Money Can’t Be An Addiction…Can It?
Money doesn’t seem very destructive, so how could one be addicted to it? There is research coming out that says you can have a money obsession. Let me introduce you to this idea of process addiction (behavioral addiction). When we think about addiction, we usually associate it with substance abuse. It’s easy to understand the cycle of addiction – you need more of that substance relieving x pain, growing more dependent on that substance. Process addiction is just as much of an addiction as substance abuse. It can be fed by things you typically think of as good, like eating, shopping, and – you guessed it – money. You can unknowingly create a groove in your brain where the stock updates you read will trigger the same chemical experience you’re trying to find. It’s another way to treat some unknown emotional pain with distraction. And what’s fascinating is that we can build the same type of tolerance because it takes more of that stimulus to get that hit.
I see clients who have a money obsession, specifically with the idea of getting to a million dollars. They aim at this number; it gives them a sense of confidence, security, peace of mind. Then they attain it, but they still need the hit. It takes more of the substance now to convince them they’re safe because they’re convinced this is how they get to a sense of peace. Just like a drug, it’s rooted in the high you get.
People who have OCD and have this tendency to wash and rewash their hands or flip light switches, that process is the addiction. The addiction is to some process that convinces them they’re okay. We can see that and go, “wow, that’s bad,” or, “that’s hard”…how often are you checking those financial numbers? I have to check myself on this, too. The key is to pay attention to when you’re starting to do it for that “hit” versus when it’s a responsible check-in.
Overcoming Your Money Obsession
If you see numbers as these gates where you are allowed to feel safe, or you’re obsessive about making more, you may be tripping into these process addictions. What that could mean is you could be training your brain to look at those things to feel security, peace, or calmness. If you find yourself in this, the first thing to know is that it’s something you might need help with – and not from me or an advisor. You may need help from a therapist that can work with you to unwind what that process is that you are stuck in.
If you are only leaning into that tendency, though, and want to stop yourself from tripping all the way in, the first thing you can do is start to think in terms of “enough”. Define what is enough, and make that an immovable number. You want to get to a place where you can say anything more than this is, by definition, more than adequate. The problem is that you keep convincing yourself that wherever you’re at, more than that is adequate. That process can hook you, but if you establish a point that is contentment, that is plenty, then you can be free from those “hit” check-ins. If you have not worked with an advisor to map out what “enough” looks like, it is hard to get out of those addictions because maybe this isn’t enough-maybe you do need more?
The other thing you need to do is break the power money has over you. It is just a neutral thing. The balance in your portfolio, the amount in your checking account, that money is neutral. By itself, it does not provide you security or contentment, or confidence. You are the one who provides those things. The thoughts you have create the emotion, so if you’re feeling insecure and uncertain, those are things money can’t fix. We somehow spill this power and meaning into money. Hold it more loosely – stop giving it so much authority that you would obsess over having more of it.
Holistic Financial Advice: Advice That Heals
Lastly, challenge yourself to evaluate the conversations you have around money. When you interact with your advisors, are you asking them to meet you in that obsession? Are you asking them to step into your process addiction and give you data and charts and graphs that just deepens that track in your brain, getting you stuck in this cycle? Sadly, that is the comfort zone for a lot of advisors, and we can unintentionally feed into those process addictions. That is the magic in holistic financial advice – it invites conversations to be had about the things you value more than money. You need those conversations around money that don’t reinforce the grooves you already placed in your brain. If you sought out an advisor who makes you feel good because they keep you in those grooves, you may feel better, but it isn’t serving you. Advisors don’t step into that conversation a lot of the time, but we need to – especially with people asking us to do the opposite.
If any of this resonated with you, we would love to help. That’s part of our mission here – to change the discussions we have about money because when we do, we get to lead a richer life.