Life has a way in painfully teaching us how we’ve fallen short. Sometimes these lessons are not evident unless we reflect on different paths we could have taken to avoid mistakes.
I’ve started thinking about what I would tell the previous version of myself if time travel existed. When we are young and lack knowledge and experience, it can be hard to have a proper perspective on how to approach problems.
Below is the process I would take in preparing to meet young Chris Roane.
Step #1: Reflect
Before meeting the younger version of myself, I would need to think about what I would say and how I would approach this situation. The first step is to reflect on two main things:
Thinking about where I am at now.
The key questions to think about are:
- Do I like where I ended up?
- Could I have done anything better?
Thinking about what you would do differently is not as clear as it seems since failing can often be what propels us to new heights.
Naturally, it seems like we would want to go “well, I don’t want to make any of the same mistakes I made.”. But that idea misses the core concept that our failures are often the best learning experiences. Or at least we wouldn’t have learned as quickly by avoiding those mistakes. As a result, missing out on these opportunities could have a ripple effect on our life.
Maybe we think we could have gotten farther than where we are at now. But perhaps our mistakes helped us get to where we are at now. And without them, our situation would be worst.
In other words, it is not as simple as listing all the areas where we failed. It is more useful to look back and figure out where we FAILED IN LEARNING FROM OUR MISTAKES.
The pain from our choices should trigger us to avoid making those same mistakes. But when we ignore those negative experiences or cover them up with other things, we extend the point at which we can move in the other direction. When we make the same mistakes over and over again, the problem grows exponentionally.
It makes things more complicated if we experience the pain of our choices, but are addicted to the process of those bad decisions. Example: You hate having a new car loan, but you love spending the time researching and figuring out new cars you want to buy. During the process, you might be aware of how you are going to regret taking on that additional debt. But the euphoria of the process overtakes your mind, and you can’t get away from how excited you are about having the new car.
Acknowledging the cycles that go on repeat that lead to adverse outcomes, can start the process of unwinding those bad financial habits.
What would I do differently, knowing what I know now?
Understanding the core mistakes I made in the past, helps me figure out what I would do differently in the future.
And often this can mean not doing certain things, as much as it focusses on doing things differently.
Early in adulthood, I developed a habit for going into debt for electronics. Which often was expensive TVs, computers, etc. Knowing what I know now, I should have paid closer attention to how I was feeling from my choices.
It is interesting to look back and see how I found ways to justify going into credit card debt. I never liked building debt, but while I was in the process of thinking about what I wanted, I would find excuses on why it was a good idea. I always regretted the choice to go into debt, and having to pay for things over a long period made me feel financially behind. There was something psychological going on during this process, that prevented me from learning from my financial mistakes.
Another area I struggle in is overemphasizing things that don’t ultimately matter. Few things waste as much time and energy than focusing on trivial matters, which could deal with relationships, or how you think about yourself. Figuring out what matters to you can help you figure out what is most important and worth our focus.
Step #2: Figure out the reasons behind the behavior.
Changing our behavior and trying different things is not going to stick until we get behind the “why” of what we are doing. Even if we could come up with a list of perfect financial choices, the chances of our behavior changing long-term are low.
Trying to figure out the “why” from our behavior can be the hardest step. Because it often isn’t clear the reason behind our choices. But figuring this out is our best chance in changing our trajectory.
You may have developed a bad financial habit in response to your environment growing up. Or maybe buying expensive luxury items helped you cope with stressful situations. These type of patterns can be the hardest to break as the psychology behind these actions can be complicated and extremely difficult to break.
Sometimes our financial problems are caused by much more significant issues than money.
I found it helpful to think about how and what I am feeling while I make these terrible money choices I end up regretting, along with how I feel being debt free. I noticed when I focus on something that I am passionate about, most of my energy goes towards pursuing that “thing.” Instead of trying to avoid that passion, it has become about pointing that desire towards healthy pursuits.
When you can make a connection with how low you feel after making bad financial choices, while you are in the midst of those decisions, it can help break the bondage of those feelings.
This blog is a great example. Instead of focusing my energy on things I want to buy, I’m adjusting my focus on building something that could drastically change my future. Even if Money Stir doesn’t take off, I’m thinking about ways t
Another positive thing I’ve focused on over the last year was helping Andrea (my wife) start and run her salon business. Seeing that thrive and learning how to run that business more effectively, has been hugely positive.
Step #3: Confrontation
Sometimes when I think about meeting the younger version of myself, I think about beating the crap out of him to try to get him to learn.
But typically aggression (and especially violence) tends to make us defensive and less likely to listen.
If you become angry thinking about your past, you might be too hard on yourself. It can often be a sign that you are too critical of yourself.
I would approach myself being kind and gentle. Explain the potential I have and how the future could look if I make smart financial decisions. I would tell young Chris to calm down and not get so worked up over small things.
But more importantly, I would tell him to slow down and pay more attention to what is happening. There are so many positive things happening around us, and we miss out experiencing that positive energy if we aren’t paying attention.
Below is what I would tell young Chris Roane:
- It is never worth buying things you want but can’t afford. He needs to learn how to spend less than he makes!
- Your relationships are the most valuable things you have.
- You are smarter than you think. Don’t sell yourself short.
- I would tell him to utilize his passion and focus on things that will benefit his future.
- Don’t underestimate the value of time.
- Think about how you want your future to look in 5, 10, 20 and 30 years.
- I would tell juvenile Chris to learn the art of self-reflection, which includes reading more, thinking about past mistakes and learning from others. But don’t forget to think about what you are doing right!
But why is this even worth doing?
Thinking about this idea is less about preparing to “literally” meet a past version of ourselves. It is more about helping us where we are at right now and our future.
Learning to reflect on our past and current choices can help open future opportunities.
If I had developed a habit earlier to reflect on my past, I would have avoided a lot of pain. I would have thought twice about going into more credit card debt. Maybe I would not have built a brand new house that is more than we need. And I definitely wouldn’t have spent more than I made.
But more importantly, I would have learned what is most important to me and paint a mental picture on how I want my future to look.
If you could meet a younger version of yourself, what would you say? Would you approach this differently?
Chris Roane is a financial blogger who loves to be transparent about money-related issues. He’s paid off massive amounts of credit card debt and is the blog author of Money Stir. His main focus on Money Stir is talking about how money relates to our relationships, personal development, and how to plan for the future we want. He’s been quoted on Market Watch, The Ladders, and other publications.