We have web browsers that let us tab through 10 different websites in seconds. You can kick off your TPS reports processing, while you skim through your email. You can do all this as you listen to your favorite tunes on your cell phone, and driving down the highway, while your cellphone also hollers out GPS directions to that favorite restaurant and politely pauses while you receive a call! Ok, that would be a seriously dangerous driver, but I doubt it's far from the truth for some current road warriors.
Technology seems to encourage us and our children to multitask-everything. I've always experienced the greatest personal strides in life, when I've reduced the clutter and focused my thoughts and efforts. Kind of reminds me of my limited understanding of just a few of the principles of Zen. Perhaps the learning's from Zen can be applied towards personal finance. I've always been intrigued by the various Art of Zen books and haven't seen one on the topic of personal finance, yet. So, let's take a high level journey as to what one of these books 'might' cover. This isn't considered a how to of personal finance, as much as it is an exploration of some alternative methods of how we might learn about and practice our lessons in personal finance.
Step 1: Zen What?
Quite simply Zen is a flavor of Buddhism, where learning from experience is favored over that of any religious texts. In it's depth, Buddhist monks can spend a lifetime achieving the wisdom of it's highest teachings.
Westerners have westernized our perspective of Zen in various pieces of literature like: Zen in the Art of Archery, The Dharma Bums, Zen and the Birds of Appetite, and the bestselling Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Now, many Zen and the Art of ... topics follow this framework. Which is to subtlety introduce the Zen mentality to contemporary subjects. Even more simply the basic steps to performing any activity (i.e. Zen and the Art of Personal Finance).
Like Zen and Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, this post doesn't seek to enlighten on aspects of Zen Budhhism. As an excerpt from the book on wikipedia points out:
He explains that, despite its title, "it should in no way be associated with that great body of factual information relating to orthodox Zen Buddhist practice. It's not very factual on motorcycles, either."
So, the focus of Zen that I'll follow in this post is the subtle application of some of the principles of Zen to benefit our personal finance learning. Namely Zen's principles of understanding of oneself, kind thoughts, right action, and right effort.
Step 2: Zen of Your Finances
One of the principles of Zen is to understand oneself. Look into your self and see what methods have been best for you to learn new information in the past. Do you need repetition? Do you like analogies? Do you just like to digest the straight facts? Are you a logical person, and you must see the how and why before it becomes organic to you?
Never be to quick to make personal finance decisions. Sometimes taking some time to sleep on it is better advice than we realize. Allow yourself to meditate on new decisions, information, and problems. Zen is based on the ability for the practitioner to learn from their inward meditations on a problem. Some Tibetan monks even beleive that dreams are the key enlightenment. Great figures in history have practiced the art of lucid dreaming to unravel some of the greatest discoveries.
Albert Einstein claimed the inspiration for his Theory of Relativity came to him while in a dreamlike state, and Dmitri Mendeleyev, a 19th century Russian chemist, reportedly fell asleep at his desk and awoke after conceiving the Periodic Table of Elements in a dream.
Personally, I've discovered about myself, that I learn best when I chunk down the information into bite-sized pieces. I like to digest it so that it logically makes sense to me. Once that's done, I'll go further. This way it's organic in my way of thinking about that information I've learned. Now, this isn't saying that I've learned the right info or the best info, just that I've digested the information so that it makes sense to me.
Now, this is different then the way I learned information in college. In college, the pace was fast and I didn't digest or make things organic. I'm sure there are some folks that did and retained a higher percentage of the information. But, I wasn't that lucky. A new method of learning for me has been these blog posts. A recap of lessons I've learned and how my opinion and views change as I read some of the great personal finance blog posts and articles out there.
To recap, do a self assessment of how what methods have been best for you to educate yourself with new personal finance topics and information.
Step 3: Zen of the Kind Thought and Right Action
Two more of the principles of Zen are those of Right (or Kind) Thought and Right Action. I would translate these to personal finance education as to think and take action that is kind and just. Hopefully this will keep us away from the get rich quick scams and paths.
If we aim at educating ourselves with personal finance topics that opposed to ill will and are mindful of the rights of others, then we will be doing good in the world. This is obviously going to be a to each their own type of topic.
I'll take an example of a method of real estate transactions that I read in several different books. The methods talked about lease-option transactions for buying and selling. Some books and information addressed this topic rather coldly without a real regard for the well being of those that are in a financial bind. Whereas other books discussed how you can use these methods to help folks that would otherwise not be able to get a conventional loan right now (but, put them in a position to qualify in a year or two). This was revelation with lease options, that finally had me thinking of them as viable tools. Otherwise, I just wasn't seeing myself profiting by putting together any transaction I could.
To recap, look for the silver lining in a learning or piece of education. How can this be used in good way or a win win way. If it seems too good to be true and not considerate of all parties involved, then it probably isn't a very good tool or learning.
Step 4: Zen of Right Effort:
Another of the principles of Zen is that of Right Effort. Right Effort basically means once you've learned, you must put it into practice. At the ZenGuide, they put it this way:
Effort is the root of all achievement. If one wants to get to the top of a mountain, just sitting at the foot thinking about it will not bring one there. It is by making the effort of climbing up the mountain, step by step, that eventually the summit is reached.
This is by far my favorite principle. It puts everything together and can be practiced at any point in our personal finance lives to achieve goals. We're always learning new tactics and strategies. Let's face it, when someone tells you I have the secret to making 1 million dollars, we drool until we get the information. But, once they give us the book, or the url to the information, we get a little complacent. It's a basic instinct to feel at ease, because now we know where the information is when we feel like we want it.
Same can be thought of when we actually learn these cool ideas we find no all the great personal finance blogs out here. I mean, geeze, did you know you can immediately get double-digit returns on your money? Yea, start paying off your credit cards that have double digit interest, wallah! Did you know that you have free money from your company and Uncle Sam every year to save for your retirement? Yea, just add to your companies 401k and you can see 50% returns in some cases when they match 25% or 50% immediately. Not to mention the extra 25% that Uncle Sam gives you in the way of tax deductions to retirement savings.
Now these and many more tips can save or earn us thousands, tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands over a lifetime. BUT THEY WON'T, unless we decide to put them into action. Every day we procrastinate to start up our 401k, pay off our high interest credit cards with our savings, etc. is savings and money lost.