The First of the Day: How to be Born Again in the Present.

There are quite a few inspirational books around-one being Eckhart Tolle’s “The Power of The Now,” which extolls how one must live in the present (the now) to be fulfilled, happy, less in a state of anguish. The more time I spend with these sage teachings, the more time I take to fully absorb the lessons, the more I realize how living in the present is the only way to live.

I’ll explain.

The past is a heavy dumbbell that positions itself in the center of your mind and eventually finds a home someplace deeper. And the weight is there: All the time. It presses. Feels like a thousand pounds. Dragging you down. The past nurtures fear, resentment and ostensibly works to stifle your creativity, your spark. Plainly, it’s exhausting to relive the past. Heck, I’m still reliving moments from 30 years ago and when consumed by the past, I’m tired enough to sleep for days.

Being overly worried about the future is a waste of mental and physical resources, too. As then happiness, your state of mind, virtually depends on some perfect future confluence of events. You’ll create and be bound by rules. From the outside, some of these rules will appear overwhelming, debilitating. Not to you, though. To you, the hurdles formed are just fine (but they’re not).

 “I’ll be happy; I’ll be satisfied, if and when this or that occurs.” This is no way to exist.

After all, how long before the present becomes the future? Think about it: So, today is Tuesday. The future is Wednesday. Ok, so I’ll be happy Wednesday because of _____.  Then Wednesday comes around and without a doubt, you’re fretting because it’s not Thursday! The future is a torturous, seductive mind loop made of insecurity, negativity and conditional happiness. It’s the cerebral version of the hamster wheel. Not productive. You’ll be stuck in the muck of a world that’s not yet arrived. And then never arrives.

Ignoring the beauty of the present or not truly realizing you live and breathe in the present, in the now, is a waste of mental resources and sometimes it’s a waste of financial opportunity. Avoiding the present destroys fulfillment, creativity and happiness in daily accomplishment.  The present is really all you have when you truly think about it. The current moment is everything. What will you do with it? How will you make the most of the now, right now?

The shackles of the past release you in the now; the rules, conditions, and burdens of the future don’t exist either. You’ve given yourself permission to fly. Tolle teaches how the ego is the culprit. It’s primarily a dysfunctional, festering cerebral offspring that won’t go. Won’t give you a moment’s peace. The human ego is the mechanism which feeds off the carcasses of your past and then sets unrealistic guidelines for your future. The ego is the heaviest link in your misery chain. The ego can destroy or stand in the way of your wealth building activities.

“The ego’s needs are endless. It feels vulnerable and threatened and so lives in a state of fear and want. The ego is always seeking for something to attach itself to in order to uphold and strengthen its illusory sense of self, and it will readily attach itself to your problems. This is why, for so many people, a large part of their sense of self is intimately connected with their problems.” Tolle.

I get puzzled looks when I discuss this stuff: “Rich, you’re a money guy. A financial planner. You’re obsessed with the future and you explore the past. How much money will you need in retirement? What happens to your family’s finances if you become disabled? Do you have enough insurance coverage on your home or auto? What were your first experiences with money? Plus Rich, I know you: You have a HUGE ego. I mean really BIG: Aries BIG!”

True words. But. As I must keep an open mind when assisting those in my client family, I understand how I’m responsible for interpreting present conditions, mine and those of the ones I serve, to truly forge an appropriate financial path. For me, keeping an open mind to the input of the now has brought about a state of enlightenment, of ideas, exercises, and words that have been helpful to many. Being in the present also helps me see whether a financial path needs to adjust or change altogether. I have worked to train myself to remain in the present. Relish in its beauty and teachings. Being fully absorbed in the moment is crucial. It’s no longer a focus on money mistakes of the past or flowery overarching statements of future financial success.

Like:

“Picture yourself on some beach, relaxing in retirement. Toes in the sand. Let us worry about your money.” Financial Firm Speak 2012.

Too much picture of the future. Not enough vision of the present. It’s easy to fall for false promises because the weight of the future is just too stressful. Flowery images of the future are not going to get you where you need to go. Plus, I’m customarily skeptical of any financial entity that advises me to “let them worry about it.” If it’s my money, if I built the wealth, then it’s because I did worry about my money. I’m still going to worry about it. I want you to worry about it WITH ME.

To become a master of your financial path, embracing the present is a necessity. And since your ego is not permitted to flourish in the now, your thought process will be clearer, you’ll be receptive to change, and willing to alter the behaviors which have prevented you from increasing your net worth.

