Why isn’t mindfulness working for me

Why isn't mindfulness working for me

Why isn’t mindfulness working for me.

Mindfulness, in theory, sounds great. The deal seems to be roughly this: if I sit still and listen to my breathing for 10 minutes each day, I will be calmer, certainly cooler, possibly richer and definitely an all-round better person.

So how come it’s not working, you might ask because you probably feel like none of those things after a week or two doing mindfulness meditations.

However, that starting point of using mindfulness meditation to find self-improvement is, apparently, backwards.

“Meditation practice isn’t about trying to throw ourselves away and become something better, it’s about befriending who we are,” the world famous American meditation teacher and author Pema Chodron said. Chodron, was a stressed-out schoolteacher called Deirdre Blomfield-Brown until she was crippled by depression following the end of her second marriage in the 1970s.

So how does Chodron, one of the world’s foremost experts do it?

“You just sit down with yourself,” Chodron told Oprah in a 2008 interview.

“It’s a way of being completely open to whatever is happening in your mind, and you realize your mind is wild and crazy and all over the place. The instruction is so simple: Just keep coming back to your breath. Then you say, “This is almost impossible!”

“It isn’t, but I know how hard it is.”

Initially, it will be hard – even Chodron admits her children sometimes found her uptight. So like anything, practice makes perfect.

In general, terms, if we feel like quitting after a couple of days we are expecting too much too soon.

“You might call it beginner’s uncomfortability,” says Andrew Fleming, Founder & CEO with Financial Mindfulness.

“I tried to learn the guitar literally every time I picked it up I would sweat because I was so uncomfortable. Trying anything new is uncomfortable and to experience full benefits one would need to engage for quite a while.”

Are there strategies, though, for dealing with the specific problems if they persist? Some of the most common include: I’m thinking too much, I can’t do this, I can’t sit still, I don’t have time, it hurts.

Here’s what British mindfulness expert Shamash Alidina wrote about some of these problems in Meditation for Dummies.

I can’t do this:

“When people say this, they normally mean they can’t focus … mindfulness meditation is one of the best ways to develop that focus! It’s completely normal for your mind to wander off when you’re meditating. However, as soon as you’ve noticed, bring your focus back to the object of attention specified in the meditation (often your breath). Each time … you’re training your mind to be more focused in the future. Remember, you can’t fail at meditation. As long as you try, you’ve succeeded.”

I can’t sit still:

“Some meditations require you to be … still for half an hour, but many don’t require this. You [can do a] body scan meditation lying down. And mindful yoga, walking or tai chi is meditation in movement. [A] three-minute mindfulness exercise is a great practice to do daily.”

I don’t have the time:

“If some of the busiest people in the world can find time to stop and meditate, even if it’s only five minutes, you probably can too. You can do mindfulness meditation at any time. You can wash the dishes mindfully, you can walk your dog mindfully or you can even have a mindful shower. So that takes no time at all out of your busy day.”

What about ‘It hurts’?

Tara Healey and Jonathan Roberts, writing for mindful.org are clear on this: “Being in a lot of pain is not a mark of doing it right. It can take some work, though, to find a position (or a few positions) that don’t lead to intense pain … try out different postures and supports … a hugely important lesson of meditation is that even comfort is, well, bound to eventually become uncomfortable.

“For this reason, once you find a suitable posture and support, it’s a good idea to avoid making too many adjustments.”

Getting fully into the meditation itself can help: “People have found that as they relax that inner tension, it often results in less bodily tension.”

As for I’m thinking too much, well that one is addressed by realising practice makes perfect. You accept the thoughts you have without judgement and gently set them aside. Thoughts are normal and they will come and go, hence the widely-used analogy of allowing thoughts to pass like clouds against a blue sky.

The more you meditate, Chodron told Oprah, “the more you have a lightness about what’s occurring in your life … it’s not about becoming indifferent to life’s experiences; it actually allows you to be much more present with whatever arises.

“You’re fully engaged, but you see it from a different perspective.”

In other words, you will be able to cope much better with what life throws at you.

Proving the business case for financial wellness programs

The business case for financial wellness programs

Proving the business case for financial wellness programs.

Financial wellness has been a buzz phrase in the workplace for a few years now – with good reason.

More and more data show how bad for productivity the problem of employee financial stress is.

In Australia, AMP’s 2020 Financial Wellness Report showed 1.8 million Australian workers suffering prolonged financial stress, costing $31 billion in lost productivity.

A survey by salary finance found American businesses are losing $500 billion per year due to employees’ personal financial stress.

