How to stop focusing on money

How to stop focusing on money

Today I will be continuing my recent theme of what you should be optimizing for. The most common goal I hear people optimizing for is money. While this may seem like an obvious choice, I will argue that money should not be what you are optimizing for if it is in lieu of another precious life currency. time. When the goal of gaining more money results in a loss or sacrifice of time then we are at odds with what the purpose of money is and need to re-evaluate our primary strategies. Let’s delve into this a little deeper.

Wh e n you ask most people why they want to earn money you receive a standard set of responses along common themes – financial security, a new car, freedom to travel etc. However, all of these themes reside along a common axis. What they are stating is a desire for more time. That is essentially the key value of money that underlies all those purchases we make in life – the accumulation of more time.
Let’s take a hypothetical situation where you have 20 million dollars sitting in your bank reserved for emergencies and a family member gets sick. With that reserve of cash you do not have to worry so much about income and therefore have the time available to spend with the family member.

When you have enough money so that you do not have to worry about going to your nine to five to earn your income then you have accumulated enough time. That freedom you now have to travel the world is now measured in the currency of time. Therefore, the end product of your efforts to accumulate money is time.
With this said it is important to evaluate your relationship with money and its relationship to time. You must remember that money creates time. If, during your accumulation of money, you conduct in activities that destroys your time then you are acting in a manner counter productive to your end goal.
Conversely, if a product you have bought is going to save you time in the long run then it is supportive of your final objective. For example, by leveraging someone else’s time through the use of well developed educational material, the money you have spent is gaining you time in the long run. Therefore such a purchase is in line with your targets and supportive of your goals. When purchases do not fit this strategy then they do not serve you in a helpful manner. This is the kind of analytical thinking you must uphold when you are evaluating your optimization strategy and spending habits.

Ultimately, correct spending will translate into time. Do not get so caught up in the earning of money that you forget that in reality, you are optimizing for time. Don’t lose sight of your final objective. Any opportunities you have that let you optimize time should be taken. That is the primary objective. As I have repeated many times before, you can lose money and earn it back but you can’t regain lost time.

How to stop focusing on money

If you want to spend less money, you’ve got to go about it in the right way. You know you have to save for the future, but how do you make sure that it’s really gonna stick? Unless you have some great ideas and a plan, you might run into trouble. Follow these simple tips to curb your spending.

1. Set Savings Goals

It’s always good to make a plan. Are you saving your money in order to buy a car? Perhaps you just want to pay down those credit card balances. Whatever the case, set your goals. Once you have a clear idea of what you are saving for, you will be prepared to work toward that goal. Think of your goals as a line of defense protecting you from spending inordinately.

2. Plan Your Budget

Keep track of what you are spending, and log daily entries into a budget spreadsheet. Over time, you will see how much you spend every day, week, month, and year. If you need some help, there are many effective budget planners that you can find using a search engine. You can analyze your budget, and pinpoint exactly where your wallet is hemorrhaging. You can also keep track of your income in the same manner – make sure that you are not spending more than you earn! In any case, simply cut out the expenses that aren’t doing anything for your savings, and watch your earnings grow.

3. Balance Before You Spend

Pay all of your bills before you leave the house to go out. When you are unaware of your financial condition, you are more likely to spend money frivolously. When you have a good idea of your finances, however, your awareness will help you when you go out. Balancing your checkbook will provide you with the willpower to avoid spending too much.

4. Wait Three Days

Whenever you are tempted to make a big purchase, wait three days. While you’re waiting, consider whether or not you need what you want to buy. After the rush of impulse shopping wears off, you will know if it’s something you actually want to purchase.

5. Eat Your Food

Don’t go out to eat. There’s food in your fridge that’s probably better for you, and you will save big bucks by staying home. Check your pantry before you take another trip to the store: you probably have some food in there too. And when you do go to the store, eat before you go – a hungry shopper is a spendy one! Remember, only go to the store when the food is gone. You’ll take fewer trips and lower your grocery bill, effectively saving you some money in the process.

