number of hours of meditation a person has done.” And then she is quoted as saying, “The picture we have is that mindfulness practice increases one’s ability to recruit higher order prefrontal cortex regions in order to downregulate lower-order brain activity.” “In other words,” the article goes, “our more primal responses to stress seem to be superseded by more thoughtful ones.” What this is basically saying is that meditation literally changes your brain. It literally changes the connections that are happening there, literally changes the size of parts of it and it literally changes the pieces that you’re accessing to and have access to in stress situations. There’s many more studies that will come out and show these things further and further sort of corroborating, I guess we could say, the thousands of years of experience that humans have had and the benefits of meditation. But from a scientific perspective, it’s very important that we have these evidences of what it is that mindfulness actually does. There are lots of benefits to mindfulness: increased clarity, increased creativity, increased capacity in stress situations, lower stress in general.
Jesse Grimes: So at this point, we’ll bring in the finance piece, cause after all, really what we’re talking about here is Mindful Finance. We would like to offer a working definition of finance, which is that finance is the management, creation and study of money, banking, credit, investments, assets and liabilities. But from an individual perspective I think this definition can be simplified to: the management of banking, credit, investments, assets and liabilities.
Sol Halpern: Our definition of Mindful Finance is the joining of matters relating to money and matters relating to personal experience. We’ve actually written our own definition of Mindful Finance to try to further this sort of thought process and put it out into the world in a way that it becomes hopefully something that lots of people will connect with and make their own and discover and work on in their own lives and also in their professional lives.
Jesse Grimes: Sol, all in one of our recent client letters you wrote, “Engaging with financial matters in a way that is nonjudgmental towards oneself and observant of emotions, rather than driven by them creates space and equilibrium. This turns emotions into learning experiences which provide important information for making good financial decisions.” And I think the reason I like that is, just as you said it to me, it really brings in this sense of mindfulness into finances and starts to talk about the tangible benefits that can happen there. So I’m wondering if you’d like to say anything else about that.
Sol Halpern: Yeah, this is really at the crux I would say of Mindful Finance, in particular in the way that it relates to personal finance. What we’re saying here is that having an environment, having a container of mindfulness creates a situation where you have access to your full intelligence. You have a situation where you’re coming at a problem or a decision, let’s say, that you need to make from a perspective of clarity, security, confidence, with the benefit of your full range of information pieces. You haven’t shut down your piece of the back of your mind that’s kind of telling you don’t know if you want to do that, or the feeling in your stomach that’s telling you that you’re not comfortable in the situation. You have the full gamut, you have the full access to all of your potential as a human being to be a decision-maker. Rather than having been hijacked by either feeling like you have to deny some of those things going on or that you have to know something or act in a certain way in that context that doesn’t feel natural to you. You have so much more going for you in this situation of mindfulness, or in this container of mindfulness, in terms of your ability to make the decisions that you’re gonna be happy with in the future.
To be clear here, the view that we hold and the view of Mindful Finance is not that money and finance are problematic or that there’s anything inherently wrong with them, corrupting to them or any other sort of pejorative or negative connotations that people often apply or stick onto the subject of money and finance. In fact the view is probably the opposite, which is to say that finance, money and all these aspects of our lives that have to do with that are sources of great opportunity, that these are creative, interesting, worthy aspects of human life. It’s important to remember that as we dive into this, because it can be a common or easy route to go to just sort of walk down the path of saying, oh money is bad and it’s such a problem that I have to even deal with it and I wish I didn’t have to, or any of these other kinds of negative aspects that can be placed on this are really not what we’re talking about and are really not part of the conversation in terms of that there’s something bad that needs to be fixed. It’s more that there’s a way to do this that when it’s in the right context becomes a way to a more sane life. And even more awakened life we could say, or more fulfilled life.
Jesse Grimes: Related to that, I often tell the story that for many years I worked on an ambulance as a paramedic, then made a career shift into finance. And one of the things that has always been really shocking to me is in some sense that the emotion around illness and death is far less intense than the emotion that I’ve seen over the last many years around one’s finance, one’s money. In a sense that’s really been, for me personally, a real driver in terms of trying to bring mindfulness into the whole sphere of finance. Because as Sol just said, there’s no problem with money really, right, that’s not what we’re trying to, you know, sort of fix in some sense, as much as the real intense emotion that can come around our own relationship to our finances. Whether we have a lot of it and we’re scared it’s gonna go away, whether we don’t have enough and we’re not sure how we’re going to get it, whatever it brings up, whatever sort of is happening for us around finances, you know, really what we’re talking about here is applying that level of mindfulness, looking, becoming aware at the storyline we have around finances and working to be in the present moment with what we have and how we have it. And our experience is that when you do that, actually there’s something quite empowering, something quite liberating that can actually happen when we’re just relating directly with, in this case, our financial picture.
As we’ve been exploring this whole notion of Mindful Finance and bringing mindfulness into our day-to-day business, we’ve really started to feel that the open space created by mindfulness practice really is the perfect vessel for the rigor and clarity which benefit investing and financial decisions. You know, at the end of the day when I think about our company and I think about what Sol and I are trying to do, ultimately we’re really trying to be of benefit. And we really feel that by bringing this whole notion of mindfulness into our financial lives it can really help us to make sound decisions, it can help to decrease some of the stress, anxiety and confusion of our finances. And so that’s really what we’re trying to explore in these podcasts, is really what is the benefit here and how can this simply be helpful.
In the next podcast we’ll explore a little bit more about where this came from for Sol and I, why this is so important and we’ll start to really dig into more tangible elements of it. We’ll explore meditation and mindfulness practice and we’ll also begin to do some real work and exploration around bringing our own financial picture into the mix.
Sol Halpern: Thank you so much for spending some time here to learn about Mindful Finance with us and talk about these subjects. This is something that is going to be transformative for our industry and also for our clients and also ourselves. Thank you so much for joining us.
Sol is president of Highlander Financial. He has over 20 years of experience in financial markets and managing businesses.