You might not think of your money as a flock of sheep, but Dr. Martha Beck does. And it makes more sense than you'd imagine. In this episode of Motley Fool Money, the best-selling author and life coach joins Motley Fool contributor Brian Stoffel to discuss:

  • Why you should ask yourself, "How much is enough?"
  • How to align your investments with a personal mission statement.
  • Financial lessons from Gandhi, Dante, and chimpanzees.

To catch full episodes of all The Motley Fool's free podcasts, check out our podcast center. To get started investing, check out our quick-start guide to investing in stocks. A full transcript follows the video.

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This video was recorded on May 15, 2022.

Martha Beck: [MUSIC] I had a study, several actually, where they had chimpanzees, and they would give them food directly, or they started giving them these tokens. I think they were poker chips or something. They had to trade those for food. When they just fed them, the chimps behaved normally. As soon as it became a token economy, they went nuts. They started killing each other for tokens. They were hoarding them. They were obsessed with them. [MUSIC]

Chris Hill: I'm Chris Hill. That was Dr. Martha Beck, best-selling author and life coach. Her latest book, The Way of Integrity, was recently selected for Oprah Winfrey's Book Club. Think of this episode as a way to help you think about what your investments represent beyond stock tickers and maybe create a healthier connection between you and your money. Motley Fool contributor Brian Stoffel talked with Dr. Beck about why you should ask yourself how much is enough, how to align your investments with your own personal mission statement, and financial lessons from chimpanzees. [MUSIC]

Brian Stoffel: I was hoping that you could talk a little bit about, because you've coached so many people, and you've got so many interesting stories about coaching people who we might look at and say, "They've got it all." You have the inside story where you're, like, "That's not quite the case." Can you relay some of those stories, especially the one you tell a lot I think is very apropos to this about the young man whose company went public.

Martha Beck: He made, I think, $400 million in one day, and they had this huge party because the company went public, and they all made a huge windfall. They'd hired a famous rock band, and they were in this hotel room, suite. The rock band was playing in the suite, it was absolutely deafening. It was three in the morning, and this guy called me, and he was drunk, he was high. Everything you could put into your body he had. He started screaming into the phone, "It's not effing enough. When is it ever going to be enough?" That's what you tend to see in the so-called highest performers. I just try to think about Abraham Maslow's late work, where he's talking about how the need to be adored is so strong in people like Vladimir Putin that, while they're killing people randomly, they insist on being called beloved leader, adored one, because they think that the need for connection will be served by being able to force. They're creating horror around them, and what they really want is a loving connection. Maslow said they are the loneliest of all people on Earth. I just thought, I have really seen that with fame, with power, and with money. It is not enough for happiness.

Brian Stoffel: In The Way of Integrity, you take, what's one of my favorite works that I had to read in high school, which is Dante's The Divine Comedy.

Martha Beck: You love it, too.

Brian Stoffel: I do. Just so you know, I read the Tao of Pooh when I was in college and that was life-changing for me. Not the Tao of Pooh but the Tao Te Ching.

Martha Beck: The Tao Te Ching.

Brian Stoffel: When you talk about The Way of Integrity, you talk about how we can become distracted by something that you translated as Mount Delectable and how that can be really enticing. Can you just explain what Mount Delectable is and what warning you might have about Mount Delectable because that dovetails with what you were just talking about?

Martha Beck: Dante was a brilliant psychologist and, actually, a spiritual guy centuries before his time. He starts the first few verses of The Divine Comedy, most people just skim right through them, but it so resonates. He says, "In the middle of my life, I came to myself in a dark forest, for the true way had been lost." It was terrifying. It's like everything is dying, and foggy, and murky, and he's lost, and he doesn't know how he got there. He says, "It was like I sleepwalked away from my true life." Then he sees this mountain, [inaudible], I don't speak Italian, but that's what he calls it. Every English translator that I got has called it Mount Delectable. It's caught in the rising sun so that it looks golden. He sees all these people trying to climb out of the dark wood of error into the light. He thinks, that's what I need to do. He starts trying to climb, and he gets more and more exhausted as he goes. Then ferocious wild animals start attacking him, and Dante identifies them with mood words. There's a wolf that is incredibly depressing. Everybody who sees it starts to cry. There is a lion that is so frightening, even the air is afraid. There's a leopard that is insatiable. These emotional states of desperation, and fear, and depression, they all get stronger the higher he goes up the golden mountain. Finally, he's so exhausted, he just slides back down. I really think he was making an analogy to the ways humans get power, wealth, and status, thinking that they'll be happy at the top of that mountain and getting all the signals from their moods, from their bodies that this is not good. I don't like this. Sometimes it takes exhaustion to make people give up, and that's when they hire me. [laughs] So I've seen a lot of people do that.

