Mind Over Money: Using the Money Atom Exercise to Improve Your Money Wellbeing

Some of the most common questions I get asked in my work as a financial coach are:

“How do I change my money mindset?”

“How do I stop self-sabotaging?”

“How do I get out of this debt cycle?”

“How do I start believing that I’m worthy of wealth?”.

For me, this all centers around how you feel about money. How you feel about money can be hugely influenced by your mental health, your wellbeing.

Mental Wealth Being

Your mental health is as important as your mental wealth because behind every financial situation, there is a set of conscious and unconscious beliefs, thoughts and emotions: all of these things that create a feeling, whether that’s a feeling of security or insecurity, confidence or fear, safety or anxiety. The role of a financial coach is to explore this with you in a nonjudgmental way, to help you to challenge the ones that are not serving you and help you to plan the next step forward towards whatever you’re wanting to create. Whether that’s more stability, more income or safety, more wellbeing, more happiness, whatever that feeling is that you’re looking to create. Because underneath expressions like financial freedom, it’s often the feeling that we’re looking to create underneath that. Financial freedom in itself isn’t amazing, it’s the feeling it creates underneath that, the feeling of more time, more time for relationships, with our families, our children or our loved ones. It’s the feeling underneath it: that’s what we’re actually looking to create.

One of the most downloadable pieces of content I’ve produced in my Money Circle membership was the first money success kit that I delivered when we launched the membership almost a year ago now. It was a piece of content around money mindset and how to rewrite your money story alongside an audio track. So I wanted to continue with that theme coming to the end of this series. Looking at how we can bring more safety and security, as this series has been focused around the topic of survival and thriving.

How we feel about money can really have an impact on the role that it plays in our lives, how we spend it, how secure we feel about our financial future. The core beliefs that we store about money become the prerequisite of the stories that we continue to tell ourselves. So we really have to work on, first of all, identifying and bringing some curiosity to what some of those stories may be. What are you telling yourself about money? And it often involves a period of what I would call self reflection. So journaling, bringing some curiosity to some of these beliefs, can help you to unlock some of the negative patterns of beliefs and behaviours that may be preventing you from making positive changes towards your financial future.

Create Financial Certainty: Wired for Wealth

Often our emotions and our beliefs present themselves in lots of different ways. And they prevent us from doing what is logical, because most of the decisions that we make come from the emotional part of our brain. So most decisions that you make every single day come from the emotional place. This is why, for example, people struggle with emotional eating, emotionally drinking, or emotionally spending and emotional shopping, because we’re coming from a place of emotion. We all know that we should spend less than we earn and we should be investing for our financial futures, but often the decisions that we make come from our subconscious mind, not what we know rationally. Working through those thoughts and beliefs first will help you to identify what behavioural changes you can make to then ensure that the practical steps actually happen, continue and stick.

As human beings, we naturally seek the path of least resistance because our brains dislike anything that’s complicated. Have you ever noticed that when you’ve got a to do list, you always tend to go for the simple and quick things first, because that’s what the brain likes. It favours things that are simple and uncomplicated. So it’s always looking for evidence to support what it already knows – a habit, if you like. And it does what it always does because we’ve always told it the same thing. So the challenge is identifying what that reoccurring pattern of behaviour actually is. What have we been telling our brain over and over again about what we think and feel about money?

How we can create more financial certainty is by exploring these subconscious beliefs. Psychologists believe that we have established our relationship with money by the age of 7. I think that’s fascinating. So essentially it’s actually your 7 year old brain that we are trying to influence. With that in mind I want to share with you an exercise that’s called the Money Atom exercise.

Mind Over Money: The Money Atom Exercise

This has been developed by Brad and Ted Klontz and Rick Kahler. These guys are financial psychologists, and I’ve actually spoken about using some other psychology based tools previously. Earlier in series 5, we talked about the PERMA model and how that can be used to improve your financial wellbeing. The Money Atom is an exercise that you can use to help better understand your conscious and your unconscious beliefs, and also your attitudes that stem right back from childhood – that 7 year old version of yourself – and what patterns may be emerging for you, as well as what patterns may be emerging way further back. So not just coming from your subconscious beliefs, but what actually may be inter-generationally being passed through from parents, grandparents, great-grandparents and so on.

