Tuesday, 29 September 2009

can you afford it?

I haven't been posting as much lately. Instead, I've been having a standoff with my husband; trying (and often failing) to get to the gym; carting my children back and forth; finishing a book by Anthony Robbins (which, if you read one book this year, read it!: written in the '80s, it still has the power to transform); and attending 'webinars' by Rachel Elnaugh, an entrepreneur and ex-Dragon's Den judge - who now has all sorts of lovely motivational and coaching stuff as one of the many strings to her bow.

I'd like to share with you a great comment from last week's webinar, a conversation with Nick Williams and Marie-Claire Carlyle (two equally fascinating and enlightened entrepreneurs/business gurus worth looking up. P.S. only thing, Marie Claire: your webpage title sounds a bit like a bra' ad...sorry!). During the discussion they touched on why the phrase 'I can't afford it' is (and I quote Rachel) "perhaps the most negative mantra you can possibly have around money...it keeps you stuck in a holding pattern of scarcity, lack and limitation".

To me this was something which really struck a chord. Because I had been telling myself the exact same thing for a while now. And the phrase is bandied back and forth so much in our family kitchen I'm almost surprised it's not written up on the blackboard! But if you've got ambition and a tad of self-awareness in life (got the first, trying to develop the second!) naturally this kind of self-limiting statement starts to grate. And you need to overturn it.

The irony in our family is that we'd found ourselves in this rather tight financial reality simply because, a year and a half ago, we decided to shoot for the stars and make a dream reality: by moving to a rather dilapidated home with a large garden. And, we actually couldn't afford it! Not by any permutation of accounts prepared by my husband, our resident accountant. But, we'd fallen in love with this snapshot of rural England, an oasis in what is basically still London town. A garden with more mature trees than you can shake a stick at. Purple buddhleia, the 'butterfly' flower, curling round and coexisting with ancient clematis. An old stone well hidden behind a mound of ivy (and still hidden, as far as the children are concerned!) Blackcurrent, redcurrent and gooseberry bushes, bitter bramley and sweet, perfumed pink apples. Lots of grass to run around on and kick footballs. Space for barbeques. Heaven.

But, inside the house, there were holes in the walls, a 1930's, hideous old-folks' home-gone-wrong-decor/layout, and a kitchen barely suitable for cooking in. This all said to me: "It has potential!" (If I've got one skill in life, as an architect's daughter, I can see potential. Where's there's potential, the nasty outer wrappings don't matter).

Now, we "couldn't (really) afford" this house. But we WANTED it. So desperately. So much that we somehow begged, borrowed, sorted through financing options, and squeezed ourselves into the deal. With the result that we really couldn't afford the removal van to move us to the new house! I spent three weeks, with the children at their grandparents', carting boxes back and forth from seven a.m. until three (a.m.). Alone.

Still on the subject of the house, whether or not the price was right (it was a deal at the time of contract, but that was the height of the housing bubble...) our quality of life has been immeasurably improved as a result of shoe-horning ourselves into this move we wouldn't accept we couldn't afford. Despite my fight with the grim interior!. And, even as we agreed we had no money for furniture (we'd inherited much from the old gentleman who sold the house to us - much in the same vein as the rest of the decor), I wouldn't admit defeat: I'm rather wired like that. I resolved to improve our lot with what we'd got. One half-term, armed with paint-stripper, new season paint colours and textures, varnishes and a lot of inspiration, I transformed grotty 1930's art-deco and dingy cracked 1960's pieces into items which any interior designer would be proud of. And all practically for free. The result gave me far more satisfaction than being flush and going to BoConcept with a budget (well, almost!). The satifaction of taking action, mainly. Because if you take action, results are sure to follow. And from not being able to afford furniture, visitors now ask me where I got my sideboard and coffee table.

There are endless permutations to what you can get out of twisting the "I cannot afford it" situation to your advantage. Here's another. Recently I discovered a truly fabulous painter. Whose paintings I coveted, every last one of them. With no budget, I was so determined to buy a particular inspiring picture I'd fallen in love with, that I asked if - as a stranger, over the internet - possibly, I might pay in installments. This type of 'lateral thinking' - creative solutions as a result of pure stubborness ("if I can't, then I'll find a way"!) - is a great exercise in how to achieve what initially may seem impossible in a given situation and in life in general. Rarely is there a problem which cannot be solved by some form of creativity, or by taking small steps to 'bite' off chunks of the problem bit by bit with a view to resolving it entirely in the future. Sarah, the painter, said "yes"! And I'm going to enjoy saving up for it so much, knowing I own a little more each month... and I'm going to treasure it especially when, eventually, this seascape graces my wall and the power of the waves remind me of the inherent power in life and nature. And how we, as human beings, can harnass latent power to improve our lives too.

