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Slow Down To Do More: “Enjoy life.” with Manisha Thakor

We have choice overload in every single area of our lives; there are so many options — where to shop, where to vacation, what cereal to get at the grocery stores…. our brains and bodies are simply exhausted from having to make so many multi-faceted micro-decisions each day. As a part of my series about […]

We have choice overload in every single area of our lives; there are so many options — where to shop, where to vacation, what cereal to get at the grocery stores…. our brains and bodies are simply exhausted from having to make so many multi-faceted micro-decisions each day.

As a part of my series about “How to Slow Down To Do More” I had the pleasure to interview Manisha Thakor, CFA, CFP®. Manisha is VP of Financial Wellbeing at Brighton Jones and host of the true WELLth podcast. She is also a nationally renowned financial literacy advocate for women. Her work has been featured in media outlets including: The Wall Street Journal, PBS, NPR, CNN, Women’s Health and Real Simple. Manisha sits on the board of The National Endowment for Financial Education and is on faculty at The Omega Institute’s Women’s Leadership Center. She is also the co-author of two personal finance primers for young women in their 20s and 30s called On My Own Two Feet and Get Financially Naked. Manisha earned her MBA from Harvard Business School and her BA from Wellesley College. Her personal website is: MoneyZen.com.


Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to this specific career path?

I have worked in financial services for 25-years. My parents early teaching are at the heart of my career path. When I was around 11 years old, my dad, who worked in finance, showed me how to use his HP12C calculator to calculate how much money I would have at age 65 if I started saving and investing a portion of my babysitting and lawn mowing money and it grew at 5% and 6% after inflation. When I saw the resulting number — wow — were my eyes opened. On top of that my mom, a professor and a staunch feminist, taught me that money gave women voices and choices.

As a result of both of my parents teaching me the path to and the importance of financial wellbeing upon graduation from Wellesley College, I ended up working in financial services, starting in investing and then moving into institutional asset management. I then went to Harvard Business School, earning my MBA and went on to earn two additional powerful industry designations, the CFA (chartered financial analyst) and the CFP (certified financial planner). Over the subsequent two and a half decades, I’ve held in roles both on the institutional and the individual side of the business. Those extremely varied positions across the spectrum of financial services taught me so much and has culminating in, age 48, ending up in my dream job — one I can easily see myself doing for the next 15 or 20+ years.

Today I am the VP of Financial Wellbeing (talk about coming full circle to my early childhood influences!) at the Seattle based wealth management firm, Brighton Jones. In this role, I engage in a variety of activities to help our client “live a richer life” — literally and figuratively. The part of my job I’m most passionate about is developing and hosting a podcast called “True WELLth”. The podcast is premised upon these three questions, all of which ultimately link in one way or another to the topic how to slow down and do more.

The three questions are:

(1) What if everything we’ve been taught about money and “making it” is wrong?

(2) What if… success as defined in modern life is merely a recipe for disconnection from self, others, community and the fuller experience of life?

(3) What if… instead of seeking “more” the true joy and WELLth in life comes from identifying our own unique definition of “enough”

According to a 2006 Pew Research Report report, 26% of women and 21% of men feel that they are “always rushed”. Has it always been this way? Can you give a few reasons regarding what you think causes this prevalent feeling of being rushed?

Modern Reasons

Everyone else is doing it; many people say it’s become a badge of honor. I think it goes far beyond that. I think we stay “CrazyBusy” because it keeps us from thinking about things we’d rather not think about (ranging from the dynamics you have with others to state of the plant and a wide range of things in between!). I also think it has to do with the fact that “CrazyBusy” has become “Normalized.” So much has it been normalized that we find it “odd” when we meet someone who isn’t rushed.

We have choice overload in every single area of our lives; there are so many options — where to shop, where to vacation, what cereal to get at the grocery stores…. our brains and bodies are simply exhausted from having to make so many multi-faceted micro-decisions each day.

We’ve lost sense in many cases of what it means to be part of a community; we are so focused on ourselves as an individual that we focus (again consciously or subconsciously) on optimizing ourselves vs. optimizing our”tribe / village / small town) — which often leaves to a desire to achieve more “success” in which ever realm we most closely self-identify with, which in turn can put us on a never ending hamster wheel because by chasing after success — VS. the concept of optimizing for “enough” however one defines it for their values, beliefs, and interests — there’s never a point where you exhale and say… ahhhh — ENOUGH!