Random Thoughts: The Ways of the Now:

1). Drop your Current Financial Advisor. I heard a financial person on local radio make a statement that irked me recently. He said, “the future will be better for stock investing.” And as I listened I could tell immediately his statement was not backed by any formidable research done in the present. If stock investing is indeed going to be better in the future, then I guess you should stay fully invested until that magic moment occurs (whenever that is).

 If the yet to come is going to improve for stock investing, or any type of investing, then in essence, I’ve possibly wasted my present (and maybe my money)  by not accepting the conditions that exist today. Any advisor who tells you the future will be better (or worse) for any style of investing or a specific asset class of investment, should be ready to offer the evidence that helped him or her decide on the outcome. It’s fair if the assessment is based on homework. You can choose to agree or not.  And the evidence must come from origins other than an employer’s in-house research department. Your advisor needs to do his or her own homework, unshackled by the biases of the research created by an employer. If not, in the present, it’s best to find a different advisor to guide you.

 2). Fully Absorb in the First Expense of the Day. No matter what that first purchase of the day is. A cup of coffee, lunch, a newspaper (who buys actual newspapers anymore?), gum,  I want you to write down the why behind the purchase. How did you make the purchase, cash or credit? As of today, can you stop this purchase from becoming a habit or stop if it is a habit, already? What was the motivation for that first purchase? Were you stressed? Tired? Analyze the present. Can you go an entire day without making a single purchase? A week? Try it. Think twice in the now before you make a first purchase of the day.

3). Become a Financial Sherlock Holmes. Scrutinize daily actions, your financial habits, from the perspective of the present. In the recent film, “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows,” Robert Downey, Jr. as the super sleuth is asked: “What do you see?” He says: “Everything. That’s my curse.” Well, is seeing everything (in the present), becoming fully aware of your current environment, really a curse? Focusing on the now may save your life. Your activities today matter most, especially when it comes to money behavior. What you do today forms the foundation of success or failure in the future. You and your advisor or a trusted partner must confront what’s happening in your life now which prevents you from saving more of your income, paying down debt, seeking a better job, and moving away investments laden with higher-than-average fees or commissions.

4).To Fight Behavioral Pitfalls you must exist in the Now.  Your ego: One of the most lethal enemies of good fiscal health. A healthy ego can lead to bad financial behavior. It seduces you with sweet lies. It tells you you’re greater at investment selection (and everything else) than you really are-makes you overconfident in your investing skills, anchors you to the price paid for a losing investment.  For example, maintaining a losing position until it returns to the original purchase price “in the future,” is a very common investor mistake. And the opportunity cost can be enormous.

Tough to believe-there are investors who are still convinced that the Cisco stock (CSCO) they purchased in 1999 for $160 a share will return to that price (in their lifetime). And it’s been 13 years! Talk about chained to the past!

Holding on to a concentrated stock position (one that makes up 25% or more of your portfolio), solely due to an emotional attachment (it happens more often than you think), is a mistake when you focus on the past. Perhaps you inherited an investment from a loved one or possess an overweight to a stock of the company you retired from after 15 years.  Living in the now breaks the chains of the past. In the now, you can research an investment and be free of emotion doing it. Is the investment as good as it was years before? My life is different in the present, so perhaps I’m more vulnerable to risk if I don’t sell down this position?

Living in the now doesn’t mean you should be short-term trading your portfolio, either. It’s about stepping back, slowing down time and digging deep into your money mental makeup. If anything, being aware in the present will prevent you from overtrading your accounts.

5). Immediate Gratification was really Future Gratification. I know. You’ve been told that one of the primary reasons for over indebted households was the desire to consume. Let’s face it: We love stuff. And we used credit and home equity to purchase all that stuff. I argue that when you were making the decision to purchase that big-screen HD television and surround-sound system you were fixated solely on the future. First, you pictured yourself the following Saturday, sitting and watching an endless stream of Blue-Ray movies, even the ones you weren’t really fond of in the first place (they must look better on a new television). Second, you figured there were better times ahead and your house would continue to increase in price. Third, you thought a pay raise was imminent even though perhaps the future had different plans for you.

There is something revolutionary about this power of now. Why didn’t I come across this wisdom twenty years ago? Oh that’s right: The past is dust, the future is myth. The present is here.

How will you deal with the real of now?

What Are Your Shackles? Understand the Ties that Bind.

1974: Coney Island Hospital, Brooklyn New York. 1AM.

Your father wants to see you, he’s really hurting,” the man in the white coat said.

“He’s not my father. He tried to kill me tonight.”

