Your Brain on Finance: Reflect vs. Deflect for Wealth Planning

Intro

When it comes to navigating the complex world of finance, many people turn to fee-for-service or fee-only financial planning and wealth planning services to help guide them toward their financial goals. While having a good financial advisor is crucial, true financial success goes beyond just having a professional by your side. It lies in your ability to reflect on your behaviours, budget, and financial actions. It also involves recognizing when extra support and help are needed from professionals such as financial therapists and counsellors who can help you rewire your brain for more helpful patterns. In this blog post, we will delve into the reflector vs deflector personality traits and how they can impact your financial well-being, backed by research and neuroscience.

Understanding the Reflector and Deflector Personalities

In my experience, individuals often embody one of two distinct personas: over the years, I’ve learned how to identify them as reflectors or deflectors. Reflectors approach their financial landscape with mindfulness and introspection. They scrutinize their spending habits, financial decisions, and the hurdles that stand in their way.

This thoughtful introspection allows them to adapt and evolve their strategies for wealth planning, steering their mental faculties towards nurturing beneficial neural pathways and behaviours. Studies have shown that people with higher levels of mindfulness tend to make better financial decisions, as they are better able to resist impulsive spending and consider long-term consequences (Schomburgk & Hoffmann, 2022). For example, the most recent study by Sunlife found that people who engage digitally with their retirement plans tend to save more, feel more confident and achieve better retirement outcomes. Digital engagers have an average balance of 230 percent higher than those who do not engage and save 61 percent more than those less proactive with their finances.

On the other hand, deflectors tend to shy away from such inward examination. By evading responsibility and avoiding confronting their financial truths, deflectors leave important financial decision-making up to their subconscious mind—an automated process relying on shortcuts. As a result, they are likely to fall prey to many behavioural biases that lead to mistakes and to fall prey to bad financial advisors. This avoidance strategy not only stunts their financial growth but also perpetuates a cycle of unhelpful behaviours that keep them from achieving their full financial potential.

Understanding where you fall on this spectrum can be the first step towards fostering a healthier financial mindset and taking proactive steps toward securing your financial well-being. Locus Of Control (LOC) — an individual’s perception about the main forces that shape their life — has been linked to both financial wellness and money disorders, depending on whether your LOC is internal or external (Taylor et al., 2017).

Exploring the amazing ways our brain works shows us how it shapes the way we handle money. At the heart of our decision-making process is the prefrontal cortex, a cerebral powerhouse steering our choices toward rationality and long-term planning. However, our brains are also home to the amygdala, a structure that prompts immediate, emotion-driven reactions, often manifesting in impulsive spending or risk aversion in financial contexts. The more trauma and more past unhelpful money habits and experiences we have, the more active our amygdala is. Every subsequent experience will either reinforce existing behaviours or build new neural pathways.

This tug-of-war between the reflective prefrontal cortex and the reactive amygdala underscores the importance of mindful financial reflection. Engaging our prefrontal cortex through a contemplative analysis of our financial habits activates neural pathways that prioritize logical over emotional responses. This neuroplasticity — the brain’s ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections — unlocks the potential for transformation. By consistently choosing reflection over deflection, we harness the capability to reroute our financial trajectories, making decisions that are not just reactive to immediate desires but aligned with our long-term wealth objectives. Emotional regulation skills are crucial in financial decision-making, as impulsive emotional reactions can lead to poor financial choices.

Understanding this neural interplay empowers us to approach financial decisions with a blend of caution and calculated risk, fostering a mindset conducive to sustained financial health. Through the lens of neuroscience, the path to financial wisdom is not just about crunching numbers but about sculpting a brain attuned to prudent financial planning and execution.

Interesting fact: The brain’s prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for decision-making, can be strengthened through activities such as mindful meditation (Schuman-Olivier et al., 2020) and exercise, leading to improved financial behaviours.

Biopsychosocial Approach to Financial Planning

The role of a financial planner is rapidly evolving, and the financial planning community is increasingly being encouraged to train in clients’ psychology. Before the internet and artificial intelligence took over, our role was to provide investment advice or pick an outstanding stock!

However, the growing field of psychology and financial planning shows that financial success is influenced by multiple factors, such as clients’ biology, the social environment they grew up in, and their psychological state (Mustafa et al., 2024).