6. Pack Your Lunch

Many people spend their money daily on expensive restaurants and food trucks. Avoid this trap by making a sack lunch before you leave the house for work. You will eat healthier, and you’ll save a great deal of money by following this tip.

7. Shop With a List

Make a list of what you need to buy before you leave the house. This will galvanize you when you are out – just stick to the list. In this manner, you can easily avoid impulse buys. Just remind yourself that you can’t buy anything that isn’t on the list.

8. Cancel Catalogs and Emails

Retailers are sending you emails and catalogs all the time. They want you to open them so that you will be mesmerized by their latest deals. Don’t open them! Unsubscribe from these emails (usually there is a link to opt-out right at the bottom of the email). Call retailers that send you catalogs and ask them to remove your name from their mailing lists. In these ways, you can allay your temptation to check out the latest deals (saving you some hard-earned cash!).

9. Hide Away Your Credit Cards

Your credit cards can be your worst enemy when you are striving to save money. Therefore, place them in a spot that isn’t readily available to you. A safe is a good place to start: the credit card won’t be readily accessible, and it takes time to enter the combination. Safes aren’t the only way to stop spending with your credit card. You can try anything that will slow you down when you want to pull out the card.

There are more drastic measures that you can take (especially, if you don’t have a safe). Try wrapping your cards in plastic and burying them in the backyard. Or you can freeze them. Just place the card in a bowl of water and stick it in the ice box. (Put a coin atop the card to keep it from floating.) Next time you need to use your credit card, you will need to thaw it out or dig it back up – very effective deterrents, indeed.

10. Cut Up Your Cards

So the icebox trick didn’t work. Or maybe you’re really good at digging. You somehow managed to spend with your credit cards even after you tried to hide them away. No worries, just cut them up. If you find yourself spending too much with debit cards, cut them up too. No more trips to the ATM on a whim, and no more impulse buying. No credit and no debit means no frivolous spending with your cards.

11. Borrow Don’t Buy

When money’s tight, think of borrowing what you need. The neighbor’s lawnmower, a tie for a special engagement, your brother’s pickup truck. Remember, you often don’t need to rent or buy anything, especially if it’s for short-term use.

12. Trade & Barter

Many things that you currently own have value. Keep this in mind when you need to buy something: you can trade what you already own! Ask the neighbor if he wants to trade his lawnmower for your chainsaw. You can even barter your own time if necessary, like babysitting your brother’s kids so that you can borrow the truck again.

13. Collect Spare Change

Keep a change jar, and deposit all of the pocket (or purse) change you accrue. Another fun idea, put a label on the jar, like “Ski Trip,” “Disneyland,” or “Sound System.” Whenever you put money into the jar, you’ll feel good for working toward a savings goal.

14. Just Do It

Rather than paying someone else to weed your yard, fluff & fold, or clean your house, go ahead and do it yourself. In the long run, these services aren’t doing much for you. Sure, they’re convenient but they’re going to cost you. The cost for doing it yourself is just a bit of your free time – and your savings will thank you for it.

15. Consider the True Cost

Whenever you want to make a purchase, consider the “true cost” to you. Find the true cost by calculating how many hours it would take you to earn the money to pay for what you want to buy. For example, if you make $20 per hour and you spend one-hundred dollars to go out and eat, you just spent five hours of work. By effectively converting the monetary figure to an hourly one, it can serve to deter you from making purchases you might regret.

With these simple tips, you’ll find that you can eliminate needless spending and start to grow your savings. It might not be easy at first, but it can be fun! Try thinking of the money in your bank account as your score in a video game – avoid the spendy temptations, incorporate these tips into your buying habits, and rack up those points! Before you know it, you will be heading down the road to reducing your debt and building up your wealth.

How to stop focusing on money

I think I can affirm quite confidently that we all started trading for the money.
We all had this idea that unlike most regular jobs, trading is a way for us to reach the kind of monetary figure we’ve always dreamed of, and the freedom that comes with it.