Brian Stoffel: I appreciate that you say they're getting all the signals from the body because that's a key part of your work is the body is so important. If someone is brand-new to this, they've never read any of your books, can you just talk about how you learned how to use your body, and then how you learned how to use the signals that your body might be sending you, and the weird places that it might have sent you?

Martha Beck: [laughs] I was hit by a car when I was 18, when I was out running as a marathon runner. It hit me in the side, and it messed up my hip. The doctor said just lie down until the pain goes away, and 12 years later, the pain still had not gone away. I was in chronic pain for about 12 years. My 20s, basically, I spent in chronic pain. You get to be very economical about your choices when you're in pain, because you know, if you do thing x, you will not be able to keep going through thing y. I started being really selective about my behavior because I had to be. Then I noticed that certain behaviors made the pain feel worse, and certain behaviors made the pain relax. Now I was suffering from several, actually, autoimmune diseases. Some of them were diagnosed surgically. My body was basically trying to kill me because I was the single greatest threat to my own happiness. So I started paying really close attention and doing the things that made my body relax.

Now, the cognitive mind is processing. They think about 40 bits of information per second. The entire neurological structure of the body is processing about 11 million bits of information per second. It is infinitely more intelligent than the cognitive mind. What I realized, as I kept following my freedom from pain, is that it was sending me into a life that was much more enjoyable. It got to the point later, when I was giving a lot of public speeches, I would stop in the middle of the speech and say, "Is everybody comfortable," and people would go, "Yes, we're fine." I'd say, "No, are you really, genuinely comfortable? I really want to know," and they'd be, like, "Yes, we're comfortable. Leave us alone." Then I would say if you were sitting at home alone, how many of you would be sitting in the position you're in right now? Out of 300 people, maybe one would raise a hand, and then I would say, what about the rest of you? Why not? They would sit and think for a minute and a half before they would realize, these were very intelligent people, they weren't very comfortable, [laughs] which wasn't a big issue because they were tolerating it just fine.

The issue is that they had looked me in the eyes in clear daylight and repeatedly said they were comfortable while they knew they weren't comfortable. The body has a deeper truth than the mind is allowed by culture. So when you get by yourself, and you take your mind off cultural pressures, the first thing I do with people, and it doesn't matter how brilliant they are, the first thing I do is teach them, think of the worst thing you ever had to go through, think of the best thing you had to go through, sit in those memories for a minute, and tell me how your body feels in each instance. When they were chasing their wild dream that wasn't really there is they all felt like Dante trying to get up Mount Delectable. When they were relaxed, and happy, and doing something wonderful, that same guy who made $400 million in one day, we had so many sessions and the happiest he'd ever been was when he was on a long backpacking trip with everything he owned in a backpack out in the middle of nowhere. That's when he'd been happy, and the rest of his life was going exactly the opposite way, and his body was trying to tell him that.

Brian Stoffel: Then here's the question. We've got people listening, and in their professional lives, they might be feeling some of what you're describing this young man was feeling, or they might be investing, and all of a sudden, there was a lot of investors, myself included, who as a individual, as a person, as a father and husband I was scared when 2020 rolled around just from everything that's going on in the world around me. At the same time there was this weird thing that happened where a lot of the companies that we were invested in, their stocks started taking off. There's this weird disconnect where [OVERLAPPING] because a lot of them help the transition to digital, being able to do things when you're not in person. But my point is a lot of people experience much larger gains much sooner than they were expecting. So what do you do if you are that individual, or if you are experiencing a certain level of professional success, or you're doing really well in the stock market, and then you look, and you're, like, but my body is telling me that this isn't exactly because I don't think that your answer would be sell everything and give it all away. Maybe, but what are the steps that you take then?

Martha Beck: The first thing I would say is change in one degree turn. Back to the airplane analogy, if you're flying 10,000 miles, and you turn one degree north every half hour, you won't notice the change at all, but you'll end up in a completely different location. A lot of research on change has shown that the slower the change, the longer it lasts, the more effective it is. So don't try to [laughs] leap to the top of Mount Everest. Keep climbing, but change your direction if you notice that you're serving something that isn't deeply harmonious with all the aspects of yourself. A really powerful thing that someone did with me, one of my own coaches turned on me and coached me when I was starting my own company, about 25 years ago. She sat me down and made me define my life's mission. The way I addressed this in the way of integrity is I stole this from a psychologist named Stephen Hayes. He's amazing. He asks you to define your own personal values by choosing a verb and an adverb that describe what you want your life to be. For Bernie Brown, it's daring greatly. You've got a verb and then an adverb. For mine, it was not just two words but it's homecoming continuously. By that I also mean that I want to bring people home to themselves.