The key is often how we conceptualise obstacles to ourselves: how we represent problems. As Rachel says, if we think we "can't afford" something, we are telling ourselves that we are not capable of finding a solution. That we are unable (un-able, un-deserving) to afford it. If we tell ourselves that there might be ways and means to enable what we want, we unlock great reserves of creativity. We unlock the subconscious to work with our rational mind to help 'dream up' ways of achieving our dreams. We're telling ourselves we're capable and competant enough to overcome the odds.

Never forget the power of words. Language is important. How we talk to ourselves is important. So, I won't tell myself again "I cannot afford it". But, instead, "How can I afford it?" It's a much more productive, and positive, way of looking at financial obstacles - or any other problems.

Similarly, after writing (and telling myself) for the past few weeks that: "My husband and I aren't talking...my marriage is crumbling!" I realised that perhaps he wasn't talking to me because I wasn't talking to him - and that our relationship was "crumbling" as a result! So I talked to him, overcoming my pride, my stubborness, and my pre-conceptions. And, hey ho, things have been resolved! We still have incompatibilities, but it's better to think: "We have incompatibilities. How could we harnass these to make life easier? and how can we overcome these to make life less difficult?" than: "We have incompatibilites. We're doomed!"

...Sometimes in life it's not about what we cannot afford to have or do. It's about what we can't afford NOT to have or do... let's make it happen!


  1. Beware! Many people consider Anthony Robbins' ideas seriously flawed and a product of the 70's & 80's. I too was impressed with his ethos 20 years ago & put many of his ideas into action - with mixed results. Two decades later, I can see that my wealth & ego building period did not make me any happier!

    Despite all the above, it might be the very thing you need, so feel free to disregard everything I wrote!

  2. Thanks, Robert, and welcome back! I am always pleased to read your point of view, and in fact, fully agree that Tony Robbins is to be picked and chosen according to individual need. For example, I took the between-the-lines premise that if you follow his techniques you'll own a castle by the sea, a stunning spouse, and a business empire in a mere couple of years with a BIG PINCH OF CALIFORNIAN ORGANIC NATURAL SEA-SALT!! (Or that you need to be a vegetarian to have enough energy/emulating Ghandhi, Aristotle, etc...)
    No, the "confidence movement/fake it 'till you make it" of the 1970's isn't what it's all about, and in fact Robbins does seem to stress that we have to tap into who we naturally are, though it's easy to blur the lines and certainly in the heady "lunch is for wimps" era of the 80's I'm sure many came a cropper. Interestingly enough, Paul McKenna seems to summarise nowadays in his various books pretty much everything Robbins says in (t)his book, but minus some of the more extravagent claims. And he's doin' pretty well on it!

    Robert, I agree that wealth and ego-building don't make one happier - you're not alone in that! And neither do castles by the sea with turrets, Tony Robbins (VERY 80's!!)

    Robert, do come back. I enjoy your imput!

  3. That Robert sounds interesting! Must go over and ask him what he did. Thanks for the sage words HR, I'll just go and buy Merlin House, had my eye on it for ages.

  4. MH- Presume you meant ladderstile house, link on my previous post? or if it's another fab house do tell me I'm always ready to ogle, google and drool! (wait until your book deal, luv.!)

  5. Hah - we, too, are still living in a 'work in progress' nearly 6 years after moving in! The Manchild is a bit handy, or at least has a loft full of DIY tools. All that means is that nothing ever gets done cos he never gets round to it (of course, won't pay anyone to do something he can do himself). That's because he's working on random projects like building a pond. Don't get me started on that one... Part of me has lost the will to keep pushing for home improvements. X

    By the way, I commented on your last post but it didn't appear. I must have failed to type the squished-up word correctly.

  6. Hello, hello
    back from a mad week of showing off (exhibting in 2 places at once)to read your post!
    you cant imagine how much encouragement its give me, after a week of trailing up and down Northumberland, hauling canvas about and meeting and greeting the hoards of folk at NewcastleGateshead art fair.

  7. Manicmum - yes. one word. Or two. I know. (That's my father, by the way. To a 'T'.)

    Sarah - you don't need encouragement! Your paintings speak for themselves. I'm busy editing my book and hoping to be able to buy them all!!!

  8. I think what Tony does best his help people evaluate what is and isnt working well in their lives and make the necessary adjustments to being happier. I credit him with making a big difference in my life!