Then, we naturally keep on focusing on the money as we trade.

Do not count your wins as they come because if you lose them it will hurt
“New Trader, Rich Trader”, Steve Burns

Why should we stop focusing on the money?
The issue is that the money is the result. And focusing on the result when executing our trading plan has no benefits. It actually makes it much harder to reach the desired result.
This is very much counter intuitive and definitely one of the reason that makes trading so difficult.

Successful trading is just following the rules set forth by our trading strategy, trade after trade after trade…
Having a trading plan means that we know exactly when to enter, the position size, and when to exit.
Focusing on the money will make it very difficult to follow our trading plan:

– If you need to generate money quickly, you are more likely try to enter trades when there is no real signal telling you to take the trade

– If you need a certain amount of money, you are likely to want to stay too long in a trade even if a sell signal occurs

– If you watch exactly how much money you’ve made on a trade, you are likely to exit a trade too soon by fear of losing the paper profit you have so far

– If you watch how much money you’re losing on a trade, you may want to not cut your losses and stay in losing trade, moving or even removing your stop loss

– If you lose a specific amount of money on a trade, you are more prone to take the dreaded “revenge trade” in order to try and take your money back from the market. It usually doesn’t end well…

So focusing on the money creates fear and greed.

On top of that, focusing on the money is focusing on something we have no control over.

So what should we focus on?
We now know that we should stop focusing on the money as it can be very detrimental to our trading. So what should we focus on?

The only variable we can have control over is ourselves.
Only we can make us follow our plan to the letter – which in turn will result in long term profits – which will allow us to eventually reach our monetary goals.
This is why the most successful traders often say that we should only focus on becoming the best trader we can be.

The greatest success came when I finally decided to forget about the money and concentrate on being the best trader I could be. Then the money followed
– “Trade Like A Market Wizard” – Mark Minervini

So basically, we should focus solely on executing our plan perfectly.
Executing our plan perfectly means to buy only at the exact moment our system generates a buy signal, buy the exact amount specified by our strategy, and only exit when our plan tells us too, without any second thoughts.

While trading, we should just forget about the money.

The Shift
From that point on, there should be a total shift of perspective regarding what a good trade and a bad trade are.

A good trade stops being a trade we made money on.
A good trade now becomes a trade executed perfectly according to our trading plan regardless of whether or not we made money on that trade. A bad trade is a trade where we did not respect our trading plan, regardless of whether we lost money on that trade.
Because we know that anyway, the market will eventually take back any money we made out of a “bad trade”.

We should pat ourselves on the back when we execute a trade perfectly, regardless of the outcome. And we should punish ourselves when we did not follow our plan, regardless of the outcome.

By adopting this perspective, all of a sudden, we are in control again. We don’t depend on the something we do not have any power over: the market. The market has lost its control over us and we are in charge.

How to stop focusing on money

Yoga retreats in rural getaways nestled in tropical mountain spaces. Exploration trips for pleasure and business on the east and west coasts. Bike riding and people watching on Santa Monica Boulevard.

Recognition and sponsorship from leaders in my professional circle. Adventures with my husband and daughters in Jamaica.

Even with all these rich life experiences, still my focus was always the same: If I could just have more money, my life could finally get good.

The past year found me deep on a journey to discover the muted parts of my life.

Through meditation, exercise, candid conversations, and radical self-expression, I’ve learned so much about myself, the influence my past has had on my present, and the ways in which I’ve been hiding.

Some of these revelations have been stark, not the least of which is the realization that a good chunk of my mutedness is rooted in one five-letter word: money.

For most of us, it’s inarguable that we need money to cover our day-to-day lives.

Even with my minimalist tendencies, I’m not one to give away the majority of all I own and take a vow of poverty. Truth is, I’m way too attached to shoes, obnoxiously loud colors of nail polish, and unconstructed blazers to fully adopt the less-is-more philosophy.

