We need habits if we are to act appropriately and quickly. But habits used blindly or as if they are laws of nature, i.e. cannot be changed, are just perpetuated, agreed ignorance. – Moshe Feldenkrais, The Elusive Obvious
It’s almost tax time in the United States, an annual rite of financial reckoning that provokes dread and procrastination in many. That tax rules are complicated and inconstant can foster anxiety. Filing accurately and completely, especially if one is self-employed, can drive even the well meaning and highly educated to frustration. As with any complex undertaking, it’s best approached gradually and with plenty of time. To give oneself just a day or two to file is akin to expecting to do a complicated dance maneuver on the first try without practicing intermediate movements. Both scenarios might leave a person stressed. Just as we have our tax habits, whether these include filing early, avoiding them until the last minute, outsourcing to a CPA, requesting extensions or some combination thereof, what matters just as much, if not more, are our habits throughout the year regarding money and record keeping. Do we have steps or routines in place to make tax time, if not a dance of delight, less of a slog?
“Each one of us speaks, moves, thinks and feels in a different way, each according to the image of himself that he has built up over the years. In order to change our mode of action, we must change the image of ourselves that we carry within us.” – Moshe Feldenkrais
There are probably as many ways to earn, save, spend, and track money as there are people. Even in this digital age, some of us still use pen and paper to record expenses and might keep physical receipts. Others might never handle cash or paper anymore. Our habits, worldview and even self-image around financial matters might have been inherited without a second thought or a closer look. Perhaps we blindly rebel against them and do the opposite of what we learned growing up. Each money “movement”, whether it’s buying groceries, purchasing clothing, enrolling in a class, signing up for the gym or taking a trip is an expression of our self-image, actual or aspirational, whether we’re conscious of it or not. Are our habits around money, per Moshe Feldenkrais, “perpetuated, agreed ignorance” or do we know what we’re doing and why?
Since most of us deal with money in some fashion, our self-image and money are probably linked in a life-long dance. At some moments the dance might resemble an elegant, measured waltz, whose predictable cadence we can count on. Perhaps, as our skill at waltzing improves, we’ll pick up the speed or attempt more complex and possibly exhilarating moves, such as investing. Maybe we’re in a square dance, letting money come and go at regular intervals, swinging it round and round, kicking up our heels no matter what. At other moments our money lives might resemble an improvisational number, with unpredictable inflows or unexpected expenses that may not correspond neatly in time. Whether that’s by choice or fate, our ability to either adjust to new financial circumstances or develop habits that allow us to have more control over our lives is one measure of resilience in the dance of life. In cases where a person’s self-image is a bit too closely intertwined with money and its allure, like an intoxicated follower in a sultry tango, they might be setting themselves up for a fall, or worse, should their dance partner disappear. As has happened in the aftermath of financial crises and scandals, some people have taken their lives upon losing fortunes, rather than finding within themselves the humility, gratitude and adaptability needed to redraw their self image and dance differently in life.
“Nothing is permanent about our behavior patterns except our belief that it is so.” – Moshe Feldenkrais
A change in self-image can influence our money habits and behaviors, and vice-versa. When I purged my possessions last year, I gladly rid myself of clothing I’d bought mostly because they had been a bargain; the joy they brought had been ephemeral, lasting for the moment of the “hunt” or the “score” but dissipating after that. The habit of finding deals is still with me, and can serve me if I choose, but it exerts less of an irresistible compulsive pull than it once did. With fewer belongings, I am consciously reorienting to find quality items whose pleasures I expect will endure longer. I offer that as an example of one, relatively small habit in a larger web or constellation of habits that inform if not create one’s self image as we move through life.
Here’s another: a Boston area college professor, Marie Campagna Franklin, blogs about saving nearly $40,000 over twelve years by paying cash and putting aside every $5 bill she receives as change. Similar to a Feldenkrais Awareness Through Movement lesson, she uses a simple constraint to generate more (financial) freedom. Once we investigate and begin to shift one habit, we develop the skill to shift others, not necessarily by willful effort or impressive resolutions but by gently paying attention, again and again, taking small steps and learning new dance moves.
If, this year, you are one of the tax procrastinators, not quite ready to cha-cha with your 1040 form, consider slowing down enough to find a comfortable spot to lie down on your back. Take a few minutes to feel your weight on the floor, notice your breathing, and perhaps slowly and gently roll your eyes and even your head from side to side. When you stand up, you might feel refreshed enough to get started. That’s what I’m banking on!