Brian Stoffel: I love that.

Martha Beck: It's fun. It's hard to get it.

Brian Stoffel: It's so hard.

Martha Beck: Did you try it? Have you done it?

Brian Stoffel: I don't have a verb and an adverb, but it is to nurture meaningful relationships and to try. I will say, the biggest wrinkle that's come in there since then is that I've learned is, and the most important one, is the one I have with myself because there's so many times where I chose to do something for someone else who is important to me and ended up being terrible because I didn't listen to what I wanted to do. But yes, it is so difficult to write your own statement.

Martha Beck: But you did beautifully and for other people out there who are service-oriented like you are, one of the things I like to remind people is follow the Golden Rule, which is "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." But also follow, I call it, the "Elur Nedlog", which is Golden Rule spelled backwards. It is this, "Never ever do to yourself anything you would not do to another person." Rob yourself of sleep, work yourself too hard, all of that, so that's just for the givers out there. [laughs] But I love the point you're making. The mission statement or the value statement drives all the action.

When I invest, is this company helping bring people harm continually? Part of it for me is bringing the world back into balance in terms of the ecosystems. Is it creating integrity of ecosystem? Is it creating a harmonious integrity of people? It's really clear. I just asked my financial advisor, "Is this company doing that?" If they're not, they're out. If they are, they're in. Then if you make a lot of money, I've had a lot of people come to me for help with philanthropy. The same thing helps there. It's got, like, Oprah. She chose a mission, after everybody in the universe was trying to grab at her for decades. She finally said, "I'm going to educate young black girls because I think that's the greatest potential I have for improving a lot of the entire human race, and it's my passion." It addresses her own path. What happened to her as a young black girl in the American South was horrific, so having that really specific mission statement makes everything work.

Brian Stoffel: We might have answered this question, but it's just something that I have to ask because it's something I'm curious about. With all the experience you've had with so many different people and your own life experience, what is the relationship between money and, you could say, happiness, contentment, satisfaction, because I don't think there's anyone out there arguing that they are completely unrelated. I think we're at the point where we can't say that they are totally the same. It's so great. How do you think about that with your experience?

Martha Beck: If you've seen the movie I Am, someone in that movie says, our whole culture is based on a truth and a lie. The truth is that you're wandering around in a cold forest, and you're starving to death, and you've got no warm clothes. If you go into a warm room, and you get a warm meal, and you get warm clothes, it really will make your life incredibly easier and more fulfilling. The lie is that, now, you're going to have 10 meals on that same table, 10 times as many clothes on your body, and the room is going to be 10 times as warm. That's not more happiness. We believe that it will compound our satisfaction, but actually it becomes a torment. Even thinking of money as this thing that you have, it's Dante's version of the leopard where it can never get enough. Money works that way, even with chimpanzees. I don't know if you're familiar with this research.

Brian Stoffel: But tell me.

Martha Beck: I had a study, several actually, where they had chimpanzees, and they would give them food directly, or they started giving them these tokens, I think they were poker chips or something, and they had to trade those for food. When they just fed them the chimps behaved normally. As soon as it became a token economy, they went nuts. They started killing each other for tokens. They were hoarding them. They were obsessed with them. They would sit on them and not eat because they wanted more tokens, and you can really see we have monkey mines. What really shifted for me, I don't believe that money is the root of all evil, or even that the love of money is the root of all. I believe that psychological attachment causes suffering, if you think of it as a savior. But what it actually is, is it's a symbolic representation of human energy.

So if I am eating a strawberry, I think about the farmer who grew the berry, I think about the worker who picked it, and what that life was like. I think of all of those when I eat strawberry or when I hold the dollar bill in my hand. For this strawberry, I will give you a piece of money. That is a token of my appreciation and gratitude for the work you've done to bring me this strawberry. Suddenly, it becomes a loving interaction between multiple people. That's integrity of multiple people. That's all money is. It's a codified form of human energy. I treat my money as a flock of sheep. I do a thing where I say if money were a person, a place, or a thing, what would it look like to you, and what would your relationship with it be like? For me, it's a flock of sheep. I take care of them, and I love them, and they reproduce for me. [laughs] If you were to think of money as a person, place, or thing, what would it be?

