Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part series.
Every day, more and more Americans click into a decidedly post-recession state of mind. Whether or not they’re still unemployed or upside-down, ever-increasing numbers of us have grown tired of being down and depressed and decided to do whatever it takes to get back on our feet and back into the flow of life — it’s so short, after all.
Fortunately, the real estate market seems to be flowing in that same direction: Millions of Americans have seen their underwater mortgages dry out this year, due to nothing more than increased buyer demand, which, in turn, increased home values. But millions more still owe more than their homes are worth — and many more than that are still dealing with the financial and emotional trauma of struggling to make the mortgage payment, tussling with their banks over loan modification requests, a past foreclosure or short sale, or even recession-created fears around buying a home, or selling and locking in losses.
Here’s the deal: The more you fear or focus on this trauma, the more it becomes a major influence on your decisions and your life. So, how can you extinguish it altogether? Here are some strategies:
1. Focus on what you are for, not on what you are against. We often create what we fear, largely out of our panic and paralysis around the topic. So, if you constantly worry about losing your home, being upside-down and whether your home’s value will ever recover, you are simply more likely to get and stay in these situations. Anxiety will cause you to spend more than you should, or to perform poorly at work, snowballing into high credit card bills or an interruption in income.
It’s a small mindset tweak, but a powerful one, to focus instead on what you want to have happen — or, as "Three Simple Steps" author Trevor Blake puts it, what you are for.
If you are for being debt-free, you might be inspired to start a small business and be your own bailout. If you are for getting out from underwater, you might decide to aggressively pursue the loan modification options, or to rent out an extra room on Airbnb to fund extra payments to reduce your mortgage principal.
I’m not saying these are the things you have to do to create the situations you want — I’m simply suggesting what I know from personal experience, which is that if you focus on what you are for, then you are much more likely to see that happen than when all of your time, energy and emotion is fixated on the things you hope don’t happen.
2. Metabolize the trauma. I believe that everything we do — every endeavor we make, every decision, no matter how painful or joyous the outcome — is a success. We are either successful at what we were trying to accomplish, or the experience is a successful education. But when we have painful experiences, it’s difficult to get free from the pain and move on until we can appreciate the successful education that the experience holds.
In order to let go of the trauma you might still have from things that happened around your mortgage or your home, you might find it helpful to work with the image Dr. Henry Cloud creates in his book "Necessary Endings": the image of metabolizing the experience.
When we eat food, we metabolize it, holding onto the elements that are nourishing and beneficial and eliminating the rest. You can do the same thing with experiences like losing a home to foreclosure or short sale, or being upside-down on your mortgage: Take some quiet time to be real with yourself and identify what learnings you can cull from all the decisions and events that led to your real estate trauma.
Once you do that, you can almost have a ceremony of sorts where you simply declare to yourself that you’ve got what you needed from the experience, and you’re ready to let the rest go. It might sound new age-y, but even the most wizened business execs and hardened military strategists will tell you that learning and letting go of past failures and disappointments so you can fight the next battle are essential ingredients of resilience, and that resilience is a prerequisite for long-term success.
Next week, I’ll provide you with three more strategies for letting go of your real estate baggage.