Moving from emotional to analytical (with finance and fitness)
This morning, for the first time in more than eight years, I weighed in at 200 pounds.
I am not proud of this fact but it's the truth. I own it. I got to this point through my own actions, not because some cruel tormenter force-fed me cheeseburgers and beer.
When I'm overweight, I tend to internalize the problem, which generally leads to a vicious cycle of overeating, shame, and self-loathing. While I'm older now and more aware of my mental processes, I still struggle with self-defeating thought and behavior. (This is exacerbated, of course, by my recent battle with depression. In fact, I suspect the depression has a hand in my life-long weight issues. The onset of both seem to be correlated.)
Being fat affects my self-confidence and self-esteem. I'm less likely to be social. When I do go out and see people, I'm less engaging (and I know it). Right now, my weight is actually hindering my work too. In April, I started a Get Rich Slowly channel on YouTube. My goal is to produce a couple of videos per month — but I'm not willing to put myself on camera at the moment.
In short: Like many people, I allow my physical make-up to dictate my mental make-up.
People are funny like that. We internalize stuff that ought not to be internalized. When we do, it becomes much more difficult to do the right thing, to make the changes that need to be made.
Take money, for instance.
Net Worth Is NOT Self-Worth
People allow their net worth to dictate their self-worth. This is true at every level of wealth.
At one extreme, you have folks like the guy in the video below who — because they're rich — believe that they're better than everybody else, exempt from the normal rules of society:
On the other end of the spectrum, you find folks who feel terrible about themselves because they're buried under a mountain of debt.
In my personal life, I've seen tons of examples of how folks conflate net worth with self-worth. Heck, I've done it myself!
- Back when I was trying to figure out how money worked, my debt made me feel like I was drowning, like I could not catch a breath. I felt miserable. I felt like I'd never amount to anything, as if my debt were an accurate measure of who I was as a person.
- My father — who would have turned 73 yesterday — internalized money too. For most of my childhood, my parents struggled to make ends meet. Dad often told us that he felt like a failure because he couldn't give us everything he wanted to give us. When the ladies from church brought us food, he was mortified. Mom and dad rarely had people over to the house because they were ashamed that we lived in a run-down mobile home.
- More recently, my little brother (who, at 45, isn't exactly “little” anymore) went through some rough times. A decade ago, he lost two homes to foreclosure. He declared bankruptcy. He moved his family to Seattle to make a clean start, but he couldn't find work. “I don't feel like a man,” he told me at the time, unknowingly broaching an interesting issue of gender dynamics. “I can't provide for my family. My wife is the one earning money. It's killing me.” (I'm pleased to report that Tony has managed to turn things around and seems to be doing well these days.)
In some ways, it's natural that we internalize factors like our fitness and our finances. They are, after all, scorecards of sorts. When I weigh in at 200 pounds, that's an objective reflection of everything I've done to my body during my 49 years on this planet. My net worth is an objective reflection of every penny I've earned or spent during my life.
Both weight and net worth serve as a scorecard for how well we've managed our fitness and finances, but they're not complete measures. That's why we use other numbers, such as BMI and muscle mass (for fitness) or saving rate and income (for finance).
Plus, it's important to note that while for most of us, most of our weight and/or net worth is a result of the quality of our decisions, chance does play a role. Some folks are born into better situations than others. And some people suffer misfortune (or enjoy lucky breaks) that drastically affects their situation.
If I believe we shouldn't internalize factors like weight and net worth — and I do believe that — what then is the alternative?
Moving From Emotional to Analytical
I think it's better for our mental health if we do our best to approach these things analytically. This can be tough to do, I know, but to the extent you can temporarily set aside your emotions and feelings, you'll have greater success at correcting the problems and feeling better about yourself in the long run.
That's not to say that you should turn yourself into a robot. Nor am I asking you to suddenly become Sheldon Cooper. Instead, I want you to become more mindful and methodical about your approach to problems like money and diet.
This is issue — emotional vs. analytical — sometimes causes a divide in the world of personal finance. There are some experts who are wholly analytical and cannot fathom why people struggle with debt. They also don't understand why you'd possibly want to pay off your low-balance debts first (using the Dave Ramsey version of the debt snowball) instead of repaying high-interest debt first (the optimal version of the debt snowball).
But, as I've said for over a decade now, people wouldn't struggle with consumer debt if they were thinking logically. Asking them to make an instant leap from illogical to logical does't work. We shouldn't ask it of them.
Suboptimal (but effective) methods are a great place to start down the path toward better money management. In time, baby steps can lead to giant strides.
When I finally resolved to get out of debt in 2004, I took an analytical approach. I didn't turn into the hyper-logical Spock of personal finance (ha!) but I did decide to run my budget like a business. I decided to become the Chief Financial Officer of my own life. That made all the difference. (For more on this, check out the Get Rich Slowly course.)
Breaking Free From Emotional Actions
Moving from emotional to analytical has helped others too. In her book Dear Debt, Melanie Lockert writes:
“The emotions related to debt can be so consuming and overwhelming that they actually detract us from making progress toward paying off our debt. For so long, I was embarrassed by my debt. I carried around with me, feeling like I had nothing to show for it.”
How did Lockert turn things around? “The one thing that changed my life for the better was changing my relationship with money and how I thought about it,” she writes. She shifted, as best she could, from emotional to analytical. “I began to take action instead of dwelling on disappointments and complaining…” She made plans. She followed through on them.
This same approach works for fitness.
In Breaking Free from Emotional Eating, author Geneen Roth (no relation) urges readers to develop awareness, and from that awareness to formulate a plan and take action. Just as I'm a fan of tracking your spending, she's a fan of tracking your eating:
“Keep a chart of what you ate, the times at which you ate, and whether or not you were hungry before you ate. The importance of a chart is that it reveals your patterns with food exactly as they are and not how you imagine them to be.”
This is exactly what I say about expense tracking. Its value is that it lets you see what you really do, not what you think you do. It's all too easy to lie to yourself — or simply to be blind to your habits. (I know that Kim and I eat out a lot, but if I didn't track my spending I'd have no idea that we spend more on restaurants than groceries!)
Over the past couple of weeks, Kim and I have talked a lot about our fitness (or lack thereof). Neither one of us is happy with what we've allowed to happen. We're both ready to change. We want to change together.
To that end, I've been working with a personal trainer for the past six weeks. I'm becoming accustomed again to exercising every day. After talking to several friends who have enjoyed great success with Weight Watchers, Kim and I are going to do the program together. And because I know how important it is for me to track my stats, I'm going to track my stats. When I do this, it helps me to externalize the problem instead of internalize it. Making spreadsheets encourages me to stay in an analytical mindspace rather than an emotional one.
The same things that help me with my finances help me with my fitness. In the past, I've experienced success only when I've stopped being emotional about eating and started being analytical. I track stats. I keep spreadsheets. I make plans. I accept mistakes as minor glitches and don't let them derail my progress.
The bottom line? The more I'm able to move from emotional to analytical, the better I do with fitness and finance.