Several years ago, I found myself tour managing a band from Scotland (who shall remain nameless, but whose song is the goal music for the Chicago Blackhawks) on a month-ish tour of North America. The band's guitar tech was a big Star Wars fan (like myself) and went a bit nutty buying all kinds of memorabilia unavailable in Scotland, including a remote controlled Millenium Falcon drone and an adult-sized Stormtrooper helmet. I never could quite get the hang of flying the drone, but I'm not going to lie: that Stormtrooper helmet was pretty cool.
At a different point in my life, I would have bought one of those helmets for myself without a second thought. Fortunately, though, it came during a period of self-imposed minimalism: I was living on the road full-time with essentially everything I owned in a storage unit. If it couldn't fit in my suitcase, I didn't buy it.
That pragmatic concern (can I literally take this with me everywhere?) offered the necessary pause to ask a much more important question: would owning this thing make my life better, richer, more fulfilling? Or would it instead become one thing among many others that seemed really important & exciting for a moment, but was then mostly forgotten?
I had been telling myself a story about the original Star Wars movies (something like: these movies are awesome, therefore owning something from the movies will make me happy) for so long that it had turned into belief. I was positive that it was true. But in reality, there was no substance to that conviction: buying that helmet would not have made me happier or my life better beyond a quick hit of dopamine.
Our brains are story telling machines, and the ones we tell most often become memories and beliefs. The more frequently our brains fire electrons along specific synaptic pathways (i.e., the more we think about a specific thing), the stronger – and more automatic – those connections become. In a very real sense, telling & retelling stories rewires our brains to make them instantly recallable.
That's why it's easy to remember a specific family event or vacation from childhood while simultaneously forgetting what you ate for lunch a week ago. Or why people cling to beliefs in the face of contradictory evidence. One story has been told over and over – making that neural pathway strong and sharp – so the brain prioritizes that information over newer information.
This is especially true when it comes to internal dialogs around money. Is debt good or bad? Is it better to save diligently or spend to enjoy every moment? Is investing too risky or a reliable path to building wealth? Your answers to those questions are rooted in beliefs, which are themselves based on stories told & retold over many years – often so long ago that we can't even remember learning them.
Fortunately, we can change the stories we tell (for better or worse, in the case of those Star Wars prequels & sequels). You can decide whether those stories still make sense given your current circumstances or goals. Does this thing still make me happy? Is that pursuit still important to me? Is my view of the future the same as it was 5 or 15 or 30 years ago?
A few minutes spent reflecting on the 3-5 most important parts of your life right now and what you imagine being the most important in your future is a great summer exercise. (Writing them down often helps.) This activity can simultaneously strengthen important beliefs and identify those that no longer seem as relevant. Even if you're not completely ready to throw in the towel on some beliefs (I'm not going to get rid of all of my Star Wars stuff), it helps to have a clearer picture of where those beliefs fit within the life you want to live.
May the Force be with you!
Timothy Iseler, CFP®
Founder & Lead Advisor
Iseler Financial, LLC | Durham NC | (919) 666-7604
Iseler Financial helps creative professionals remove stress while taking control of their financial futures. As both advisor and accountability partner, we help identify current strengths and weaknesses, clarify and refine your long-term goals, and prioritize understandable, manageable, and repeatable actions to bring long-term financial well-being. Reach out today to take the first step.