I can say though, that the more I release from my life (both physically and emotionally), the more access I gain to my Higher Self.

This access opened my eyes to a finding that has already created significant changes in my relationship with the energy of money. I’ve made it one of my daily life chants:

While you design your best life,

don’t chase the money,

crave the experience.

I’ve always chased money. More specifically, I’ve always viewed my connection with money akin to patches of grass. I’d earn enough to cover a bit of ground, but never enough to cover a respectable-sized lawn.

There was never enough, and my pattern was to always focus on covering a particular patch of ground, and chase opportunities to one day cover a larger patch. In all of this, I had learned to pretend that the chase was unavoidable, and engaging in it could somehow give me enough joy to overshadow the overall yellow and brown baldness of my lawn.

But I have learned that the chase is not where I can expect to find joy.

Instead, it is in the richness of my experiences, and my commitment to focusing on my needs, not my fears (bald lawns) that I find myself feeling real joy.

I‘ve long peppered the vast majority of my best experiences with “Even though I had no money, I still got to do stuff” seasoning.

It’s as if I wouldn’t (or couldn’t) explore, much less accept the idea that my life was happening in beautiful ways, despite my lack of a boast-worthy net worth.

No matter how incredible the experience, when I thought or talked about it, I’d still frame it by the parameters of my not-enoughness.

My refrains always followed the same pattern: this is so frikking cool, too bad I …

This island is amazing! This is so frikking cool, but too bad I can’t have the zip lining experience because I don’t have any money.

I can’t believe I’m in New York again this year! This is so frikking cool, but too bad I can’t buy nicer souvenirs for my daughters because I don’t have any money.

Wow, I’m speaking at a conference in Los Angeles! This is so frikking cool, but too bad I couldn’t bring Kris and our girls because I don’t have enough money.

I can’t believe they’re all waiting to do a workshop with me—here in Jamaica, nonetheless! This is so frikking cool, but too bad I couldn’t provide them with customized take-home journals because I don’t have any money.

Arghhh! I was stuck in bald-lawn mode, and no matter the richness of my harvest, I was tenacious about re-potting my seeds in “because I don’t have any money” soil.

Thankfully, I learned how to use that tenacity for something that better serves me.

I went inside myself, asked for guidance, and got curious about what life would be like if I simply accepted the experiences as rich in and of themselves, with no added expectations of dollar amounts, better souvenirs, or customized workshop materials.

As always, my Divine Ask led me to an uncomplicated and life-altering realization:

I was having those rich life experiences, in spite of my limiting beliefs. So if I could have those experiences while focusing on lack, imagine what I would accomplish if I focused on the experience?

Money never stopped me. My beliefs were just limiting my capacity to fully appreciate the true richness of my experiences.

Money doesn’t equal a rich experience. Even with small bank statements, we can find ourselves in places and situations that provide infinite opportunities for joy, if we actively choose not to let them fall through the cracks.

Now, I choose to experience something different, and so can you.

I choose to be wide open to the vast richness of all the experiences I can have in this lifetime. I’m talking all 31,700 square miles of Lake Superior open, and I can already see sprouts of greenness fill those patches on my old lawn.

Can you think of some ways you’ve been hampering the richness of your life experiences? And how can you let go to experience them more fully—and joyfully?

How to stop focusing on money

For almost 15 years, I worked in the finance industry. The people I worked with had a number of things in common: a taste for Gucci loafers; a predilection for the $39 Lever House breakfast. And we all believed in a kind of holy grail. We referred to it as The Number.

Everyone in finance had their own individual number—the amount of money we had to have in the bank before we could quit our jobs and spend the rest of our lives traveling the world or tinkering with entrepreneurial ideas or spending time with our kids or otherwise devoting ourselves to what we really wanted to do. The Number was a silver bullet for all the problems in our lives. It was what would make all the grueling hours worth it.

I believed in the Number for a long time. I always thought that I was just a couple zeroes from achieving a personal safety net that would allow me to finally live worry-free. But then I stopped—because I realized that The Number was a lazy shortcut that allowed me to avoid evaluating the meaning of my own life.

