Your Brain on Money

One of the more popular presentations we make to groups (especially business groups) is called “This Is Your Brain On Money.” It turns out that money is a perfect lens to see how our brains work. After all, money is completely imaginary!


The real value of a dollar


Sure, there are green pieces of paper we sometimes carry around (although even that “real” version of money is becoming less and less prevalent in our lives as the world becomes ever more digital). Those pieces of paper are certainly real—we can physically touch them—and they have a value printed right on them. But that value is made up. The paper and ink that make up a $1 bill are not worth a dollar. They are actually only worth a few cents (the Federal Reserve says it costs 7.5 cents to produce a $1 bill). And you can really tell that the value of physical currency exists only in our minds if you compare a $1 bill to a $100 bill. They are almost identical in terms of materials, but the fact that one of them has the ink arranged to include two extra zeros makes it one hundred times more valuable in our minds.


Imaginary value everywhere


It turns out that our brains are really good at attaching value to things. It’s a way of helping us focus on what matters most to us physically and emotionally. Photographs of loved ones, a house key, a certain balance in our 401k, and so on. But it’s also healthy for us to occasionally stand back and ask if the imaginary value we’ve attached to things in our lives is actually helping us or if it might be taking us in the wrong direction. We often hold onto things (or chase things) that seem valuable to us now but don’t really matter in the long run. And there is a quick way you can see those things appear in your life.


The “Last Day Value” audit


Since we’re talking about imagining things, let’s try a thought experiment. Imagine today is your last day on Earth. This is it: you get this one final day. Think about what you would want to do on that day. Who would you want to spend time with? What physical objects would you want to use or touch? Where would you want to be? You will probably find that what is most important to you will begin to be pretty apparent.


Next, take a look at your calendar or to-do list for today. How much time or energy will you spend on any of the things you just thought of as the most important things in your life? For many people who go through the Polaris Institute, the answer is none! Now, look at what you have scheduled as your highest priorities for the today. How important are those things in the big picture of your life? Are there any that you would actually regret wasting time on when you got to the end of your life?


Incremental change


We aren’t suggesting that you should do something radical like suddenly quit your job and travel the world with a backpack (although people do sometimes make some pretty big changes when they look at their life in this mindset). But what if you just made one small change? What if you dropped one thing that you thought was valuable and added something that really is valuable in its place? Is there a TV show episode you could skip (or at least delay) in order to have a phone call with an old friend? Is there something you were planning to buy that you would easily give up if you could retire sooner?


We all make so many choices every day about how we spend our limited time and energy in this life. Realizing that what looks valuable or important is often completely imaginary can give us a chance to step back and make choices in a more purposeful way.




Want to go through a systematic process to redefine what’s important to you (and how to move in that direction)? Contact us to today.

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