We all have a voice inside our heads. Sometimes it’s depicted as the angel or devil on our shoulders, depending on whether the voice is urging us towards something positive or negative.
When it comes to money, that voice can get loud and repetitive. It reminds us over and over again about our mistakes or keeps us firmly stuck in place with a bad money habit. But why is it so hard to quiet that voice down?
Because that voice is playing internal money scripts that solidified well before we became adults. Read on to find out what a money script is and how you can rewrite yours.
What is an internal money script?
Financial psychologist Dr. Brad Klontz was one of the first to start talking about “money scripts.” These scripts are the beliefs we’ve internalized about money over the years. Many of us form scripts early in our lives, creating them based on childhood observations of our parents’ relationships with money.
“Children learn about money from a variety of sources, but as is the case with many psychological issues, our parents have the greatest impact; specifically, it’s the parent’s indirect messages that are often the most powerful,” explains Fortune.
“When repeated over time, these early experiences can solidify into firmly held beliefs. And because they’re developed through the eyes of a child, they tend to be incomplete or partially true, but yet they become indelible, controlling the way we interact with and use money,” the article adds.
Just because a money script is tightly woven into the fabric of your brain doesn’t mean you can’t rewrite it. But first, you need to find out what your money script is telling you.
4 types of money scripts
In a study on money scripts, Dr. Klontz and his colleagues outline the major scripts. These four basic principles are what feed into a variety of the money beliefs that circle through our heads daily.
If you fall into the money avoidance category, you likely tell yourself that money is bad. According to Klontz’s study, people with this script are not as in tune with where they are in their finances and feel “fear, anxiety, or disgust” in relation to money.
This outlook on money can sabotage your financial success. Those with money anxiety can be too cautious, causing them to miss out on potential investment opportunities. Money avoidance could also lead to overspending or poor money management if you choose to ignore your finances altogether.
According to Dr. Klontz, this script is the most common among Americans. It can be described as the idea that “more money will make things better.” In other words, it’s the belief that all of your problems can be solved if only you had more money.
Like money avoidance, this belief takes financial control out of your hands. You may take dangerous risks in pursuit of more money, or even engage in activities like pathological gambling, workaholism, or compulsive buying.
Those who have this script ascribe their self-worth to their net-worth. This script can not only lead to spending beyond your means, but it can also be bad for your health.
According to the study, being overly concerned with your financial success has been associated with lower rates of well-being. And that’s not all — the study goes on to say that materialism can lead to less “self-actualization, vitality, and happiness, and higher levels of anxiety.”
Finally, there’s money vigilance. With this script, money can be a “deep source of shame and secrecy, whether one has a lot or a little,” Klontz’s study explains.
This shame can lead to things like lying to your spouse about money, caution to the point of financial detriment (for example, not seeking credit), and a great deal of fear about money and privacy. This script can be a double-edged sword:
“While such an approach to money may encourage saving and frugality, excessive wariness or anxiety regarding pending financial danger keeps someone from enjoying the benefits and sense of security that money can provide,” the study points out.
How to rewrite your money script
Don’t like what your money script is telling you? Change it. Your best tool to change your internal dialogue is awareness.
The South African College of Applied Psychology (SACAP) explains what happens with and without awareness of your money psychology:
“A vicious cycle exists between a challenging external money-related event and an unconscious money script. The internal money script ‘colours’ our perception of the external money event, creating discomfort, which forces us to latch onto another money script to flee the pain.”
However, seeing your money script play itself out in the moment enables you to decide what to do with it.
The SACAP explains that when you are aware of your money script and understand how it affects you, you can decide whether your gut reaction is appropriate or not. Being conscious enough to make that decision means you’ve conquered autopilot decision-making.
What follows? The ability to break the vicious cycle of money scripts.
In the end, it all comes down to mindfulness. The more you understand your relationship with money and your reasons for engaging with it the way you do, the better decisions you can make. That means you get to be in control of your money — instead of the other way around.
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