Brian Stoffel: Mine is evolving. I don't have I think a healthy relationship with money. Well, first of all, thank you for asking. Now you're turning it around on me, but that's OK.

Martha Beck: I love this stuff.

Brian Stoffel: Where I grew up, I went to high school that was very diverse, ethnically, racially, and socioeconomically. Fun side fact, Oprah, actually, went to my high school. What I experienced was I reached a certain point, and it wasn't being part of the community that was important anymore. Once I got to high school, it was having a good enough job and having this and that. They ruined the social fabric that held our community together, once that happened, and so I had a very negative relationship with money, and then I think what happened later on was you become an adult, and you realize if you want a certain level of freedom, there's a certain level of money that's necessary for that. There's just no getting around that, and so it's just been a continual evolution of that thought.

To wrap it up, I want to get to the question that, I love this, on one of your most recent podcasts, you talked about how much is enough. That is the one question that I have focused on the most in my work at The Motley Fool, and we have another author who I highly suggest that you read if you get a chance. His name is Morgan Housel, who wrote a book called The Psychology of Money, and he talks about that as well. He brings up the same story you did, where Joseph Heller is at a party, and someone asked him, how do you feel about the fact that this hedge fund manager is going to make more in a day than you made from all of the sales of your books. He says, "I've got something that he'll never have, and that's enough." How do you think about that? I actually have my own thoughts, but I'm really curious because you've got way more experience with this. How do you approach the question of "Is this enough?"

Martha Beck: It's interesting because I had slightly different experience than you did because I'm a cis female, and you're a cis male, and you're in what I call the man cage. This was my whole dissertation topic as a doctoral candidate at a little school called Harvard [inaudible]. [laughs] What happens with women is we know we need money, but we also are groomed to be caretakers and to put relationships very high on the list of values, and to give ourselves a break if we're running out of steam. Actually not, but at least, there's the whole self-care thing. Max Weber, the first great sociologist called it the iron cage of rationalism. If wealth becomes the only priority, man become a form of cannon fodder. He might as well be sent to war because you're sent into the machine that manufactures more wealth, and it doesn't take care of the different aspects of human psychology. What's happened to you is that you got caught in a man cage, and you're only allowed to do things that make money, and you're responsible for other people.

Even love is held ransom. You have to make enough money. You're the guy. Some women feel this way, too. I was breadwinner for years. But men don't have a cultural option for saying, "I'm going to quit for 10 years and raise my kids," or, "That guy who made all that money and it wasn't enough never went to hiking again" What I believe in what I've told so many guys and women over the years is love sells better than hate. You basically are able to draw from this world the value you bring to it. If you're in a place you hate doing something you hate with people you hate, you're basically trying to sell hate. You can do it, but it's a really hard marketing project. If you're in a place you love with people you love, doing something you love, everything loves that and wants a piece of it.

I worked with someone once who worked with Gandhi, and she used to say you have no idea how much money it took to keep Gandhi poor. He was going to be poor, he was going to serve the world. He literally wove his own robe, whatever that was called. He started bringing this enormous value to the world, and money wanted to get at him. People donated, people sent things, people were contributing, and he actually had to have this huge machine of people around him to deflect money. He was there purely for the love, purely for the service. When you really go all in that way, and fortunately, thanks to my autoimmune illnesses, I had a chance to say I can only do a few things. I want to go all in with the things that make me happy, and I didn't know there was such a thing as coaching, but my business school students started paying me to talk to them about their lives, and I was, like, "It's working," and here we are 30 years later. Money loves love.

Brian Stoffel: That's amazing. There you go. I want to say that for those watching, go read this book, The Way of Integrity by Dr. Martha Beck. Is there anything else you want to leave us with? Anyone who's watching, who might find themselves in a situation where they've accomplished those things on the outside, they don't have great feelings on the inside and maybe one next right thing, one degree move they can make.

Martha Beck: I want to hit that idea of, are you comfortable, again. Go to a room where nobody's looking, sit down, get yourself physically comfortable, and then go through your whole life, and say [MUSIC] I'm I really comfortable? I'm I really enjoying this? If not, you can start taking those one degree turns and it will change everything.

Brian Stoffel: Dr. Martha Beck, we are so lucky to have you here. I hope it's not the last time. Thank you for joining us.

Christ Hill: As always, people on the program may have interest in the stocks they talk about, and The Motley Fool may have formal recommendations for or against, so don't buy or sell stocks based solely on what you hear. I'm Chris Hill, thanks for listening. We'll see you tomorrow.