If you’re interested in diving more into this subject, I’ve mentioned this book before and it really is fantastic: It Didn’t Start With You by Mark Wolynn. The book explores in a lot of detail about how these inter-generational patterns and beliefs can be inherited through the generations.

The goal here is to help you to identify those patterns. There’s 13 steps to the Money Atom exercise.

Jump to Step:

Step 1 – Visualise

Step number one is to think back to your family environment. And if you can, try and visualise what that was for you. So at this particular stage of the exercise, you can simply draw a chart or a diagram of your family as it were when you were a child. Drawings or charts like a family tree, for example, or just some little stick people as to what your family was like as a child.

So maybe you lived with parents, you had brothers and sisters, and perhaps you had grandparents around you, aunties and uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews. Just visually draw out a representation of your family as you were as a child.

Step 2 – You

Step number two, once you have that drawing, is to take a piece of paper that’s at least eight and a half by 11 inches in size, larger if possible, and using a square to represent yourself. You want to place yourself on that picture, on that piece of paper, where you feel that you fit in your family as a child and the size and the position of the square can also reflect your perception of the position that you held in that family system and that family network.

So maybe you felt that you were a small piece of the family, in which case it may need to be a little square. Maybe you felt that you were a large contributor in your family, so maybe that square will be slightly bigger. So think about using the square to represent yourself in terms of size and positioning of that square.

Step 3 – Significant Males

Step number three, once you’ve done that is to then think about using some triangles. Using triangles you want to add the significant males into your family system. So again, the size and the position of these triangles can represent the influence and the position that those people held within that environment, those male figures within that environment. So you can begin with the most significant male. That may be a father, for example, and then position other significant males using triangles. Identify the figures by putting their initials inside those triangles.

Step 4 – Significant Females

Step number four then is to use circles to represent females in the system, in the same fashion. So we’ve used triangles to represent significant males, and now using circles we want to you to think about doing exactly the same, but this time thinking about significant females in the system. So again, think about the size, think about the position of those circles on your piece of paper.

Step 5 – Other Significant Influences

The next step is to think about representing any nonhuman objects or influences in your life at that time by using rectangles. So these might include significant pets, for example, or perhaps religion played a significant part growing up in your family or work. Perhaps there could even be a significant mental illness or trauma that was experienced as a child. A physical illness perhaps, maybe there was a divorce that had a significant influence as a child in your family. Maybe you grew up during a war, or maybe there was alcohol or drugs that were involved that represent that kind of non-human aspect.

This can be quite a sensitive subject to complete and may bring up for you, particularly around some of these subjects, some emotion. Even for me, I’m thinking I’m sitting here thinking my parents divorced when I was very, very little and that had a huge impact on me as a child. I didn’t necessarily recognise it at the time, but it of course had an impact on me at that age.

So if anything comes up for you around this, just make a note of that, because this is something you may want to actually then talk to with either a financial coach or even a therapist. I talk quite openly about this – I’ve had many years of therapy over lots of different things in my life. I think sometimes actually acknowledging that some of our relationship with money can be deep rooted in painful experiences, painful trauma, and sometimes not even significant trauma.

Traumatic experiences may seem quite small, but can have a huge impact. Covid-19 right now is a really good example of trauma. This is a significant change to a lot of people’s wellbeing and way of life. And so if anything comes up for you during these exercises, just first of all be in the comfort and acknowledge that I’m holding you safe in this environment whilst you’re doing this. But also if you do need some additional support, then please do feel free to either reach out to myself or of course a therapist.

Mind Over Money: The Money Atom Exercise

Step 6 – Ghosts

Step number six then is to represent any other influences that were not physically present, but those influences that were felt within the environment. So often these are referred to by Ted and Brad Klontz as what they call ghosts. So they could include people who have passed or events from the past. These figures will be represented by the appropriate either circle, triangle or rectangle that’s associated with the gender or the objects.

