Like many of my clients, I have a wee bit of money anxiety.
Where it’s coming from, whether there’s enough, whether it’s going to run out. So how did an iPhone game help soothe my worries, you ask?
I recently became obsessed with a fun little mobile game called “Dots”. The object is to connect dots of the same color, preferably in squares. When you get enough dots in your bank, you can trade them in for various “power-ups” that let you do things like remove dots that are in your way or give you extra time. It’s fun, it’s pretty, it’s kind of addictive.
Last week, playing my last round (or six) before bed, I noticed some interesting things:
- I got nervous when I dropped below a certain amount in my “dots account.”
- I spent those dots sparingly on power-ups, and I felt really proud of myself when I got a high score without using a power-up.
- I felt let down when I “wasted” a power-up on a round that didn’t make my top scores.
- When my dots account balance dropped below a certain amount, I felt like I needed to play a few quick rounds just to build that balance back up again.
- Never mind that there are zero consequences to going “broke” and starting over.
This might have a slight resemblance to my relationship with money.
I get nervous when my bank account is below a certain amount, I can be a reluctant spender (and I feel really good when I can find or DIY something inexpensive), I hate it when I perceive I’ve “wasted” money, and when I feel like my balance is too low I switch into busy-ant mode until I’ve gotten back into the “safety zone.”
The thing is, the goal is not to end
life the game with the most money dots in the bank. It’s to get the most out of it highest score.
The other thing about Dots is that it’s literally just a game that I can walk away from at any time (no metaphors in this sentence!). If I’m being this cautious and conservative on a risk-free game, how are my feelings about money limiting my experience and happiness?
In the days that followed this little a-ha moment, I realized something amazing – I was no longer stressing about money the way I used to. Something about equating my net worth to an imaginary dot stockpile – and seeing how easily that stockpile ebbed and flowed – allowed me to relax somewhat around my real savings without triggering feelings of doom.
This is not to say that I’m going to go out and buy a pony because I can and I’ve decided fiscal responsibility is a fake idea. But it casts into sharp relief how much I habitually depend on money for feelings of safety, security, and stability, and how much power I let it have over my sense of well-being.
I used to think about money like a dragon’s hoard or a giant piggy bank: a big pile that only gets added to. Taking anything out would result in breaking the piggy bank or angering the dragon – in other words, chaos and destruction.
Now, I’m shifting to something more like the tide: it comes in and goes out without a fuss, and there’s always an inexhaustible supply floating out in the depths. I don’t need to own the entire ocean, I just need to trust that the tide will come back in – and that I’ll be okay either way.
If life is a game, I suspect it’s more like Dots than Monopoly (or even Life!). Your money is just there to help you achieve more and cooler things than you could without it – and when you start mistaking it for the goal, you’ll probably be about as happy as I am at the end of a three hour Monopoly game.
As you go into the days ahead, I invite you to be curious about where your patterns are showing up and what they’re telling you – even in as something as trivial as a game. But be gentle with yourself if it reveals something you’re not happy about – awareness isn’t always fun, but it’s the first step to transformation. And who knows, one person’s time-waster could be your ticket to inner peace.
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