Monday, May 6, 2013

Changing Unhelpful Scripts in a Financial Crisis

We all have them, our own inner scripts, that play through our heads over and over again.  We may be aware of them, or they may run quietly under the surface as expectations or assumptions we have of ourselves.  For instance, some positive scripts are, “I can succeed at anything I put my mind to,”  “I make friends easily,” etc….  These scripts can be very helpful in keeping us going through difficult times. But we also have negative inner scripts--the ones that are unhelpful or stop us from succeeding in our lives.  For instance, the one that says “No matter how hard I work, or how much I scrimp and try not to spend, I can never get out of a paycheck-to-paycheck type of life.”  Or, “I’ve tried every diet and failed, so why bother, I’ll never lose this extra weight.”  If you’ve ever kept a journal, and you look back at old entries, you may have noticed that these negative scripts appear over and over again, year after year.  Even if you are in four-times a week psychoanalysis, these scripts continue to reappear.  That’s because they are ideas that we’ve internalized into our basic self-concept.  They most likely were messages we were sent as children, either overtly as comments that were made to us, or covertly in the “role” we were assigned in the family.  And as we grew up, each disappointment or failure got filtered through the lens of these pre-existing scripts.  They’ve been worn into us like grooves into our brains—over and over again, repetition after repetition. 

Considering the economy we’re living in, the foreclosure crisis, offshoring of jobs, etc., many of you can probably relate to the “paycheck-to-paycheck” script.  Say you were building your own business, steadily increasing business, doing better each year, and then the economy crashed and you lost your main client.  And your house lost its value so you became underwater on your mortgage.  So, you hustled around for other clients, and took lower-paying clients just to stay afloat.  Now, you’re working just as hard, or harder (7 days a week, long hours every day), but still, just to stay afloat, you have to dip into savings.   But you’re staying afloat—just barely.  Then, like many Americans have experienced, your whole field suddenly gets off-shored to another country where people will do your job for pennies on the dollar.  All of a sudden, you are completely out of work and have to find another way to support yourself.  Perhaps, now you are in foreclosure on your house and at threat of losing it.

What happens if you listen to the script that says, “no matter how hard I work, or how much I cut back, I will never get out of this paycheck-to-paycheck way of life.”  Your self-esteem goes into the gutter and you feel helpless and hopeless.  You may even go into “globalized” thinking where you see the whole world this way.  The jobs have gone overseas, there are too many people vying for the same jobs, there are too many houses on the market, and “no matter how hard I work, or how much I cut back, …[you know the drill].”  You may even get so low that you feel like giving up.  But really, what are your choices.  If you’ve been working as hard as you have for years, chances are, you’re not ready to just lay down and die.  And if you feel like you might actually hurt yourself, please get to an emergency room or call 911 right away.  There are people who can help you get through that until you can get back into a healthier mindset.  But assuming you’re not quite there yet, but are feeling hopeless and dejected, and feel like you can’t succeed, think about it this way.  Recognize the script that’s being repeated in your head, and how strong it is.  Think about how deeply ground those grooves are in your brain.  But realize that that voice in your head that’s telling you to give up is the “saboteur” or as some call it, “the death instinct.”  This is the part of yourself who is trying to shut you down, to make you fail.  And the script is a lie!  Let me repeat that… THE SCRIPT IS A LIE!  Don’t believe it. 

There is no magic “secret” that makes some people succeed and other people always fail.  You are not doomed to be penniless or always struggling.  There is no magical larger force out there who has deemed you unworthy of success.  The truth is, that everyone is struggling with something, all the time.  Life is hard, it always has been and it always will be.  There are times that are good and times that are bad.  But if you listen to the LIE that says your efforts are in vain, then what’s your option?  Either give up, and shut down (stay in bed, don’t take care of yourself, don’t pay your bills, don’t work), and things get drastically worse than they are now; or stand back up, and take control over the things that you have control over. 

So what does that mean, “take control of the things that you have control over?”  You don’t have control over the U.S. or global economies.  You don’t currently have control over whether or not you’ll have enough retirement savings.  You cannot control where industries send their work.   And you cannot control what the future holds.  So what can you control?  You can control getting out of bed at the same time you would if you had a job (ie., 7-7:30am at the latest).  You have control over your hygiene—shower and dress as if you were going to work every day.  You have control over whether or not you exercise.  You have control over how you eat (your diet).  You have control over how you use your time.  This can be the hardest one when you’re un- or under-employed.  But if you have to, when you get up in the morning and get dressed and eat a good breakfast, sit down and make a list of some ideas you can work on towards that new job or business.  Include on this list any errands you need to get done.  That’s another thing you can control—taking care of your daily living.  And then start doing the items on the list.  I can hear you saying, “but how can I work on writing my book when that won’t pay the bills this month.”   That’s true.  Anything that you have that brings in money obviously needs to be the first thing you do.  But when you’re done doing the things that bring in money and all you’re left with is too much time and nothing to do but fret, it’s easy to get overwhelmed.  Your mind starts flying all over the place looking for solutions--“should I be a dog-walker and a writer, or a veterinarian, or maybe a cop?”  But now your mind is in a panic, not resting on anything for very long, and seeming to hit dead-end after dead-end.  Just try to slow it down, BREATH and focus on one thing that you can do right now.  For instance, working on your book, or researching one of those careers, or going to a networking event.  It’s hard for us as Americans to slow down.  We think we should be able to act in a moment and have an immediate successful result, or we’re utter failures.  But that is not realistic.  These major life changes take time, and if you are going to move in a direction that will be right for you, you need to slow down and focus on the “here-and-now.”  What can you do today? 

The next challenge in a financial or career crisis, is dealing with other people’s comments.  People may say things that are judgmental or insulting, that they don’t mean to be insulting, but reinforce the negative script in your head.  Or maybe they do mean to be insulting.  People can be very judgmental of others who are having a hard time.  It’s almost like there’s an expectation that we should all have money when we need it, and that if we don’t, we must be doing something wrong.  But that presumes that you have control over everything, the employers, the economy at large, the markets, etc.  You don’t have control over that, so it can’t be all your fault.  Our families, especially have the most power to pull the emotional rug out from under us with a single word.  Especially when you are having to lean on them for financial support, they can act like that entitles them to judge you as incapable and tell you what to do.  “Maybe you should go on welfare.”  “What are you spending your money on?”  “Maybe you should move home with me.”  These comments are like a kick in the gut.  And you have to keep your boundaries firmly in place.  Just because you need some help right now, in the moment, doesn’t mean that you are no longer an adult.  It doesn’t mean you are a failure, and it doesn’t mean that you are foolish or irresponsible.  It just means that you are human, and struggling in a difficult economy.  And if your family can’t help you financially, that’s o.k.  You will find a way to survive on your own.  Even living in your car is preferable to giving up your identity as a separate, adult human being.  All you can do is what any of us can do… get up everyday, control the things you have control over, stay focused on the here and now with an eye on figuring out your path for the future, and keep trying.  That’s all anyone can do. 

A financial crisis like this scenario is probably one of the hardest things a person has to deal with.  Their basic needs are threatened, and the helplessness has a tendency to bring back up that negative script, day after day, moment after moment.  So it is a constant struggle to fight it back, and remember that it is a LIE.  Giving into that script would be a self-fulfilling prophecy.  If you shut down, things will get worse.  But if you keep trying it has to get better.  And besides, what else can you do?