A tricky calculation

Here’s how people in finance figure out their number. First, they figure out the amount of money they’d spend annually in their dream state of retirement. Then, they divide that number by the annual investment return they can expect on all of their savings and investments.

So, to keep the math simple, if you could live your dream life on $150,000 a year, and you assume cautious investment returns of 2% annually, your number is $7.5 million. If you think your investments can match the long-term average of the S&P 500 (8%), then you’d need $1.9 million before you can retire. You can also adjust these calculations to take taxes into account, and to include predictable life events like having a wedding, buying a home and paying for your children’s college tuition.

Personally, I had my Number, and while I won’t specify it here, I will say that it changed over the years as I added and dropped zeroes. But eventually I dropped the entire concept, because it has some inherent flaws.

First, the Number is impossible to calculate accurately. That’s because it requires you to make too many assumptions about what will happen in your life.

The idea of the Number was firmly entrenched among people in their 20s and 30s. And it was certainly logical to use financial planning to help us achieve our goals. But the reality is that many of us couldn’t actually predict whether—or when—we’d get married, since that depends on meeting the right person first. We couldn’t say with certainty whether we’d have children, or how many we’d have. In retrospect, I think what made me cling to the idea of the Number was that it gave me the illusion of control. Plugging my aspirations into a spreadsheet was a way to assure myself that my life was on track—or at least, that it soon would be.

Another problem with the Number is that it can lead you down a dangerous path. It’s intended to be strictly a financial tool. But for me it became much more of a scoreboard—a proxy for success and a race to see who could run it up the most.

Once I fell into this way of thinking, my Number expanded rapidly. I noticed myself gravitating towards material status markers. For example, I knew nothing about watches. But I started to envy all the newly minted VPs and directors with oversized Panerai watches on their wrists. I wanted one too—no matter that they were worth a few months’ rent. Soon I compared everything: engagement rings, apartments, summer vacation destinations. I was addicted to what entrepreneur Ben Casnocha calls “Status Cocaine.”

My experience was in keeping with research that has shown that people who seek extrinsic goals, such as money, recognition or status, tend to have lower self-esteem, greater drug use, and (wait for it) more television consumption. Worse still, relationships with friends and romantic partners suffer when people focus on fancy watches and other status markers. Interactions tend to be infused with jealousy. And so, despite having a great career, family, and group of friends, the Number left me feeling grossly inadequate and insecure.

But the Number’s greatest flaw is its singular focus. Thinking constantly about how much money you need to live the life you want deprives you from enjoying the present moment. Even worse, it sets you up for a deferred life plan. I was constantly saying to myself, “When I reach the Number, then I will be happy and my life will begin.”

This way of thinking manifested itself in my behaviors. I would be eating an appetizer while thinking about dessert. Or I’d be on vacation, ignoring the beach and palm trees, already planning my next destination.

All this added up to make me pretty dissatisfied, even as I kept getting closer to the Number I thought wanted. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I’d been thinking about money and success all wrong.

When I stopped to reflect on the things that actually contributed to my happiness, they included the flexibility to be with my wife and daughter, the need for quiet time (such as being completely disconnected from the internet), wearing Air Maxes and skinny jeans each day instead of single-pleated chinos, and having the time for exercise, meditation, and journaling—activities that nourished my body, mind and soul.

I needed a baseline amount of money to provide for my family and pay my gym membership dues and do other important, everyday things. But I didn’t want to focus solely on saving for an extraordinary, distant future—instead I wanted to savor the precious moments with my growing family. I needed a fulfilling, happy life now.

These days, I’ve left finance behind for the life of an entrepreneur. I’m aware this path has a high rate of failure, and I’m striving to be smart about money. But while I still value financial stability, I now try to strike a balance between prudence and unnecessary worry. When it comes to the future, there are some things I can predict—my daughter going to college, for example—and some things I can’t. So when I look at my bank account these days, I’m not expecting to get affirmation about my life choices or a reflection of my self-worth. I understand that money won’t do that work for me. I just see numbers now.