Studies suggest that genes may play a role in shaping an individual’s relationship with money – for example, genetic variations have been linked to impulsivity (Bevilacqua & Goldman, 2013) which can lead to difficulties managing debt and overspending. We also learn our money beliefs and habits from our parents and the socioeconomic status we were born into.

Therefore, cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) — a structured and goal-orientated form of psychotherapy — has been found to be particularly useful for individuals struggling with unhelpful thought patterns related to finance and wealth, helping them develop new habits and ways of thinking around money. Financial therapy, which combines elements of financial planning with mental health counselling, has become increasingly popular as more people recognize the interconnection between mental wellness and financial well-being.

The Power of Reflection in Wealth Planning

Tapping into the transformative power of self-reflection in wealth planning offers a revolutionary approach to managing our financial lives. This method involves taking a pause to evaluate and critically analyze our spending behaviours, saving tendencies, and investment decisions. Reflection is more than just a financial audit; it is an intimate journey into understanding the deeper motivations behind our financial choices.

Have you ever tried keeping all your receipts for several months and summing up your monthly expenses? How did that experience turn out for you? What insights did you gain? If you haven’t yet tried this exercise, I encourage you to collect all your receipts for a few months and then take some time at the end of each month to reflect on your expenditures. Feel free to reach out to me and share any enlightening moments or stories that come from this experience.

Personally, I was compelled to track every penny when we overextended ourselves with an investment property during a period of rising interest rates. This turned out to be a profound learning experience for our family. It made me reconsider my past financial behaviours, the socioeconomic influences I grew up with, and my deeply ingrained money beliefs and habits. I also observed how my husband’s upbringing contributed to our family’s relationship with money. We then determined what to do as a couple to move forward.

This pivotal moment led me to quit my job as a financial planner at a large firm and pursue advanced degrees in Counselling Psychology and Financial Therapy. I observed how corporations used clients’ psychology to sell them financial products based on fear and impulse. I could no longer be a part of the system. Today, I run a financial planning practice that focuses on helping others build sustainable wealth by addressing their mental well-being alongside their financial strategies.

By committing to regular self-reflection, we pave the way for a proactive, rather than reactive, relationship with money. This habit creates a space for us to challenge the status quo of our financial strategies, fostering a culture of ongoing learning and adaptation. Reflection serves as a catalyst for personal growth, enabling us to identify areas where we excel as well as those needing refinement or a complete overhaul. Often, moments of struggle can be transformed into tremendous strength when we use those experiences to reflect, learn, and change.

Incorporating reflection into wealth planning is similar to laying a robust foundation for a house; it ensures that the structure built upon it is stable, resilient, and capable of withstanding challenges. This is a crucial step towards developing financial literacy and independence, achieving one thoughtful insight at a time. Many bad financial advisors push clients into buying products that erode their long-term wealth, such as credit, insurance, and high-fee mutual funds. Unfortunately, deflectors are a vulnerable population that often fall prey to such advice.

I understand that making significant changes can be incredibly challenging, but believe me—with the right support, it’s entirely possible. As you navigate this journey, your sense of self-worth will increase, leading to greater life satisfaction. Life will no longer feel like a constant struggle. Instead, you’ll find yourself liberated from the chains of past experiences and emotions. You’ll be in the driver’s seat, enjoying the freedom to make choices and savour the things you truly love.

Through the disciplined practice of self-reflection in your financial planning, you will not only build wealth but also enhance your overall well-being and quality of life.

Interesting fact: Individuals who prioritize experiences over material possessions tend to be more creative, curious, and adventurous, which are traits associated with greater life satisfaction and well-being. Neurological studies suggest that the brain processes information about experiences differently than it does about material possessions, with experiences triggering greater activation in regions associated with positive emotions and social cognition (Kumar et al., 2020).

The Downside of Deflecting Financial Realities

The downside of deflecting financial realities is far-reaching and can significantly hinder one’s journey to financial freedom. By turning a blind eye to their financial health, deflectors unwittingly entrench themselves deeper into patterns of denial and procrastination. This habit of avoidance precludes them from recognizing potential financial pitfalls and seizing growth opportunities.

Such behaviours can spiral into a state of financial stagnation or decline, where one’s aspirations for wealth building, legacy planning, and retirement planning become increasingly unattainable. The refusal to face financial truths is a relinquishment of power, allowing unproductive habits to dictate one’s financial trajectory.

