Whole-Brain Personal Finance

The ultimate guide to making more of your money, built from your brain up – the only way that can work in the only context in which it counts: your life

Everybody wants to make more of their money. Only a few do. Why? And how can you be one of them?

Out of the tens of thousands of hours I’ve spent studying such things, Iain McGilchrist’s The Master and his Emissary and The Matter with Things are the best books I’ve read for understanding the world and how to operate within it.

They also map spookily well to everything I’ve written about our screwy relationships with money, and how we fail to make more of the money in our lives.

Therefore, to introduce these magnificent books to a wider audience, and to set their ideas in the most practical of worlds (that constructed by your incessant interactions with money), and to hopefully enhance your understanding of both McGilchrist’s work and my own, the posts listed on this page break down McGilchrist’s arguments and highlight the implications for helping you live better with money.

Because paying attention to money with only half a brain is no way to live a whole life.

What's the argument in a nutshell?

  • Unluckily, you know money with only half a brain. And (for the purpose of living well with money) it’s the stupid half.

  • Luckily, this worldview-ruining brain damage is voluntary: you can do something about it.

  • Unluckily, this form of brain damage is highly resistant to recognising that anything is wrong, so doing something about it is not something you believe matters. Yet nothing matters more.

  • Luckily, masterful help for slowly dissolving these defences is at hand, in the form of Iain McGilchrist’s The Master and his Emissary and The Matter with Things – the best books I’ve read for understanding the world and how to operate within it.

  • Both luckily and unluckily, money magnifies the damage, but also, because of the unique way it’s woven into your life, offers a way out… if you choose to pay attention TO it, rather than merely THROUGH it.

By introducing McGilchrist’s work via a series of short lessons that show how it maps to your relationship with money, this series aims to deepen your understanding of how to burrow into your brain, uncover the cerebral secret to all money mysteries, and redraw the maps of your money worldview so they direct you towards making more of – rather than a mess of – the money in your life. Each lesson stands alone, though they’re most helpfully read as an interdependent web of wisdom.

And, because no doubt it needs to be said to someone, if you have *any* notion of left- and right-hemisphere differences and haven't read McGilchrist's work, there's a very high chance that those notions are wrong. To quote McGilchrist: 'The old dichotomy – left hemisphere rational, right hemisphere emotional – is profoundly mistaken, on both counts; not to mention the fact that reason and emotion are never entirely separable.' If any part of you was about to excuse yourself from engaging with this series because of something like that, don't let it!

What's the TL;DR version?

There isn't one.

Not because I couldn't be bothered, or because I'm being mean, but because there cannot be one. The value (and I mean it when I say this is the most valuable set of ideas to understand to improve your financial wellbeing, your relationship with money, and how well you live with money in general) comes from the multi-layered, interdependent web of ideas. Any summary would sell you short.

This will, I hope, become exceptionally clear as you work through the lessons, and by doing so gradually come to see more clearly how the signatures of your two takes on the world show up in your daily decisions... and how, therefore, to catch yourself before you're led astray by the idiot take.

The lessons

This is an ongoing project. This list will be updated as new lessons are published. At the bottom of each lesson will be a link to the next in the series.

  • IntroductionThe single best thing you can do for your financial health is increase your awareness of the two distinct ‘takes’ on the world that exist in your head, and how left unattended, money fires up the self-destructive one.

  • Lesson #1: If you want to make more of your money, you have to aim for brain-based worldview change, not action-based behaviour change – Typical financial planning focuses on half-brained hacks: clever tips, tricks, and tactics aimed at changing your financial behaviour. These quickly hit a limit of usefulness, and ultimately block you from making the most of the money in your life. The only way to transformative improvement in your finances has to start at the level of your financial worldview.

  • Lesson #2: Money messes up the proper ordering of your hierarchy of attention – Money hijacks your hierarchy of attention. It promises you a shortcut to purpose, but this is a trick, because purpose is beyond its purview. Without a conscious effort to keep money in its place, it’s simply a shortcut to simplistic stupidity.

  • Lesson #3: Making more of your money starts with philosophy, not behaviour-change hacks – Personal finance demands a philosophy. A way of understanding yourself, and how you live with money. Without one, you waste money, time, and energy chasing other people’s dreams, and flick from one siren-call of investment advice to the next, never sure if what you’re doing is right for you.

  • Lesson #4: You can break a whole into parts, but you cannot build a whole from parts – Your left hemisphere builds a model of ‘reality’ by building things up from each component part it lays its narrowly focused attention on, while the right hemisphere (which despite it being the wiser half, money makes you basically ignore) takes in the whole.

  • Lesson #5: To improve your financial decision-making skills, learn to spot the signature of poor financial thinking – Train yourself to catch your money-triggered idiocy with this list of 20 foundationally important signs that maybe you're being led astray from making as much of the money in your life as you could be.

  • Lesson #6: The half a brain that controls your financial decisions is the blind half – When it comes to money, you are brain damaged, and literally so not see some vital elements of your reality, but you do not see that you do not see, so keep making the same mistakes.

  • Lesson #7: Money is the universal convertible, but prompts a way of seeing that shuts you off from seeing alternative solutionsThe left hemisphere, in effect, ‘says’: ‘It’s seemed OK round here to date, so there isn’t a problem.’ The right hemisphere is on alert for things you should adapt to. ‘The left is too busy getting the next bonus.’

  • Lesson #8: Putting everything into numbers is a game with only losers – Lives are screwed up by prioritising money simply because it can be measured and because it promises an easy answer to a complex, existentially terrifying conundrum. However, no one thinks that’s what they’re doing when they’re doing it, so they don't see it, and don't change, and then wonder why things don't feel as fulfilling as expected.

  • Lesson #9: Keep money in its place – Money is great for measuring things. But meaning and measurement do not dance together. So if you get stuck in left-hemisphere mode, stuck in models that by their very definition are built to analyse things that don’t have meaning, you’re going to attach meaning to things in a really screwy way.

  • Lesson #10: Money makes you prioritise dead stuff over living relationships (even though you really don’t want to) – Deep down, our desires aren’t flawed. It’s just the way we try to meet them that’s messed up… and that messes us up in turn. Because we mistake the certainty of dead, inanimate things for the certainty that they will bring us forever what we want.

  • And about 200 more to come...