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Self-calming is 'crucial' if you want to make good money choices, says financial planner — here's why

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Even before the coronavirus outbreak, nearly half of Americans, or 47%, were concerned about paying the bills, and 55% were worried about saving for unexpected expenses, according to the 2016 U.S. Bank Possibility Index, which surveyed 2001 Americans ages 18 and over. 

Now, more than ever, making sound financial choices is key. Ellen Rogin, a former certified financial planner and a certified teacher with the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute, says that practicing mindfulness can help. 

"You cannot access the executive functioning in your brain when you are fearful, and here we have a double whammy of being fearful about your health and your wealth at the same time," Rogin told Grow recently. "One of the most crucial things people can do for their health and their financial decision-making is to have some kind of self-calming strategy." 

Rogin describes "mindfulness" as simply being aware. Tuning in to how you're thinking and feeling about your situation is really important, she says, "because oftentimes we make up fears." And "fear of the future is not helping us make good decisions today." 

If you have to make a hard budgeting decision or you're thinking about adjusting your asset allocation in your portfolio, working to diminish your fear of the future is a good way to set yourself up for success.

Here are four free ways you can practice mindfulness and help yourself make better money decisions. 

Meditate for a few minutes each day

"One of the most simple ways to practice a mindfulness meditation is just to focus on your breath and put your attention there for a few moments," says Rogin. 

Meditation may prove challenging. It's natural for your mind to start to wander, for example. Rogin says not to worry.  If you have a hard time focusing on just your breath, try to focus on the sounds around you, whether that's the humming of your AC, the cars driving down your street, or children playing outside. 

Practice helps, and learning to tune into your senses and focus on your surroundings can help tone down any sense of uneasiness. 

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Take a walk in nature  

If you can carve out 20 to 30 minutes in your day, take a walk in nature. Even if you live in a city where there aren't many trees, Rogin says walking down a tree-lined street can still lift your spirits. If you can't get out much, then even having a few plants around your home can make a difference in your mood.

While you walk, leave your cellphone at home or in your bag and pay attention to your breath and your movements. Experts say this is OK to do while self-isolating, as long as you maintain a 6 foot distance from other people. 

"[Pay] attention to the act of walking," says Rogin. "So, what each step feels like, or your body moving, switching from one leg to the other with each step, or even your arms swinging." 

Rogin refers to this kind of activity as "mindful movement." Disconnecting from the outside world, and focusing on your own movements can be extremely effective in lowering your anxiety levels.

Say a few positive affirmations out loud

Another strategy Rogin recommends is daily affirmations. These are positive statements that you say out loud on a regular basis in an effort to combat negative thoughts. 

Think of the financial topics that make you feel anxious. Using a few sticky notes, write out positive affirmations that help you address those areas and compel you to take action. You could try something like, "I will review my budget, even though it makes me nervous," or, "Today I will be mindful about my spending." 

Saying these affirmations out loud can help you release those financial fears, Rogin says. 

Start a 5 minute journal 

Some people think you have to write in a journal every single day, or your entries have to be beautifully written and make sense, but Rogin says this isn't the point. Even if you want to journal, you may never start if your expectations are too high. 

Journaling gives you the opportunity to acknowledge your fears and then choose to change your mindset. This could be something as simple as writing down how your financial situation makes you feel, or listing one positive thing that you did that day like, "Today, I reworked my monthly budget." 

"I think sometimes people think it has to be like this diary that they're going to go back and look at and it has to be beautiful, but even if you just write, 'This is a crappy situation, I feel terrible, I'm scared,' and get that out, that doesn't mean you ever have to do anything with it." 

When you have a free moment one morning, Rogin suggests taking a few minutes to jot down the following: 

  • Three things you're grateful for
  • Three things that would make today great 
  • A positive affirmation, such as "I will be present today," or "I am a force for good" 

If you have time in the evening, consider adding these points to your journal entry: 

  • Three amazing things that happened that day 
  • One thing that would have made the day better 

"The truth is most of what we worry about never happens," says Rogin. "This gives us a place to just put those worries down."

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