First, remember that most of the things we worry about will never come to pass.

Posted December 30, 2015 | Reviewed by Lybi Ma

Key points

  • The problem with ruminating is that it causes one to focus on how things could go wrong, rather than on how to make them go right.
  • Trying to suppress thoughts can make them more likely to resurface.
  • To stop any single thought, one needs to "turn on" or activate a different stream of thinking.

How to stop focusing on money

There are only two things you can truly control—your thoughts and your behavior. No one else can choose either one of those for you. But sometimes intrusive thoughts about unwanted events can flood your mind and it can feel like your thoughts are controlling you.

Whether it is something that happened in the past or a future event you are worried about, negative rumination robs you of your present well-being and, over time, can lead to serious problems like depression or anxiety.

Why do we ruminate on negative things?

  • Sometimes we are trying to figure out a solution to a problem.
  • Sometimes we are expecting something to go wrong and trying to avoid an unfavorable outcome.
  • Sometimes a part of our brain isn’t functioning properly and a set of neurons gets stuck firing over and over again.
  • Sometimes it is just a bad habit.

The problem with ruminating

The problem with ruminating is that most often you are focused on things going wrong instead of how to generate the solutions to resolve the situation and make things go right. If your boss got angry with you, you may be ruminating about what you did and worrying that if you do it again there might be serious consequences like losing your job. You might replay the scene with your boss over and over in your head, or worry excessively about what would happen if the worst-case scenario did come to pass. This kind of thinking activates your fight-or-flight response which actually shuts down your creative problem-solving thought process. In order to find the resolution that will allow you to let go of the problem, you need to disengage from the ruminative thought pattern.

Stopping thoughts, however, isn’t something we are very good at.

Psychologists refer to this as “the white bear problem,” because deliberate attempts to suppress thoughts can often make them more likely to resurface. 1 If I say to think of a white bear, and then tell you to stop thinking about it, chances are the white bear image will stay in your mind. The reason it does is that there is no “Off” button in the brain. To stop any single thought, you need to turn on or activate a different stream of thinking.

How to stop your thoughts

Following are four ways you can begin to regain control over your thoughts.

1. Engage in an activity on a different emotional frequency.

Feeling follows thought, so negative rumination generates negative emotions. Worrying makes you feel anxious. However, psychologists know behavior can change emotions, too. If you do something that you know generally makes you feel better—going for a run, calling a friend, watching your favorite movie, or meditating—you can raise your emotional frequency. When you are in a better mood, you can think more clearly and may gain a different perspective on the situation. Doing something that generates positive emotion also acts as a distraction task by simply giving you something else to focus your attention on.

2. Write down all the reasons why what you fear will not happen.

The majority of the things we worry about never happen. That’s because most of the time there are lots of valid reasons why what we worry about is unlikely. However, because our brain works on an activation/inhibition model, 2 active thoughts about what could go wrong inhibit it from thinking of the reasons these thoughts may not be rational. It requires a concentrated conscious effort to shift this train of thought and think of the reasons why your fear isn’t likely to come to pass.

3. Write down all the reasons why even if the worst-case scenario did happen, you would still be okay.

Many times we feel that if something unwanted were to happen, it would be completely devastating: We wouldn’t be able to survive, or we’d be forever unhappy. The truth is that difficult, unwanted things happen all the time and people survive and sometimes even come out the better because of them. Our brains are extremely adaptive to our relative circumstances: Many paraplegics, a year after their injury, report just as much happiness as lottery winners. 3 How well you handle any situation depends largely on your perception of your ability to cope with it. Instead of focusing on why you won’t be okay, think of your strengths. Think of the difficult things you have already overcome in life and why you are resourceful enough to get through other challenges.