Employers want to engage and retain productive employees – yet the day-to-day challenge of trying to pay bills and manage finances is leaving employees stressed and distracted at work, according to PwC.

That’s why blue-chip organisations seek to measure changes in financial stress, as PwC did recently, in its 2021 Employee Financial Wellness Survey of 1,600 full-time employed American adults.

It found that nearly two-thirds (63 per cent) of full-time employees said their financial stress has increased since the start of the pandemic.

Employees whose financial stress increased due to the pandemic were four times as likely to have experienced a decrease in overall household income and to find it difficult to meet household expenses on time each month.

They were twice as likely to have used short term credit in the last year, to have taken a loan or funds meant for their retirement and even to be considering postponing their retirement.

Of the employees who were more financially stressed, a high proportion (45 per cent) reported that their finances were a distraction at work, a majority (57 per cent) avoided medical treatment because of the cost and an overwhelming number (72 per cent) were interested in a company that cared more about their financial well-being than their current employer.

The United States is of course a different market, but the underlying principles apply to Australia: financial stress affects key metrics and it also worsened in the early stages of the pandemic.

In its 2021 Employee Financial Wellness Survey report, PwC outlined four steps it believes employers should take to strengthen workforce financial wellness.

They were:

  1. Make the business case for supporting employee financial health;
  2. Recognize what’s happening for employees at home;
  3. Leverage momentum to promote good financial habits, and
  4. Implement a technology solution paired with human interaction and guidance.

The second point – what’s happening at home – is a difficult balancing act. It is clearly private, but also incredibly insightful, information.

Insights can be gained without breaching any privacy, by gaining employee permission and buy-in to anonymized data collection. But the need to tread carefully and ethically on this point cannot be overstated.

Leveraging positive momentum – such as employees who have improved their own financial position – is important because it reinforces good behaviour and builds trust. Constructive, positive reinforcement feeds on itself, producing positive results – as good leaders know well.

In identifying that 87 per cent of employees want help with their finances, PwC confirms the principles underpinning the financial wellness movement.

This is a case-by-case, site-by-site problem – but in general, people want tools and online delivery is almost always seen as advantageous today, especially with work-from-home so widespread.

The first item in PwC’s list of four steps – Make the business case for supporting employee financial health – is what we’ll concentrate on here because it sets the groundwork for everything else that follows.

PwC makes an important point at the outset: understand what changes in financial stress might be doing to your workforce.

To do that you have to choose key metrics.

The three PwC suggests are ‘productivity, retention, and physical health’.

Others might include absence rate, job satisfaction, engagement, turnover, career path ratios and the impact of training.

There may be other metrics you find more useful or relevant to your business.

The Financial Stress Index (FSI) provides a tool to track changes in key metrics over time, to provide some insight into what is happening for employees in order to develop effective solutions.

Most significantly, the FSI tracked self-reported changes across a sliding scale of financial stress categories.

Specific and measurable key metrics included in the FSI include:

  • Productivity;
  • Absence; and
  • Physical health.

The FSI provides behavioural insights into financial stress that could contribute to changes in other metrics, such as:

  • Job satisfaction;
  • Career path ratios;
  • Engagement; and
  • And the impacts of training.

They also contained a rich data set that contained insight into what was happening at home for employees and indications of changes in employee mental health.

In March, comparative FSI insights as they applied to Australian survey respondents across three six-month periods were released.

Comparative data was collected on:

  • Effectiveness at work;
  • Time off work;
  • Days lost due to low productivity; and
  • Changes in physical illness symptoms.

All the above data was collected within the context of levels of financial stress.

You can find out more about the FSI here.

The Australian dream holds big financial risks

Can you actually afford to buy

The Australian dream holds big financial risks.

It’s said that the American dream is upward mobility – the ultimate example being to become the US President.

The Australian dream seems more modest – home ownership, especially the good-old quarter acre block.

But arguably it comes with bigger risks than the American dream, especially for Australians in capital cities.

With interest rates at record lows and house prices surging, home ownership seems like the golden ticket for many, given the promise of appreciation that seems like it could go on forever.

But realistically, home ownership is unaffordable for an increasing number of Australian first-time home buyers, especially those in major cities on average salaries.

The fact remains ‘the Australian dream’ means many people who cannot – or barely can – afford property keep reaching for it and opening themselves up to chronic financial stress.

Who wants to give up on a dream though, right?