“Now, there’s no reason to be ashamed, he has a problem.”

“Yes, he’s an addict who has bad aim with big kitchen knives.” Bob just missed my sleeping face and there was a pillow at home with a chef’s knife still sticking out of it to prove it.  I craved to stick it in a doctor that night.

“Your mother even says you’re the son.”

“My mother is nuts, too.”

I never witnessed anyone in real life in a straitjacket before. I didn’t believe there were such things as real padded rooms either, except for what I saw on on Looney Tunes cartoons. I loved what happened on my tiny black and white TV screen because it wasn’t supposed to be real. It was a wonderful rabbit-eared escape that kept me sane.

To this day I don’t understand the popularity of reality programming. I watch TV to escape all semblance of reality. At the time of this writing I’m reading how sit-coms are making a strong comeback. Thank God. Haven’t we all had enough reality for one lifetime? And the real cruel game God plays on us now is we all live much longer. He’s like the cat who toys with the mouse before he rips its head off. I can’t spend 80 years obsessing over Kim Kardashian’s ass and be healthy. Can you?

How far from reality can you go on a bottle of wine?

There I was-God’s mouse in a cage. Locked in a padded room (I heard the heavy strength of the door as it closed tight behind me). Alone with the asshole who tried to kill me a couple of hours earlier. He was sitting at the edge of a long steel table. Secured in a straitjacket. Rocking back and forth. I remember the room was cold. Super cold. Like morgue cold.

I remember this man. After many decades. And not because he tried to kill me. Mom’s boyfriend number 30, or something like that. I recall how incredibly tragic he was. Didn’t seem to mind being restrained. What was another chain, another demon, I guess? He was overrun, overpowered by the chains. Alcoholic, drug addict, bad hair, a greasy ducktail from the 50′s, and fortunately for me, bad aim with a chef’s knife.

He begged me to move closer. I did. Through his tears, through his repeated apologies, his bouts of anger, this boy toy was a curiousity to me. I wanted to understand how he ticked so I wouldn’t tick the same. His clock was way off from the rest of the world, the functioning people. In this room, his clock appeared oddly at home. Calm. Like his clock found the proper wall. Or off-the-wall. His eyes were dull. For a moment, I thought I could see demons floating in his pupils. Perhaps that’s what it means to have that “crazed look.”

Is this crazy enough for you? I’ve been there.

Never forget: We’re all shackled. We’re always three bad actions from insane. Granted, some people are shackled more than others. Some indeed require to be chained more than others. It keeps the rest of us alive and safe. Yet without shackles, you’re not alive. You’re not human. And God has already decided you’re going to live longer. Great huh.

Random Thoughts:

1). Know what shackles you.  Let’s face it. We have them. We own them. Several were created by others because we allowed it. Many were created in our own minds and have no basis in today, the now. Because kids called me fat in grade school, in my mind I’m still fat. No matter what. I have a fat shackle. Frequently, I’m amazed, as I observe myself, others, how as society we fail to have a solid grip on the chains that bind us. List them. After all, you’ve been living with them a long time now. Feel the weight of them. In your head. Around your wrists. Strangling you.

2).  What are your shackles made of? Understand the compositions. Some shackles will be thicker and harder to break than others. Like addictions for example. Identify and prioritize which shackles to work on cutting first. And don’t be shocked to see how long it takes to completely sever the bad shackles. And don’t be shocked to grasp how the chains are never truly broken. You will need to be aware of them the rest of your life. And as you know, you’re probably going to live to be 100.

3). What shackles your ability to gain wealth? Bad money habits most likely were passed on through your observations of others’ chains. How did your parents handle money? What is your very first money memory? How has early money behavior affected your current situation? It’s never too late to change it up. Cut the mental shackles that prevent you from becoming financially independent. Since you’re going to live a long time, it doesn’t matter if you’re 40, or 50. Just start cutting. Now.

4). Not all shackles are bad. Positive chains like saving, not misusing credit, studying, writing, exercising, sleeping are all healthy. List the good shackles too. Learn to make them stronger. Every day. Over time they will be thicker and stronger than your weaker links.

5). What’s your padded cell made of? Is it really so bad to be locked away? Where do you go to recharge? What do you do to recharge? Sharpen your saw. Love the quiet. Don’t be afraid to be alone with yourself. Still. You need the padded cell more than ever.

“I’m sorry I tried to kill you,” padded Bob said.

I shattered his nose. Hit him perfect. Apology accepted.

On occasion, I understand broken shackles can be fun.

No matter how long you live.