Change Your Brain to Change Your Life (and the Lives of Your Clients)

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by Certified Coach Alissa Gauger, MBA

Have you ever heard the saying, “neurons that fire together wire together”? Neuropsychologist Donald Hebb from the field of associative learning coined the term. This is important for you to understand as a Financial Representative (FR) because it will help you understand your client’s “money story” and how to help make it more positive.

Hebb’s research found that the thoughts, feelings and experiences that humans have trigger thousands of neurons in the brain. With repetition, this forms a powerful neural network. This causes people to have predictable reactions based on their experiences.

For example, let’s say that your client grew up in a household with parents that diligently saved money and taught their children from an early age to put some money every time they received it into a savings account. Perhaps it was fun to put the money into a special piggy bank or take it to the bank. Doing so brought smiles and praise! It’s likely that your client still associates receiving money with a good feeling with saving a portion of it. Conversely, your client may have had an experience where they perceived that there was never enough money. For example, an influx of funds into the household might have been spent carelessly and your client went without school supplies or new shoes. This experience could have hardwired a stress reaction of fear and shame with money.

“As we grow, learn, and get bombarded by the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, most of us develop clusters of fear, rage, or sadness that become deeply ‘hardwired’.” We aren’t born with these negative feelings,” writes Dr. Martha Beck in her book Steering by Starlight: Find Your Right Life No Matter What.

These associations are much like highways that get paved in the brain. The good news is that you can help your client choose to take a new exit and form more positive associations going into the future. Our brains are able to change themselves throughout our lifetimes! We can unlearn our negative reactions and rewire our brains.

Most people have some negative money stories. By helping your clients to challenge their thinking, learn new beliefs and take actions that are completely new, you are facilitating the formation of a new neural network.

Perhaps your client believes that being responsible with money means never having fun. The thought that you will ask them to follow a tight budget is coming from a neural pathway formed long ago. How can you show your client how a budget can make life MORE fun? For example, perhaps by setting aside a healthy amount of dollars to enjoy life now your client can begin to experience a new belief system because they associate following the budget with feeling good. That in turn creates financial freedom which supports the building of a new highway in the brain.

Maybe your client has a strong belief that permanent insurance is for suckers. They have been taught that only term insurance is the smart choice and it has been reinforced by the media, friends and family. As an FR, you will need help your client send new signals to the neural pathway. This might come from approaching the topic in a fresh, unexpected way. If you predictably lecture and talk at your client using the expected argument, that may trigger the neural pathway that leads to term insurance. What if you provoke your client to think by asking engaging, open-ended, curious questions? If you trust that your client can explore a topic in a new way by dropping your agenda, the client has a chance to learn something new. This can make your job more fun and interesting. How can you help form new and unexpected reactions and experiences?

We were born nearly fearless! You can return to this state over time by deliberately forming new positive associations and holding them in your mind. Choose to feel love over fear and seek out peace over stress through your hardest times. Steer the car boldly off the predictable highway into a new exit ramp that can open a whole new way of thinking and living. How about you go first?

Coaching Tip Author and coach Dr. Martha Beck recommends taking 10 minutes per day to take a break and choose something you deeply desire in your life. Let your mind believe that you already have it and allow yourself to experience all of your senses in this imaginary scene. Hold the pleasant image in your mind for at least 10 minutes. Guide your mind gently back each time it wanders. This exercise will erase your current “ruts” and form your new, positive neural pathways that will lead you to a happier life.