I often write about the tussle between the conscious and unconscious mind of the entrepreneur. On one side of the ring, the logical and analytical. On the other, the intuitive and animal. Money might be one of the big wrestling matches of them all.
Money is the ultimate panacea of our time. It solves every problem. Though it can’t buy happiness, it sure as hell can rent it for a while.
For business owners, more cash is always better than less. In an interview, John D Rockefeller was asked “how many more dollars until your satisfied?” His reply: “Just one more dollar”.
More money, fewer problems. This is the logic of the conscious mind. But for entrepreneurs, it just isn’t true – only half of you really wants more money. And it’s killing your ability to make it.
Your Unconscious mind doesn’t think more money will help
What we know about the shadowy unconscious mind is this: It learns by experience and values self-protection above almost all else.
The learning by experience part is important because it isn’t learning by inference. Sure, you can consciously draw conclusions based on experience or even reason and learn from someone else’s experience. Your favorite business author, for example. That’s all conscious mind stuff. It’s learning in the mind, not in the muscle.
The unconscious mind only learns by experience. That means that your deepest, most powerful (behavior driving) beliefs about money don’t come from what you’ve read. They come from what you’ve done – what you’ve experienced.
Your mess of unconscious beliefs, subconscious decisions and emotional baggage comes straight from the way you’ve lived with money. Or without it.
Now take the classic entrepreneur. Maybe someone you know well – perhaps the person you know best.
The classic entrepreneur has a pulled-up-by-your-own-bootstraps tale. There were those years that were all “hard work”, that made you what you are today. You know, the late night hustle and nothing to eat but beans and rice.
Then, there’s the classic tale of the false start or sudden lift off. Suddenly, you were making more money than you ever thought you could! You were on top of the world, but you got cocky. You crashed, burned and boy did you learn. You won’t make those mistakes again.
We all have this story. I do. When I closed my first corporate consulting contract, I couldn’t believe how much money I was making. Months later, I was just beginning to grasp just how damn true the “Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems” axiom had become.
I learned the difference between revenue and profit, how many hours you have to work for free in order to get paid three hundred on the clock and so much more. It was horrible but I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I picked myself up and with the help of mentors and business books, I dusted myself off.
If you’re an entrepreneur with any sort of real world experience, you almost certainly have a similar story. Rapid scale and growth can be tricky. Back when you weren’t so smart, more money (customers or a sudden big deal) DID make life pretty problematic. But you got through it, paid your taxes and studied the situation with hindsight. You learnt.
Problem is, while your conscious mind was sucking up business wisdom through deductive reasoning, your unconscious mind was learning the animal way: Stimulus-response.
The unconscious learning mechanism, first pioneered by Ivan Pavlov, pairs external events with a strong emotion, based on your most recent and significant experience of that stimulus or event. A dog gets fed and a bell chimes. Enough repetition and eventually ringing the bell will make the dog salivate, without food being present.
In humans, strong emotions make conditioning happen faster. Phobias develop when the unconscious mind connects powerful fear to a single specific stimulus or instance. An older sibling plays a joke with a plastic spider – Boom! Your unconscious mind connects terror and spiders with mental superglue.
Powerful anxieties can quickly become associated with events and stimulus in our lives. Victims of violent crime will often develop agoraphobia – becoming overly anxious about being “exposed” in the outside world. Car accident victims wrestle with enormous anxieties after recovery, when resuming driving.
We can’t avoid being conditioned by more intellectual “trauma” either. A bad relationship will condition you to unconsciously identify and avoid certain personality traits in future partners, even if it’s not necessarily “logical” to do so.
One bad experience with a certain food or flavor will install an incredibly powerful aversion response. Which is why I gag if someone opens a tequila bottle within five feet of my person.
This conditioned response is a part of our evolutionary programming, designed to have you make deep unconscious connections about cause and effect in the world. Really, it’s all designed to keep you safe.
The problem: Your unconscious mind is often guilty of mistaking innocent correlation for causation.
In the universal example of relationships-gone-bad: Just because one blonde cheated on you (or whatever) doesn’t mean they all will.
For an entrepreneur, confusing correlation for causation can be deadly: There are few experiences that drive greater anxiety than the “blow up” of sudden growth and scale.
The unconscious mind gauges that anxiety, bottles it and connects the dots: Sudden growth equals anxiety. More customers means you better watch out. A big deal = Terror!
Here lies the fundamental contradiction of the modern entrepreneur.
You consciously tell yourself that more cash or sales is good news. You probably even “set goals” to that effect. Meanwhile, your unconscious mind has been systematically conditioned, through powerful emotional events, to believe that growth equates to danger.
And the neurological systems used to make that unconscious connection? They’re the same ones that kept us safe from tigers and snakes in the prehistoric jungle. We’re talking about neurology that is both ancient and powerful.
When you’re setting goals or aiming for that 20% boost in revenue that’ll solve all your problems, this is what you’re up against.
Has anything ever happened in your past that conditioned you to fear money?