The problem is most pronounced in Australia’s biggest city – Sydney – where the median Sydney house price is sitting at $1,112,671, Melbourne $859,097 according to Corelogic.

To be able to afford the repayments after making a 20 per cent deposit, a Sydney household needs to earn at least $147,629 a year, 9News reported.

If that household wants to avoid living in mortgage stress – and have the relative luxury of a buffer against interest rate changes – its annual salary would need to be at least 7,155.

Mortgage stress is classified as anything above spending 30 per cent of your pre-tax income on household repayments.

According to the salary tracking website, Payscale, the average annual salary in Sydney is $76,000 – meaning the combined income even two adults earning that would fall short of avoiding financial stress.

In Victoria, it’s $70,000, it’s $71,000 in the Australian Capital Territory, while in Queensland it’s $66,000 and in Western Australia, it’s $73,000.

Because property prices are highest in New South Wales, Victoria and the ACT, anyone considering buying a home in those States, need to be on a six-figure salary to have any realistic hope of entering the property market.

9News reported 41.1 per cent of households across Australia are in financial stress despite the lower interest rate environment.

In NSW, 44.19 per cent of households were in financial stress and 37.66 per cent of households reported being in mortgage stress, and property is only getting more expensive.

Recently the ANZ bank predicted property prices in Sydney and Melbourne could surge a further 19 per cent and 16 per cent respectively before slowing in a year’s time.

So, what’s the answer? We are not saying avoid home ownership – but to be aware of what you can and cannot afford.

Mindfulness can be part of the solution to financial stress and avoiding it from taking hold.

A clarification is needed though. Mindfulness is not a solution to loan repayments that are just too high to sustain – if that is happening, we’d suggest getting honest with your bank and urgently and seeing what can be done.

But a mindful approach to money can help those who need to avoid unhealthy habits with money to maintain repayments.

Perhaps most importantly, becoming financially mindful will help people avoid entering contractual situations they really should not be in.

Key insights from the FSI report

Key insights from the FSI report

Key insights from the FSI report.

A significant focus of Financial Mindfulness is the tracking and reporting of our Financial Stress Index (FSI), which allows us to benchmark and compare the impact of financial stress on Australians. The FSI has now become a leading financial stress measure in Australia.

The FSI is a comprehensive measure of the financial factors and biopsychosocial consequences of financial stress.

It is evidence-based and was researched and developed by neuropsychologists and financial experts to better understand how financial stress impacts individual wellbeing.

March 2021 marked the release of FSI data collected from the period August 2020 to February 2021 – overlapping with the extension of one of the Australian Government’s key pandemic supports, JobKeeper.

Financial Mindfulness believes the March 2021 FSI revealed significant insights about the impacts of financial stress especially when mapped against the findings from the previous six months – the early months of the Coronavirus pandemic, February to August 2020.

When Financial Mindfulness prepared the latest FSI report and provided key media outlets with the findings, those outlets reported news that reflected our key findings.

Those were:

  • 10.75x increase in people who are thriving and not experiencing financial stress.
  • 9.75x increase in those experiencing financial distressed during COVID19 times from pre-COVID19.
  • Of those who are financially stressed, a large proportion feel worried (86%), overwhelmed (72%), and downhearted (75%) about their financial situation.
  • 66% of people note financial stress has negatively impacted their relationships
  • 59% experienced conflict with loved ones.

“Uncertainty was a universal experience during the early stages of Covid,” said Financial Mindfulness CEO and Founder Andrew Fleming.

“Unfortunately, a lot of us humans have a habit of thinking the worst when faced with uncertainty.”

“Our data shows the first three months of COVID-19 saw a big upswing in people worried about their finances, many of whom became downhearted and overwhelmed about their finances.”

The Government stepped in and provided extensive financial support, employers set up ‘work from home’ arrangements that allowed businesses to stay afloat, and there was a realisation that the sky would not fall in.

FSI data comparing the six months to the end of February 2021 with the previous six months showed confidence returned.

“The bounce was significant, a lot of people started to experience less financial stress and identified as ’thriving’.”

“Money was saved due to lockdown measures and that drove an increase in personal savings.”

In an online article headlined More people say they are thriving financially than before Covid-19, influential news outlet The Australian, reported the key finding that ‘the level of those who considered themselves as financially thriving was 18.8 per cent, which crashed to 2.4 per cent during the first six months of the pandemic.’

The website, Money Management, also reported the same key finding in an online article titled Australians rebounding from pandemic.

The Australian also ran the article in its print edition, headlined More Thriving Financially but Those in Distress on Rise.

