Money Is Hard Because Your Brain Is Hardwired To Be Lazy, and It’s on Drugs 

 July 28, 2019

By  Ted McLyman

"Your 200,000+ year-old brain biology evolved to keep you alive and pass on ​your genes. It's lazy by default and managing money is not a priority."

Ted McLyman

Here's Why Money is Hard. 

Your Brain...

  • Is inherently lazy.
  • Is wired to have a short-term, dopamine driven “instant gratification” bias.
  • Defaults to “easy,” even if the alternative has greater long-term benefits.
  • Often needs someone or something to nudge you toward the “correct” behavior.
  • Needs expectations and accountability to succeed – difficult to do alone.
  • Requires time to make a new behavior a habit and the new “normal.”

Key Points


Your Feeling-Thinking Brain

95-99% Of Your Spending is Automatic, Emotional, and Unconcision

We are emotional animals who think. We are NOT thinking animals with emotions.

Feeling Brain

  • Feeling
  • Fast 
  • Primitive
  • Emotional
  • Default
  • Multi-Tasking
  • Automatic
  • Generalized
  • Experience
  • Low Energy
  • Lazy

Thinking Brain

  • Thinking
  • Slow
  • Modern
  • Cognitive
  • Exception
  • SIngle Task
  • On Purpose
  • Specialized
  • Prove
  • High Energy
  • Engaged


Thinking is hard work. The brain of an average adult at rest consumes about 20 percent of the body’s energy. The brain’s primary function is processing and transmitting information through electrical signals throughout the body. This requires a tremendous amount of energy. To conserve energy, your brain avoids thinking brain activities. (http://www.brainfacts.org/)


Your Feeling Brain is in Control

You are not hardwired to work well with money. Managing money is a thinking brain activity. It's hard work that takes large amounts of energy to do well. Your natural response is to do nothing, or very little. That's why your body, brain, and culture conspire against you daily to make dumb spending choices. Your feeling brain likes infomercials, sales, and all the elements of our consumption economy. Your thinking brain pays the bills, keeps your budget, and does long term planning. Your feeling brain is always the emotional first responded in money matters.     


You are Wired for Instant Gratification

Biologically, you are wired for instant gratification. The cause is a neurotransmitter called dopamine. It's sometimes called the "feel good drug." Dopamine motivates you to take action toward your goals and gives you a surge of reinforcing pleasure when achieving them. It’s released when you do things that feel good - like shopping. It surges when you're considering buying something new - anticipating a reward such as a sale or discount coupon. Interestingly, it's the anticipation of the reward that creates the feel good rush, not necessarily the purchase itself. And all this happens "under the radar" in your lazy-feeling-brain before you even get to the store.   


You Can Change Your Money Behavior

It is possible to change your spending and overall money behavior. But it's hard work. Your biology, money beliefs, and culture present a formidable obstacle to change. To compound the challenge, most strategies are generic "one-size-fits-all" approaches that do not take into consideration your unique money temperament - how you naturally feel and think about money. A strategy that works for me may not work for you. Your challenge is to first discover your money temperament. Then take small steps to develop or discover a strategy that fits your natural behavior. This is better than attempting to force yourself to adapt to a strategy that is not appropriate to how you feel and think about money. If your strategy does not fit your "wiring," you will most likely fail.      


Get An Accountability Coach

Like diets, exercise, and wellness; money success is easier with an accountability coach. But your coach must take time to discover your natural money temperament. If the recommended strategy is not a good fit, it will not work. 

One of my coaches is Peter Kesaegh. He runs a great free site called "ONLINEBIZ BOOSTER." It's an outstanding resource for entrepreneurs, digital markers, online business, and anyone interested in personal development. 


New Behaviors Take Time

Modifying your behavior takes time. You must be percipient and patient. Set reasonable small goals and celebrate your victories along the way. It may take from 18 days to 254 days for you to form a new habit depending on the goal. But if you never start, it doesn't matter. ​(http://www.dailygood.org/)

Your Brain At The Superstore

Have you ever gone to a store or online site to buy one thing, spend a small fortune on stuff you did not plan to buy, and forget to buy the one thing you wanted in the first place? You have. Why? Because managing money is not a priority for your felling brain.  

Remember, spending money is emotional and mostly unconscious.

The moment you went shopping your lazy dopamine laced feeling-brain hijacks your rational thinking-brain. And unless you take steps to engage your thinking brain, you’ll end up with twenty-five pounds of limited supply, onetime manager special, frozen chicken Florentine cutlets from Costco. Or, some exceptional items that will end up in next years community yard sale. It happens all the time, regardless of where or how you shop. And retailers are experts at exploiting this very human trait.

Let’s take a trip to the superstore.

Your feeling brain works 24/7 to keep you alive. It takes care of such mundane things as breathing, pumping blood, regulating body functions, and so forth. All this requires energy. And we get energy from food. Unless you are a hunter-gather or substance farmer, you do your “hunting and gathering” at a store. And today’s 24-hours a day 200,000 square foot superstore is a far cry from your grandmother’s corner grocer.

I hesitate even to call the superstore a grocer. Yes, they sell food – all kinds and varieties. But you can also buy tires for your car, have your hair done, schedule a dental appointment, take a class, update your wardrobe, book a cruise, and more. And this is just at the store. Sign on to their website, and you can find just about anything you can imagine – delivered to your door in 24 to 48 hours.

Everything about your “shopping experience,” be it at the store or online, exploits your feeling brain – by design. The goal is to give you a dopamine “hit” - instant gratification. And you probably don’t even know it’s happening.

The store shopping experience is a full-court press on your senses – sight, sound, smell, and touch. Retailers select and stage their merchandise and products to prime your primal buying instincts. And they make every effort to create the same experience online. And it works. You love it and keep going back for more. We all do.

So, what are you to do?

First, acknowledge the functions and roles your feeling brain, and thinking brain contributes to your financial wellness. Inconsequential feeling brain spending is not an issue as long as it is not excessive. However, you must engage your thinking brain for critical and long term financial matters.

A designer coffee now and then is not usually a problem, but two or three a day may be excessive.  Assume a coffee cost $5.00. Ten dollars a week for a treat will not break the bank. However, $15.00 a day at work for a year might be enough to pay for a nice vacation, or better, pay off a credit card.

Second, identify our natural money temperament. What’s important about money to you? How do you like to receive information – visual, auditory, or tactical? Answer this:

  • What are your spending habits?
  • Do you go with your gut or think about your spending?
  • Do you often have second thoughts about your spending?
  • How do you feel after a wrong purchase?
  • How involved are you in your finances?
  • Do you want it all?

Third, where do you get your financial advice? Is your source appropriate for your money temperament? How do you know? Remember, what works for you may not work for someone else. You need a “one-size-fits-you” strategy.

Don’t give you lazy dopamine-driven feeling brain total access to your money.


- Ted McLyman


The Problem

You are human and humans are not hardwired to work well with money. Your feeling brain is in control. Success with money requires you to know when and how to actively engage your thinking brain.

The Solution

1. Take a hard thinking brain look at your spending behavior and financial situation.

2. Identify your money temperament - how you feel and think about money.

3. Develop a spending and financial plan that complements your money temperament.

4. Set realistic short and long term spending and financial goals.

5. Implement an accountability program appropriate to your money temperament - maybe hire a pro who "gets it."

References & Tools

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