So maybe for example, there is the ghost of a past – perhaps your mother lost her father, for example, and maybe that came up for you as a child, because maybe you were present to that fact or perhaps that was talked about in the family. So think about representing that in your picture. If you’re going to draw, for example, a circle, because that was related to your mother, then rather than drawing a solid circle draw a dotted circle. Or if it’s in relation to a significant male in your family system, then draw a dotted triangle, so that you can differentiate between a solid triangle and the dotted triangle.

Step 7 – Symbols

Step number seven is to then use the pound symbol to show the relationship of the characters that are surrounding the conversation around money, wealth or poverty. So the pound symbol can be altered or adapted to represent different relationships. For example, a large pound sign might represent a primary influence or a primary attachment, whereas a small pound sign might represent little attachment.

What I’d also encourage you to do is to think about using an X mark, which you can use on your diagram to represent poverty. So a pound symbol inside of a stop sign, for example, might represent a relationship in which the individual didn’t like to talk about money, or they were secretive around money, for example. You can use your imagination as to how you want to represent these relationships, but think about using that stop sign or the X to represent poverty and a pound sign to represent wealth or money.

Perhaps your dad spoke to you about money a lot growing up, so there may be lots of pound signs around him, but perhaps on your mum’s side money was never talked about, or there were some secrets around money. Or perhaps you knew that there were some stories about poverty, for example, with your grandparents. So you could think about drawing an X rather than a pound coin sign, if that was more in relation to poverty than wealth.

Step 8 – Flow

The next step then is to use arrows to represent the flow of money between the people that are represented in your diagram. So in other words, who gave money to whom? Who brought it into your family, who lost it in the family, or who took it from the family?

For example, perhaps your father was the main worker in the house. So there was constant flow from your father into the household, but perhaps your mother was somebody who frivolously spent money, or perhaps you had siblings and maybe you were the saver and they were the spenders. So think about using arrows to represent the flow of money between the people who are represented in your picture. Who gave it to whom, who brought it into the family, who lost it, or who took it out of the family.

This is a really, really powerful part of the exercise. Money is really about an exchange of flow. It’s about how comfortable we are to receive money, but how comfortable we are to give money. So this could be really, really insightful. Growing up as a child, that seven year old version of yourself, what did you see or feel or hear around money in terms of the flow of money?

Step 9 – Identify

Step number nine then is: based on the picture that you’ve completed, identify the conscious or unconscious beliefs or attitudes about money that you believe were bought forward from this environment.

This is the point in the exercise when you may want to come back to this exercise and just take a little bit of time to digest this picture and this image that you’ve created. What conscious or unconscious beliefs or attitudes about money can you take from that exercise? For example, it may be that if your dad brought the money into the household but then it was spent, so it was lost in the family, and there was a lack. There was never enough money in the house – as much as it came in, it just went out straight away. So that could be a conscious belief that money was hard to come by.

Unconsciously that may be depicted in your behaviour that you feel like you have to keep working and working because there’s never enough money. You can never create enough money, and therefore the unconscious mind is constantly going to look for more evidence to support that belief. So think about what those unconscious or conscious messages may be for you.

Step 10 – Distortions

Step number 10 is to determine the degree to which these messages were distorted and how these distortions affected the system. So if you think about messages and how they’re distorted, some of those beliefs may not actually be true. The fact that money doesn’t grow on trees may have been a subconscious message that you’ve grown up with around money and around wealth, but actually is that really true? Is it really true that money doesn’t grow on trees? Is there a lack of money or is there a way of just going out and creating more wealth and abundance? So thinking about the degree to which these messages may have been distorted.

Step 11 – Internalisation

Step number 11 is to then examine the degree to which you have internalised these messages and whether you’ve actually acted upon them with little or no conscious awareness throughout the different stages of your life.