This headline reflected the other end of the financial stress spectrum – and showed that the numbers of people in financial distress have continued to rise since we first began measuring financial stress.

FSI data showed an increase in dysfunctional behaviours such as drinking, eating and smoking more.

People under financial stress and distress became aggressive to others, became distracted and started to ignore their financial situation.

People became agitated, felt tension, had trouble winding down and sleeping.

This was picked up by one of the most-read and popular news outlets in Australia, The Daily Mail in its online article headlined Revealed: The staggering number of Australians with less than $2000 in the bank – and why the slow Covid vaccination rollout could leave them financially ruined.

The article noted ‘Money wellbeing app Financial Mindfulness surveyed 645 Australians and found 34 per cent of them would be unable to raise $2,000 to cover a financial emergency.’

The Daily Mail also noted that aspect of the FSI was a ‘barometer of economic health’ in Australia.

“Ultimately we were not surprised about the financial fear everyone experienced during the initial impact of COVID and lockdowns,” Mr Fleming said.

“But we were very surprised about the extent of the bounce back, with so many people feeling financially confident.”

“We were also surprised and disappointed about the significant increase in people experiencing financial distress despite the bounce back, they are being left behind.”

Recently Financial Mindfulness has also been active in promoting mindfulness as a tool to help people manage their financial stress.

This concept was discussed in an article published by the website Financy recently, titled Using mindfulness to overcome financial stress.

The article was based on an exclusive interview with Dr Ellen Langer, secured by Financial Mindfulness.

That interview also produced blogs for this website, which you can read in two parts. The first part is here and the conclusion is here.

We believe mindfulness can be part of a solution to achieve a positive way of living where people maintain awareness and pay attention to their finances and financial behaviours.

We call that way of living financial mindfulness.

Financial Mindfulness recognises JobKeeper came to an end on March 28 and we look forward to finding out how this change affects people’s financial wellbeing in the next FSI reporting – which will be available at the start of August 2021.

Stay tuned and contact us if you would like to be updated and participate in our FSI work.



Australians rebounding from pandemic

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Australians rebounding from pandemic

Financial Mindfulness was reported in Money Management on its latest financial stress survey.

Australians assessed as “thriving” financially have rebounded after sliding backwards during the first six months of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Financial Mindfulness.

The firm’s Financial Stress Index (FSI) showed that 25.8% of 645 respondents were rated as “thriving”, a proportion that was 18.8% pre-COVID, but crashed 2.4% during the first six months of 2020.

The research had also found an almost 10 times increase in those that experienced finance distress due to COVID-19, while 64% of people experienced financial shame.

Andrew Fleming, Financial Mindfulness chief executive and founder, said Government support likely stopped financial stress from spiralling as people became uncertain about their financial position during the pandemic.

“When people stopped going out, their personal savings increased and at the same time interest rates were adjusted to their lowest levels in history,” Fleming said.

“The combination of extra savings and cheap money fuelled a personal and Australia-wide economic bounce back. This is reflected in the FSI data collected at February 2021.

“This ‘bounce-back’ is evidenced in falling unemployment, gross domestic product (GDP) levels increasing and another property boom.”

The proportion of respondents that were “managing” fell from 41.5% in the first six months of the pandemic to 26.1% in the six months from September 2020 to the end of February 2021.

A smaller number of people in chronic financial stress, categorised as “distressed” continued to increase throughout the pandemic, with financial and psychological factors the main drivers.

Those who identified as excessively eating, drinking, smoking due to their financial situation returned to pre-COVID levels.

On average 16% of people often had physical stress relating to their money worries and 71% were distracted because of financial concerns.

Agitation was the most common somatic symptom of financial stress (71%), followed by tension (69%) and inability to “wind down” (65%).

Many took an “ignorance is bliss” approach, either ignoring the situation (57%) or recklessly spending (57%).

66% of people note financial stress had negatively impacted their relationships and 59% experienced conflict with loved ones.

“While it is clear that some people have bounced back, there are many Australians who unfortunately continue to experience considerable financial stress,” Dr Nicola Gates, Financial Mindfulness consultant clinical neuropsychologist said.

“Inequity is increasing in Australia, and increasing inequality is associated with increases in financial distress.”

Published in Money Management on 6 April 2021. Credit: Chris Dastoor

Staggering number of Australians with less than $2000 in the bank

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Staggering number of Australians with less than $2000 in the bank.

Financial Mindfulness was interviewed by the Daily Mail on the latest study on financial stress. These results show just how dire circumstances are for some Australian’s.

