Category: Mentality

Do you want a 15 hour work week?

We arrived in Milan, Italy yesterday, hungry. All throughout the flight, visions of plates overflowing with pasta danced in my head.

Upon landing at the airport, we took a bus straight for the city. On the way, we fervently started looking up Italian restaurants – and, no surprise, there were over 6,000.

But all of them were closed.

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Are you neglecting your finances?

Piles of unopened bills. A wallet full of receipts and ATM statements. More accounts than you can remember the balances of. Cards you can’t remember the PINs to. Waking up in the middle of the night, heart pounding, thinking of your pension plan, tax return, or credit card statement. Sound familiar?

Certain words – like ‘bank’ and ‘statement’ – can grip us with anxiety. So much so, that Cambridge University researchers have declared ‘financial phobia‘ a bona fide psychological condition, affecting as many as 9 million people in Britain – mostly women and young people.

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How can I escape the herd mentality?

The herd instinct is ‘a mentality characterized by a lack of individual decision-making or thoughtfulness, causing people to think and act in the same way as the majority of those around them’. It’s a familiar term in investing, where investors are influenced by the positivity – or negativity – of others, and their behaviour then feeds into the market, perpetuating this cycle and sometimes leading to bubbles or crashes.

But the herd mentality I want to talk about today is the one that is much bigger than the stock market, and permeates almost all of our money (and other) decisions.

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Is your home your greatest asset?

One of the things I most looked forward to, in buying a home of our own, was having more freedom.

Owning, to me, was more than just about no longer having to pay rent, lining someone else’s pockets, but about having the ability to make the ‘house’ I lived in a ‘home’ – something a bit more personal – getting to paint the walls a different colour or put up pictures if I so chose.

And I think this is a common dream. Take the cliché ‘A man’s home is his castle‘. It encapsulates the notion that ‘One can do whatever one wants to in one’s own home’.

But is that always true? And are there other ‘castles’ you can build that give you even more freedom?

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What is the American Dream? (and what happened to it)?

I’m coming up to my fifth month of being on the road, partly inspired by the fantastic book Cashing in on the American Dream: How to retire at 35 by Paul Terhorst. It’s a book that sat on my wishlist for a couple of years, for one simple reason – the word ‘American’ in the title. Although I (and probably most people in the world) am familiar with the concept of the the ‘American Dream’, I wasn’t sure whether the book would be too heavily focused on the American context to be of any use to me. As it turned out, it was extremely relevant, despite its distance from my location in both time (being published over 30 years ago) and space (given my Australian background).

A few days ago, I started to write a post about this book, about how we can all ‘cash in on the American dream’ in some way or another, and the relevance of Terhort’s ideas decades later, in contexts outside America (which I’ll still do in my next post). But this led me to research the very phrase ‘American Dream’, and that turned out to be a whole other (and in some ways, even more interesting!) story.

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Are you keeping up with the Joneses or the Kardashians?

Keeping up with the Joneses‘ is an idiom in many parts of the English-speaking world, implying successfully matching the lifestyle of your neighbours.

Idioms, or fixed expressions such as ‘costing an arm and a leg’ or ‘waste not want not’, are normally considered ‘figures of speech’ in Linguistics, and their meaning is not the regular sum of their parts. For example, to ‘kick the bucket’ must be understood as a set phrase meaning to die, and cannot be determined by analysing the words ‘kick’ and ‘bucket’ alone. As a result, many idioms are culturally specific and difficult to translate.

Nevertheless, unsurprisingly, similar idioms suggesting changing on the basis of changes you observe in others exist in many languages: for example, the delightful Mexican idiom ‘Si de tu vecino ves la barba cortar, pon la tuya a remojar’- ‘If you see your neighbor has shaved his beard, you should start lathering yours’.

But in our globalised world, who exactly are your neighbours, and should you care?

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How can frugality make me more creative?

There is a paradox when it comes to creativity: the tension between freedom and constraint. While we often think of the ideal creative process as unstructured, open-ended, and free of limitations, research has found that creative individuals – in both artistic and business settings – can actually benefit from self- or externally-imposed constraints.

Most of us cringe when we hear words like ‘budget’. As with the word ‘diet’, images of spartan deprivation, meager portions, and boredom spring to mind. But my experiences of frugality have been exactly the opposite – not tightening, but freeing.

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Do you have Affluenza?

‘Affluenza’ – a portmanteau or blend of the words ‘affluence’ and ‘influenza’ – is said to be a ‘virus’ caused by a combination of consumerism, property fever, and the battle of the sexes, resulting in consumer debt, overwork, waste, environmental harm, psychological disorders, alienation, and distress.

Over the past decade or so, a number of books have been published under the title Affluenza. The word first appeared sometime between the 50s and the 70s, taking off in the 1990s following the broadcast of the American documentary of the same name, and the subsequent book by John de Graaf, David Wann and Thomas Naylor in 2001. They define ‘Affluenza’ as:

‘a painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety, and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more.’

Like many novel neologisms or coinages, the term is not without controversy. At least one psychologist wants to ‘eradicate this word from our vocabularies’.

So how can you know if you have ‘Affluenza’? And how can it be treated – or immunised against?

Click to play the ‘Do you have  Affluenza?’ podcast:

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What do women’s pockets and men’s wallets have in common?

We’ve just spent the day wandering around beautiful temples in Bangkok, Thailand, and, after seeing numerous signs warning against pickpockets today, am glad to say that I’ve arrived back at the hotel with my wallet, which I’ve been carrying in a hard-to-reach part of my bag all day.

It’s always been a source of frustration to me that most women’s clothes, including even business trousers, don’t have pockets. Jeans are often the only clothes that reliably have pockets (even then, not all do), but most women’s wallets are too large to fit in a pocket anyway.

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