I enjoy debating ideas on social media, and a topic of particular interest is economic inequality. A surprising number of people are convinced the economy is rigged in favor of the wealthy class. I believe this is an inaccurate depiction of reality. Having professionally helped hundreds of people over the last two decades move from the lowest wealth quintile to the highest quintiles, I have observed the game IS rigged: in favor of those who don’t think poor. In this article, I’ll explain exactly what it means to “think poor” and how to stop.
The majority of the people I encounter who struggle financially are perfectly capable of being prosperous, but they have the wrong mindset about money and their personal finances. They “think poor.” And, to paraphrase René Descartes, they think, therefore they are. In fact, for the person of average intelligence and ability, I believe prosperity is 80% mental attitude and only 20% mental aptitude.
A crippling effect of thinking poor is fixating on obstacles rather than opportunities. When I counsel poor-thinking people, they often prefer playing the game I call “excuse tennis.” Excuse tennis is played whenever someone shares with me their goals, but every time I offer a suggestion to increase their odds of achieving them, they knock down the suggestion with an excuse. For example, let’s say someone wants to increase their income, so I recommend they seek different employment that offers higher income opportunities. Once I send my recommendation “over the net,” they volley it back with an excuse such as: “I really like my current job,” “I don’t want to move,” or “I would need to go back to school first, and I don’t have the money.” When I return their excuse with a recommendation to sell some toys, get a temporary part-time job, or start a small business to come up with extra money, they declare their toys too important to be sold, they don’t want to be a slave to work, or their health or pride won’t allow them to engage in physical labor. People must stop playing excuse tennis if they want to escape poverty. Focusing exclusively on problems prevents us from dedicating our full attention on solutions resulting in lost opportunities. .
Another trap of poor-thinking is trying to achieve immediate prosperity with borrowed money. Benjamin Franklin once said: “The second vice is lying, the first is running in debt.” Debt is not now, nor will it ever be, your friend. When you are in debt, the money you earn does not belong to you. You simply work for two masters rather than one, and you keep less of your earnings for doing so.
A third trap of poor-thinking is comparing one’s circumstances to others instead of contending with one’s own circumstances. The person who fixates on the man who has more is wasting valuable time and energy that could be better spent on activities capable of creating and obtaining financial security. I have a friend I see regularly who is frustrated by how much others have, and his envy makes it virtually impossible for him to see his own opportunities for improving his economic situation. When one man makes $20,000 per month and another only one-tenth as much, it does the lower paid man no good to concern himself with the higher paid man’s income, how he spends it, and the level of the higher paid man’s compassion and generosity. By following the WealthMasters Milestones of avoiding debt, and staying gainfully employed, even the modestly paid person can achieve financial security over time.
Insanity is often defined as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. To improve one’s situation it is important to adopt a lifestyle of self-improvement. It’s easy to see what’s wrong with others, but self-improvement is much more difficult. The first step in shedding poor-thinking is committing to make tomorrow better than today. Once this commitment is made, goals can be established for improving one’s spirituality, physical health and nutrition, relationships, intellectual growth, and personal finances, and an action plan can be developed to ensure activities are completed in pursuit of these established goals.
Self-improvement requires courage, especially if one’s most intimate social circles are also caught in the traps of poor-thinking. Successful people tend to enjoy assisting others who are pursuing success, and most communities have more mentors than there are people seeking their help. Good mentors can be found in most churches, local chambers of commerce, or even within one’s family, but it takes courage to ask for help. I have mentored dozens of young people over the years, and I am often frustrated that more haven’t been interested in being mentored.
Anytime someone embarks on a path of self-improvement and personal growth, there will be hardships and challenges. Poor thinkers succumb to these hardships, even though most obstacles can be overcome with perseverance. By enduring difficult times, we become stronger and more experienced, and over time the obstacles seem smaller and less obstructive. When times get tough, seek out mentors who have endured similar challenges on their own paths to success.
Most success takes place between the ears. For those who are tired of the trappings of poor-thinking: 1) stop playing “excuse tennis; 2) avoid debt; 3) stop fixating on what others have; 4) commit to a plan of self-improvement; 5) seek out mentors; and 6) practice endurance when things get difficult. When we stop “thinking poor” and start actively working towards positively change in our lives, we position ourselves to obtain financial security and human flourishing.