A number of years ago, I had a problem with managing my finances. I wasn’t taking proper care of bills and obligations, and ended up with a bunch of overdraft fees, late fees, and escalating balances on credit cards – and calls from creditors. Those calls were pretty embarrassing, but they did have one positive effect. They made me wake up and take stock of my situation.
I realized that it wasn’t just finances that I was mismanaging. I was disorganized all around. I was missing social engagements and arriving late for appointments. People felt let down and were aggravated with me, but I got frustrated too. Their disappointment was bad enough, but it was a chore having to come up with excuses, and with having to keep track of the excuses I made to make sure that I didn’t use them too many times, or use the same excuse with the same person.
I looked equally bad to myself. I got very judgmental about my lapses, and I berated myself for being lazy, inept, and incompetent. I felt out of control, although I had, by that point in my life, earned two degrees, spent a summer in Africa, and helped a lot of people through the volunteer work I’d done. Yet, I thought that I couldn’t manage my own life, simply because I didn’t see that I was doing it.
Negative thinking like this is self-defeating and draining. The price I was paying was more than unnecessary fees. My self-esteem and my initiative were taking hits, and I felt stuck, unable to move my life forward.
So, I was surprised how much of this I was able to change when I eventually did take charge to get my life organized and to take control of my erratic spending and poor money management.
I started with three simple purchases. The first was a schedule book, to record upcoming appointments, due dates for work assignments, and things that had to be done each day. The second was a divider system, so that I could organize my bills by due dates and be sure to pay everything on time. This brought the late fees and overdraft notices to an end. And the third was an account book. Every month I recorded what my bills and account balances were and how much I paid. I started seeing my debts getting smaller and smaller.
Oddly enough, I even started to look forward to paying my bills. Yes, I actually enjoyed paying bills (which I’m sure makes me rather unique). Writing checks started to seem like a way of re-capturing a bit of my freedom. The stress of carrying debt ebbed away along with the amounts I owed. No longer a debt slave whose money was spoken for as soon as a paycheck hit the bank, and without the constant evidence of disorganization, I once again felt that I was in charge of my own life. The freedom gave me a new initiative to pursue new goals. And the nasty, negative, self-berating stopped.
Is there any area of your life that you have lost control of? Are you doing the same chastising of yourself that I did? Are you paying a similar price for it? The lesson I learned that so much of this was self-imposed and that just getting organized and taking control ended the chaos.
Granted, it’s not a silver bullet, but if you struggle with your self -talk, you should consider how much taking charge and getting your life in order might change that self-defeating inner monologue, and take a big weight off your shoulders.
Mike S., MSW, CEAP, joined Empathia in 1997 as an EAP Counselor. He has a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Michigan State University and a master’s degree in Social Work with a specialty certificate in alcohol and drug abuse treatment from Western Michigan University. Prior to joining Empathia, he worked as a substance abuse counselor and in a program for adolescent sexual offenders. Mike likes reading, music, movies and travel.
*Specific LifeMatters® services vary from company to company, so please speak to your company benefits representative or call LifeMatters to determine the specific services that are available to you.