Revealed: The staggering number of Australians with less than $2000 in the bank – and why the slow Covid vaccination rollout could leave them financially ruined.

Financial Mindfulness study showed 34 per cent of people couldn’t raise $2,000 Almost half or 45 per cent of Australians can’t pay their weekly household bills Financial Mindfulness chief Andrew Fleming: those with low savings were at risk

Government and employers calling for halt to major minimum wage increases

A surprising number of Australians would struggle to raise $2,000 for a hot water, car or medical emergency and a slow Covid vaccine rollout could make that worse.

Australia’s eight-year run of weak wages growth is set to continue with both the federal government and employer groups calling on the industrial empire to withhold pay increases, despite the strong economic recovery from the Covid recession.

Money wellbeing app Financial Mindfulness surveyed 645 Australians and found 34 per cent of them would be unable to raise $2,000 to cover a financial emergency.

Almost half, or 45 per cent, could not meet their weekly household bills, the barometer of economic health taken in February 2021 found.

A surprising number of Australians would struggle to raise $2,000 for a hot water, car or medical emergency and a slow Covid vaccine rollout could make that worse. Pictured is a stock image

Financial Mindfulness chief executive Andrew Fleming said people with less than $2,000 in bank savings were particularly at risk.

A medical expense or a hot water system blowing up or a car breaking down: an expected expense hits people for six,’ he told Daily Mail Australia.

‘A lot of people are living week to week.’

Consumers already struggling with a mortgage, rent or credit card bills are increasingly turning to buy now, pay later apps, like Afterpay or ZipCo, or pay on demand, where individuals pay $80 a month to get $2,000 in the bank before their employer pays them.

Mr. Fleming said many Australians were unaware of the penalties they faced if they were late with repayments during a personal financial emergency.

‘For those who can’t raise $2,000 for an unexpected expense in the last month, there’s a high probability they’re going to resort to these new products – does the user really understand what they’re doing?,’ he said.

The past year has been very volatile, with the Covid shutdowns causing a 7 per cent plunge in gross domestic product, the steepest downturn since the 1930s Great Depression.

But the final six months of 2020 saw a 6.5 per cent surge in economic growth, the fastest-ever half-yearly pace of GDP expansion.

Despite that, the federal government is calling on the Fair Work Commission to refrain from giving Australia’s 2.2 million low-paid workers a substantial pay rise on July 1.

Fair Work Commission
The federal government is calling on the Fair Work Commission to refrain from giving Australia’s 2.2million low-paid workers a substantial pay rise on July 1. Pictured is a cafe at Brunswick in Melbourne

The federal government is calling on the Fair Work Commission to refrain from giving Australia’s 2.2 million low-paid workers a substantial pay rise on July 1. Pictured is a cafe at Brunswick in Melbourne

‘Given the current uncertainties in the domestic and international economic outlook, the government therefore urges the panel to take a cautious approach.

Taking into account the importance of creating jobs for Australians and ensuring the viability of the businesses, particularly small businesses, which provide the jobs which are crucial to the economic recovery and the wellbeing of Australian families,’ it said.

The National Farmers Federation went further in its submission to the annual wage review, arguing minimum wage workers should get no pay increase until the Covid vaccine was given to most Australians.

‘The NFF recommends that the minimum wage be maintained at current levels until economic conditions have improved, market volatility has decreased, and the level of financial risk lowered,’ it said.

‘These conditions can be reasonably expected to materialise once trends indicating a recovery can be confirmed and the risk of additional waves of infection minimalised following the roll-out of the AstraZeneca vaccine.’

Mr. Fleming said the prospect of more weak wages growth would put struggling consumers at risk.

‘If expenses are going up, out of your control, and income is stagnating, there’s a problem,’ he said.

Money wellbeing app Financial Mindfulness surveyed 645 Australians and found 34 per cent of them would be unable to raise $2,000 to cover a financial emergency.

Almost half, or 45 per cent, could not meet their weekly household bills, the barometer of economic health taken in February 2021 found

On July 1 last year, the Fair Work Commission agreed to give minimum wage earners a $13 a week pay increase which saw their wages edge up slightly to $753.80 a week or $19.84 an hour.

The 1.75 per cent wage increase was below the inflation rate at the time of 2.2 per cent.

Since then, inflation was shrivelled to just 0.9 per cent, putting it well below the Reserve Bank of Australia’s 2 to 3 per cent target range.

As found in the Daily Mail

Daily Mail