This may take a little bit of thinking time. Think about how have you have internalised these messages, how have you acted upon them with perhaps little awareness that that may have even occurred for you.

Step 12 – Consequences

Step number 12 is to identify any emotional, rational, or financial consequences that you have experienced as a result of holding on to that message or internalising that message.

I’ll give you an example of one for me. I grew up in a family where I lived with my mum and brothers and sisters, and I used to go and visit my dad every other weekend. In my main household there was never really a lack of money. We always had what we needed, but rarely anything that we I. So I remember growing up that every time I really wanted something like a new coat or a bike or a new toy, the message I received was go and ask your dad. He’s the entrepreneur, he’s the one running successful businesses. So the perception that I had, or certainly remembered, from that age was that if I wanted anything I’d go to my dad, but if I needed anything that would come from my mum.

My mum gave me everything I needed: clothed me, fed me, all of the necessities that I needed. And I’m so thoroughly grateful for having that in my life, because it meant that I had what I needed, which really is what is important. But for what I wanted as a child, I had to go to my dad. So that flow of money – I’d have much more money coming in from my father’s influence than I did with my mum, for example. The consequences for me was that I would genuinely believe that wealth wasn’t necessarily easy to come by because I didn’t see it day in, day out living at home. But if I wanted anything that would always be given from somebody else and from a male figure. So that was one of the beliefs that I held growing up around money.

Also what happened for me is that when I received money, when I started earning my own money, I would find any reason to go and spend that money as quickly as possible. Because again, that message was that if I needed something, I’d get it. But if I wanted something over and above that, then I’d need to go and earn money and I could then use that money to spend it on something that I really, really wanted. So that’s what I did. As soon as I earned money, I was like right, now I can buy everything that I want, the stereo systems, the new car, the house, the clothes in my wardrobe – things that I wanted, but didn’t necessarily need. So that was the financial consequences for me.

And a consequence of that was that I massively overspent because I almost believed that there was a scarcity of money. If I don’t keep creating more and more of this for myself, I’ll never be able to buy what I want.

Step 13 – Reflection

Sstep number 13, which is the last step, is to reflect on any financial experiences in your life, try and identify what beliefs or attitudes about money or wealth have been gleaned from that family system, and which of those have contributed to your own behaviours.

Mind Over Money: Improve Your Money Wellbeing

Those final five steps, 9 to 13, can be quite difficult to do, especially if you’re doing this exercise for yourself. This is an exercise actually that I’m going to be running as a workshop in the Money Circle membership. So if this is an area you would really like some extra support with then do come into the Money Circle.

There is already some training around rewriting your money story in the membership from July 2019 when we originally launched the membership, but we’re also going to be digging into this subject again. So if this is an area that you feel is insightful, but you want some additional help with this, then there’s an opportunity for you to continue this learning at a deeper level inside the Money Circle membership.

I hope that this has been really useful, just to help you to start to think about that your relationship with money is deep rooted, and it’s deep rooted in our conscious and our subconscious belief systems. But just bringing some curiosity through this exercise can really help to uncover some of what may be underneath and what’s driving your financial decisions. And at the end of the day, we’ve got to start there.

If we want to improve our financial wellbeing, if we want to improve how we create wealth, how we manifest wealth, all of those things, we have to start internally before we then go and find out all the practical tips and tricks and steps as to how to grow, build, and create wealth for yourself.

This is about going internally first to understand your financial past, and then bringing that all into the present, bringing that all into the current moment of where you’re sitting today. What can you do for yourself right now today to move you one step forward towards the financial life that you want to create for yourself?

I hope this exercise has been useful, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on it. Please do feel free to email me or drop me a message on social media and let me know how you got on with the exercise.


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Brad & Ted Klontz – Mind Over Money: Overcoming the Money Disorders That Threaten Our Financial Health

Brad & Ted Klontz and Rick Kahler – Wired for Wealth: Change the Money Mindsets That Keep You Trapped and Unleash Your Wealth Potential

Mark Wolynn – It Didn’t Start With You

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