4. Create an action-oriented, solution-focused reframe.

When you have a resolution to the situation, you will have both reduced the need for your brain to ruminate and given yourself something constructive to focus on instead, which replaces the ruminative thoughts. Asking yourself a few simple questions can help you move towards generating a solution:

a. What do I believe this situation means for me?

Because we can only move forward in time, we tend to think of events that happen to us in terms of what they mean for us in the future. If you have an argument with your boss, you worry about what it will mean for your future: Our relationship might be damaged; I might not get a promotion. (If something bad happened but it had absolutely no bearing on your life going forward, it wouldn’t bother you much.)

b. What do I want to happen?

I would like to repair my relationship with my boss. Clarity about what you want is a prerequisite to developing a solution to any problem.

c. What can I do that is likely to bring that about?

I can ask to meet with my boss to discuss the situation. I can make sure to keep my temper in check in the future. I can continue to interact in a positive way. I can make an effort to show my value. A plan to deal with a problem causes you to see the situation differently and reduces your anxiety and the need to ruminate.

If all else fails, remember that thoughts are only thoughts, and just because you think something doesn’t make it true. You don’t have to act on your thoughts; you can just observe them and let the unhelpful ones go by.

LinkedIn image: polkadot_photo/Shutterstock

1. Wegner, D., & Schneider, D. 2003. The White Bear Story. Psychological Inquiry, 14 (3/4), 326–329.

2. Pribram, K., & McGuinness, D. 1975. Arousal, Activation, and Effort in the Control of Attention. Psychological Review 82 (2),116-49.

3. Brickman, P., Coates, D., & Janoff-Bulman, R. 1978. Lottery winners and accident victims: is happiness relative? Pers Soc Psychol, 36(8), 917-27.

I've surveyed thousands of adults around the world — from the financially affluent to the middle-class to the poor — about two very simple, universally valuable resources: Time and money.

Unsurprisingly, most people focus too much on working and making money, and not enough on having more time. But shifting your mindset to prioritize time over money can have several benefits.

Studies show that those with a time-centric mindset have:

  • Higher levels of happiness: People gain half as much happiness from valuing time more than money as they would from being married. This boost holds across demographics: It's not explained by how much they make, their educational background, the number of kids they have or their marital status.
  • Better social connections: Focusing on time encourages us to put our social relationships first. Even fleeting social interactions (e.g., chatting with that person you always see on the bus) can play a significant role in reducing time stress and increasing happiness.
  • Healthier relationships:Time-focused people have happier spouses than money-focused people. For example, couples who spend money on time-saving services (e.g., paying for a house cleaner) to have more quality time together derive more happiness from their relationships.
  • Greater job satisfaction: People who value time work the same number of hours as people who value money. Ironically, they also often make more income than those who worship money, because they're more likely to pursue careers they love. In turn, they are less stressed, more productive and creative, and less likely to quit.

The pitfalls of chasing money

Focusing on chasing wealth is a trap, because it leads only to an increased focus on chasing wealth.

Research shows that after we make enough money to pay our bills and save for the future, making more does little for our happiness.

If anything, once people start making a lot of money, they begin to think they're doing worse in life, because they become obsessed with comparing themselves to those who are richer.

Even multimillionaires make the mistake of believing that money, and not time, will enrich their lives.

My colleagues surveyed a few thousand of the world's wealthiest people, asking how much they'd need to be "perfectly happy." Seventy-five percent (many of whom had a net worth of $10 million or more) said they'd need "a lot more" ($5 million to $10 million, "at the very least") to be happy.

It doesn't take a PhD in psychology to see how misguided this mindset is.

How to start prioritizing time

Parts of our brain drive us to choose vice over virtue. (Anyone who wants to lose weight will tell you how much they struggle: Sugar is bad but alluring. Exercise is good but hard to instigate.)

However, there are ways to start seeing time as the more critical currency that it is — and the resource that, more than any other, determines our happiness:

  1. Convince yourself that time is at least as important as money.
  2. Remind yourself of your values when faced with critical decisions.
  3. Make deliberate and strategic decisions that allow you to have more time across days, weeks months, and years.