Without confronting these realities, deflectors risk remaining in a perpetual cycle of short-term gratification at the expense of long-term prosperity. Acknowledging the impact of our financial decisions is pivotal in breaking free from this cycle, paving the way for a more secure and prosperous financial future. You can refer to a further study (in the reference section) about external LOC and money disorders by Taylor et al., 2017. Another great book on money disorders is Mind Over Money by Ted and Brad Klontz.

Interesting Fact: Money avoidance is a common issue among healthcare workers or people in the helping professions. There are multiple theories for that, one being that the demands of the job can lead to emotional exhaustion and burnout, leaving little energy or motivation for financial planning. When someone is fatigued, distracted, or pressed for time, being present and mindful is increasingly difficult. As a result, we revert to operating on our subconscious system, where we are more prone to mistakes, impulsiveness and lack of self-control (Chaffin 2018). Fee-only advisors are paramount for vulnerable clients as they offer objectivity to protect their clients’ best interests.

If you are in a helping profession, you may be more prone to money-avoidant behaviours. Budgeting, monthly meetings with your spouse to review investment statements and finances, and quarterly meetings with your financial planner can be critical factors in rewiring your brains for success. Training your prefrontal cortex and rewiring your brain is vital here. Upfront effort for the long-term reward is required. An experienced financial planner in financial therapy can encourage an optimal environment for sound decision-making.

Partnering Up: How Professional Help Can Rewire Your Financial Brain

Working with a knowledgeable financial advisor who understands people’s needs and a supportive life coach can make a big difference in how you think and feel about money. Choosing to work with experts in fee-only financial planning and wealth management can really open doors to personalized strategic planning for you. These professionals act like guides, showing you how to build good habits that lead to smart money decisions instead of quick, regrettable ones. Their advice helps you focus on long-term benefits and stability, setting the stage for you to be careful with your finances.

By teaming up with these advisors, you’ll learn how to grow your wealth and plan for the future in ways that make you feel confident. This partnership lays the foundation for a mindset ready for financial success, ensuring your financial plans can keep up with changes in the economy. Together, you’ll make a great team where your financial planner offers strategies, new perspectives, and keeps you on track. Your role? Keep practicing and staying focused. Remember, being mindful about your finances takes dedication.

References

Bevilacqua, L., & Goldman, D. (2013). Genetics of impulsive behaviour. Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological sciences, 368(1615), 20120380. https://doi.org/10.1098/rstb.2012.0380

Chaffin, C. R. (2018). Client psychology. John Wiley & Sons, Inc

Gonzales, F. (2024, July 4). Digital Tools Boost Canadians’ retirement savings, study says. Wealth Professional. https://www.wealthprofessional.ca/investments/retirement-solutions/digital-tools-boost-canadians-retirement-savings-study-says/386330?fbclid=IwZXh0bgNhZW0CMTEAAR3JeHkVwVu8oFzT1DXSnX9EmxM15-ylhQ3VndV6nj1LehyCkELzNZNRbx8_aem_JVPjfUpJ5Tfci7BGyE3rHw

Kumar, A., Killingsworth, M. A., & Gilovich, T. (2020). Spending on doing promotes more moment-to-moment happiness than spending on having. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 88, 103971. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jesp.2020.103971

Mustafa Abro, A., Ali Maitlo, A., Darya Khan Mughal, D., Sangah, S., & Mughal, I. (2024). Mediating role of financial literacy in relationship of factors affecting the money management skills. Journal of Asian Development Studies, 13(1), 626–642. https://doi.org/10.62345/jads.2024.13.1.52

Schomburgk, L., & Hoffmann, A. (2022). How mindfulness reduces BNPL usage and how that relates to overall well-being. European Journal of Marketing, 57(2), 325–359. https://doi.org/10.1108/ejm-11-2021-0923

Schuman-Olivier, Z., Trombka, M., Lovas, D. A., Brewer, J. A., Vago, D. R., Gawande, R., Dunne, J. P., Lazar, S. W., Loucks, E. B., & Fulwiler, C. (2020). Mindfulness and Behavior Change. Harvard review of psychiatry28(6), 371–394. https://doi.org/10.1097/HRP.0000000000000277

Taylor, C. D., Klontz, B., & Lawson, D. (2017). Money disorders and locus of Control: Implications for assessment and treatment. Journal of Financial Therapy, 8(1). https://doi.org/10.4148/1944-9771.1121