Suze Orman Says Negative Thinking Can Hurt Your Finances. Here's How

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KEY POINTS

  • Experiencing a loss often leads to negative thinking.
  • Negative thinking robs the brain of its ability to make critical decisions.
  • It is possible to reorganize your brain, and improve your financial future in the process.


Negative thinking can do more than make you feel miserable; it can prevent you from moving forward and building wealth.

Suze Orman was fired up on a recent episode of her podcast, Women & Money. According to Orman, she regularly receives letters from women who've broken up with their life partners. Even after Orman offers them advice, some remain stuck in their fear, shame, and anger -- the three things that prevent them from building wealth. Until they can let go, they're likely to have trouble building their bank accounts, furthering their careers, or enjoying retirement.

Tough love

The 17-minute podcast feels organic as Orman pleads with listeners to be careful of the thoughts they allow to take up residence in their heads. The recording has a spur-of-the-moment feel. According to Orman, she was so worked up about what some of her listeners were going through that her wife, Kathy "KT" Travis, suggested she record a podcast episode about it.

That particular episode is a lot like listening to someone tell old friends what they need to hear rather than what they want to hear. It was not at all judgmental. Instead, Orman sounded weary and sad that so many good people are stuck in the same pit of despair following their breakups.

The power of thought

Orman pleaded with her listeners to find a way to become unstuck. She said, "You can't live the life of your dreams when you're spending time living in the nightmare of your thoughts."

According to the financial expert, many of those she dealt with are so stuck in their sense of loss that they're unable to get ahead. They're holding on so tightly to their pain that they're not open to receiving anything good that could come their way.

The science behind it

According to The Decision Lab, humans feel negative events more intensely than positive events. Due to the "negativity bias," our emotional responses to negative events feel amplified compared to those of similar positive events. The pain of losing is twice as powerful as the pleasure of gaining.

But it's far more than feelings that concern Orman; it's what happens to people when they're stuck in a vortex of pain and negativity.

The impact of negativity bias

The concept of negativity bias is nothing new, reports The Decision Lab. In fact, it's been well studied, and its effects are well documented. For example, King's College London researchers found that repetitive negative thinking can increase a person's risk for Alzheimer's disease.

Further, the researchers found that prolonged negative thinking diminishes the brain's ability to think, reason, and even form memories. Like a sponge squeezed dry by the energy it takes to think negative thoughts, brain power is diminished.

Orman's concern

It's easy to see how Orman would become upset. She reads sad letters from people whose hearts have been shattered. They're terrified of being on their own, trying to pay bills, and planning for a future that feels scary. Orman speaks of them dwelling in their anger, sitting in their shame, and residing in fear. She implores them to put one foot in front of the other, to slowly move from that dark place so they're better able to make the kinds of decisions that will benefit them.

According to studies, Orman is right to be concerned. One of the byproducts of negative thinking is stress. And the kicker is this: Stress leads to more negative thinking. It's a cycle that can be tough to break.

When a person is caught up in negative thinking, it's much tougher to make decisions that are likely to improve their circumstances. For example, it's difficult for someone to apply for a job when they've already convinced themselves that they have no chance of getting hired. It's hard to begin investing for their future when they are absolutely sure they'll never be able to build a nest egg.

It's like a series of self-fulfilling prophecies caused by holding on to negative, fearful, irrational thoughts.

Tip to reorganizing your brain

If you find yourself mired in negative thoughts -- for any reason -- Chartered Professional Accountants (CPA) of British Columbia offers this scientifically-backed tip for breaking the cycle:

  • Stop what you're doing and close your eyes.
  • Notice the negative thought.
  • Now, replace it with a positive thought. It may be remembering an old friend, your favorite pet, something you'd like to experience in the future, or anything else that fills the space once occupied by negativity and worry.
  • Hold that positive thought in your brain for one full minute (longer if you can). If your thoughts start to drift, it's okay. Gently guide them back to the positive thought.

If it all sounds silly, it's actually you taking advantage of neuroplasticity -- your brain's ability to reorganize and form new neural connections. In essence, the practice allows you to sculpt your brain. Don't like the negative thoughts? They don't own you (or your brain).

The more you practice holding positive thoughts in your mind, the easier it will become for your brain to create new channels. You'll look back one day and realize you weren't stuck. You just didn't have the tools to break free.

Words matter too

It's not just negative thoughts holding Orman's listeners back. The words they use to describe themselves have a substantial impact.

"Your words become your actions. Your actions become your habits. And your habits become your destiny," Orman said.

Change of any kind can be scary, but "scary" is just a feeling. If you too are stuck in negative thinking, moving forward will involve taking control of that fear and reframing your thoughts. Once that's accomplished, you can move toward doing anything. Whether that's starting a small business or traveling the world with a friend, it's your decision to make.

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