Implementing each of these steps depends on two activities that will become part of your time-affluent life:

  1. Reflection to create self-awareness about what you're doing and why you're doing it. This seems easy: It's only thinking. But as any behavioral scientist can tell you, humans are capable of twisting our thinking into Escherian stairwells to avoid uncomfortable or hard-to-accept truths. Your reflection must be intentional and honest.
  2. Documentation to create a record of your hopes, observations, calculations and plans for time affluence. Plenty of research confirms the efficacy of writing things down, and it's essential here because of the forces conspiring to make you focus on cash.

Nothing less than our health and happiness depends on reversing the innate notion that time is money. It's not. Money is time.

Ashley Whillans is a behavioral scientist and assistant professor in the Negotiation, Organizations & Markets Unit at Harvard Business School. Her research is centered around how how people navigate trade-offs between time and money. Her work has been published in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post. Ashley is also the author of "Time Smart: How to Reclaim Your Time & Live a Happier Life."

How to stop focusing on money

Can we get real? I’m so sick of the same old personal finance advice to cut back on lattes.

Spending money on small expenses like coffee has been classified as a “luxury” and compared to peeing money down the drain. But instead of worrying about five dollars here and six dollars there, it’s more important to actually focus on the things that matter. I call these the Big Wins in your financial life.

It’s about being able to spend more on the things you love by not spending money on all the knucklehead things you don’t care about. Look, it’s easy to want the best of everything: We want to go out all the time, live in a great apartment, buy new clothes, drive a new car, and travel anytime we want.

The truth is, you have to prioritize. My friend Jim once called to tell me that he’d gotten a raise at work. On the same day, he moved into a smaller apartment. Why? Because he doesn’t care very much about where he lives, but he loves spending money on camping and biking. That’s called conscious spending.

So let’s dig into tactics for improving your credit, which is quantifiably worth much more than any advice about frugality. Here are 5 ways to focus on Big Wins, not cutting back on lattes.

Big Win: Optimize and play offense with credit cards

Most people weren’t raised like me, so I understand that you probably hate negotiating. Most Americans do. We’re not sure what to say, we get nervous about looking cheap, and then we look at ourselves and say, “Is this really worth it?” In a pool of sweaty discomfort, most of us conclude “No”—and we pay full price.

I have a fresh perspective: It’s not worth negotiating everything, but there are a few areas of life where negotiation is a Big Win. You can go on offense and squeeze as many rewards and benefits out of your credit cards as possible. You’re going to start winning against them. And for the first time, negotiating is going to be fun.

Big Win: Pay off your credit card regularly

Yeah, we’ve all heard it, but what you may not know is that your debt payment history represents 35 percent of your credit score—the largest chunk. In fact, the single most important thing you can do to improve your credit is to pay your bills on time. Whether you’re paying the full amount of your credit card bill or risking my wrath by paying just part of it, pay it on time. Lenders like prompt payers, so don’t give your credit card company the opportunity to raise your rates and lower your credit score by being a few days late with your payment. This is a great example of focusing on what will get you rich, not on what’s sexy.

Think about your friends who search every single website to get the best deals on travel or clothes. They might be thrilled after saving $10—and they can brag to everyone about all the special deals they get—but you’ll quietly save thousands by understanding the invisible importance of credit, paying your bills on time, and having a better credit score.

Today, most people pay their credit card bills online, but if you haven’t set up automatic payment yet, log on to your credit card’s website to do so now. Note: Don’t worry if you don’t always have enough money in your checking account to pay off the full amount on your credit card. You’ll get a statement from your card company each month before the payment goes through so that you can adjust your payment as needed.

Big Win: Try to get fees on your cards waived

This can be a great way to optimize your credit cards, because your credit card companies will do all the work for you. Call them using the phone number on the back of the card and ask if you’re paying any fees, including annual fees or service charges. It should go a little something like this: