Americans are many weeks into the COVID-19 pandemic. Most have been living with stay-at-home orders for longer than a month. It’s been six weeks for me. I’m amazed at how much has happened over the two weeks since my last blog post. In addition to the growing numbers of COVID cases and deaths around the world, we’ve watched the economic fallout happen as though in a time-lapse. Oil prices have hit historic lows—twice—in just two weeks, the stock market has bounced down and up and down again, and unemployment has soared to numbers not seen since the Great Depression. On a brighter note, stimulus funds are finally getting into the hands of the people and businesses that need them most. Yet, we all know that we’ll pay the piper for the $3 trillion in quick fixes. It’s enough to make even the most Pollyanna-ish financial advisor start to waiver in her optimism.
The situation has me feeling particularly grateful that, long before the COVID crisis reared its ugly head, I enrolled in a great coaching program for financial advisors called Limitless. Created by Stephanie Bogan, the program is designed to help advisors like myself enrich our practices to serve clients (and ourselves) to achieve the time, money, and satisfaction to live life without limits. In the face of the pandemic, the program has been a godsend, helping me to maintain balance in a variety of ways. In last week’s training session, Stephanie introduced the concept of ‘minding your line.’ Here’s the basic idea:
- Your line is your life—your state of mind in this moment.
- When you’re operating ‘above the line,’ you are in a success state where you are energetic, confident, and able to take personal responsibility based on facts and reason.
- When you’re operating ‘below the line,’ you are in a stress state where you feel threatened, suffer from denial and low energy, and allow emotions to drive reactive decisions.
Credit: Educe & Limitless Adviser
Whether you’re operating above or below the line impacts every aspect of your life. Are you feeling positive about your relationships, your job, your time, your money, your body, and your life? Then you’re sailing ‘above the line’ and making logical decisions based on facts and reason. Are you feeling negative about even just a few of those things? You may be sinking ‘below the line’ into a stress state where your limbic system rules.
My Limitless Mastermind study group begins each session with a check-in about where we are. Our shorthand for the check-in is to give our ‘state’ a number. For example, on Monday I reported that after a half hour on our Zoom call, my state was at an 8—but before our Zoom call, I was at a 4 because I was working with a client who had just lost a brother to COVID. Get it?
We all want to be ‘above the line,’ but how? How can you ‘mind the line’ when things as basic as buying groceries or taking a walk are major challenges? How can you stay focused on the positive when the coronavirus and its impact continue to dominate every news program and every conversation?
It’s not easy. On Tuesday, I was again ‘below the line.’ I felt defeated, and my mind was in a fog. To get through, I focused on easy-to-accomplish tasks: emails, calculations, and other ‘important but not urgent’ tasks. Wednesday was a better day; the fog subsided, and I could feel my rational, conscious brain kicking in. Neither is right or wrong, but there are simple strategies that can help nudge you in a more positive direction. Here are a few to get you started (with a definite bias toward creating financial confidence):
- Notice it and name it.
The first step to ‘minding your line’ is to notice when you’re in a stress state, and then to put a number on it (1 though 10) and identify a reason for the feeling. You’ll find that by identifying your state, you can begin to level yourself and be kind (to others and to yourself). Notice the reason for the state, and then notice again when you feel empowered and in control. The current situation is always neutral until we charge and shift it with our attitudes and judgments.
- Turn to your tools.
If the current crisis has caused a change in your income, it may have exposed some financial ‘rocks’ that were lurking below the water line—a less-than-flush emergency fund, too-risky investment positions, or the lack of a concrete plan. With or without any obvious rocks in sight, the stress you feel is a trigger to remind you to rethink your approach. To start, focus on your longer-term goals: look 1, 3, 5, and 10 years into the future. Allow an impression to form in your mind and then write down what you see. Next, identify an action you can take to accelerate each goal, either financially or physically. At a time when there are so many things threatening to pull you ‘below the line,’ this tool can be a game changer.
- Adjust your strategy.
Once you’ve revisited your vision, make adjustments to support your new normal—especially if your goals have changed. Offering financial assistance to your adult kids may have been off the table in the past, while now you may be their only means of support to get through the crisis. With the stock market far below recent all-time highs and the CARES Act allowing retirees to defer RMDs (Required Minimum Distributions), now may be the time to rely on your savings rather than draw from your retirement accounts. But, like everything, the best choice depends on your situation. Make every adjustment with care—and do so only when you’re able to operate solidly ‘above the line’!
- Consider the wisest use of cash.
Thanks to the CARES Act, stimulus checks are arriving for those who qualify, and small businesses are receiving PPP (Payroll Protection Plan) and EIDL (Economic Injury Disaster Advance Loans) money in the form of forgivable grants. If you’re a recipient of any of these funds—or have other cash available—making the best decision about how to put it to use is important. Should you invest? Pay off debt? Sock it away in savings? Cash is king at the moment, and the answers are different for everyone. Your top priority should be having 3 to 6 months of cash to fund your basic living expenses. Once that’s covered, decisions can get tricky if you’re operating in a ‘below the line’ fog of emotions. Seek guidance from your financial advisor or, at the very least, wait to decide until you’re able to think more strategically.
- Practice self-care.
To fight my fog, I’m practicing more self-care than usual. I’m allowing myself a glass of wine in the evenings, reaching out to friends and family on Facetime daily, giving myself permission to binge some great shows, and taking daily walks (there’s something very therapeutic about simply putting one foot in front of the other). Figure out what helps shift you from ‘below the line’ to ‘above the line,’ and be deliberate about doing things that help you ‘mind your line.’
‘Minding your line’ is all about noticing, naming, and accepting your state of mind. It’s the first step on the journey toward reframing your mindset and creating resilience—even in the most challenging situations. We are living in extraordinary times and experiencing a threat that we haven’t seen before. Pay attention. Notice what’s happening, name it, and move forward from here. And if you need help navigating the financial challenges along the way, please reach out. We are always here to help.