“Multi-tasking” has become a very bad habit that almost all of us engage in at one time or another. Yet the brain science is clear. When we multitask, we are NOT focusing on two things at once — rather our minds are fluttering back and forth between the two points of focus in a rapid fire fashion, almost like a hummingbird. And let’s just say it straight up — that’s EXHAUSTING mentally and it also causes us to both make more mistakes than if we were single tasking AND it often takes the joy out of both tasks!

Historical Reasons

When I was a child, I used to read The Little House On The Prairie books. For the life of me, I don’t remember ANY rushing back then….

The cadence of life followed the cadence of the sun.

The definition of success was a lot more simple — survive & thrive — at a very basic human level. No barrage of news, social media, magazines, tv shows, movies — things that are not only very time consuming but which also trigger (consciously or subconsciously) a desire for “More! Bigger! Better!”

Societal Reasons

The part of my job I’m most passionate about is developing and hosting a podcast called true WELLth. The podcast is premised upon these three questions, all of which ultimately link in one way or another to the topic why so many of us feel so rushed — and it is because modern society has in many was created an environment where we are striving after “success” rather than peace of mind and contentment. I explore this subject and more in the true WELLth podcast which is rooted in these 3 powerful questions that underpin many people’s feeling of being “always rushed”. The three questions are:

(1) What if everything we’ve been taught about money and “making it” is wrong?

(2) What if… success as defined in modern life is merely a recipe for disconnection from self, others, community and the fuller experience of life?

(3) What if… instead of seeking “more” the true joy and WELLth in life comes from identifying our own unique definition of “enough”

Based on your experience or research can you explain why being rushed can harm our productivity, health, and happiness?

Answers from the perspective of a financial services professional:

When you are rushed, you often end up spending more money than you would otherwise (taking a Lyft instead of public transportation; eating takeout instead of making meals at home; not having time to plan holiday trips that require plan travel sufficiently in advance that you end paying the highest price for plane tickets.

When you are rushed, you often have no sense of how much money you are spending and whether or not you are staying within your budget. Not to mention that it becomes easy to find yourself not checking credit card statements to make sure they are accurate before being paid, balancing your checkbook, making sure your investments are the right mix for your stage in life, making sure you are maxing out your employee benefits at work by choosing the best options for your particular situation.

When you have financial stress — you end up having issues with productivity, health and happiness! Your productivity at work for example can suffer as you think about debt you’ve wracked up or your just plain stressed out, from a health front stress leads to so many different types of health issues ranging from anxiety to weight gain (high cortisol levels) to a whole host of things in between!) And it’s very hard to feel true happiness if you don’t feel like you living your life from a position or financial strength (which doesn’t require a “ton of money” but rather a consciousness about your spending and saving that keeps you living within your means, enjoy today fully while also preparing for the future)

On the flip side, can you give examples of how we can do more, and how our lives would improve if we could slow down?

Take the proverbial “I get my best ideas in the shower” concept. When you have white space in your head, there is room for your brain to subconsciously put together various pieces of input (consciously or subconsciously) to create and hit on a new idea.

When you rush, you are often exhausted so it takes longer to do things — or you make mistakes and have to redo things — whereas if you slow down and are calm and rested you are often able to complete tasks in less time because you are fresh, focused, and refreshed.

When you slow down you also hear, see, and experience things that you can easily (and often do!) miss when you are going fast. These lost observations can include everything from missing out on the beauty of a tree with fall color & spring flowers blossoming to new hobbies and friends to way of thinking you observe in others that could help you live a happier, healthier, more productive life!

How do you define “mindfulness”? Can you give an example or story?

As an expert in financial wellbeing I have been exploring a wide variety of ways to help increase my own mindfulness and help others do the same when it comes to the way they spend their money. One tool that I have found really useful is to write down everything I spend on a simple slip of paper I keep in my wallet. At the end of the month, I look down that list and see what I spent money on that did not bring me joy. Then I cut that expense out. It’s a way of practicing both squeezing out the maximum amount of joy from each dollar I spend as well as inspiring me at the point of purchase to be mindful about how much joy that purchase brings me. I’ve been tracking my expenses on a monthly basis since 1992. Most people would rather run a marathon backwards than track their spending for a whole month. So start small. Track for a day or a weekend.

Can you give examples of how people can integrate mindfulness into their everyday lives?

I believe it was Zig Ziglar who said “You can get anything you want in life, if you just help as many other people as you can get what they want.” When I first heard that statement — I acted on it, but it was, to be brutally honest, stemming from a place of selfishness. I wanted what I wanted and this was a means to get there. But as I grew older I came to find such enormous joy in helping others — and doing so with ZERO expectation of anything in return. My mindset now is one of feeling that helping someone else by truly listening, seeing, respecting them and assisting in whatever way you can with what’s troubling is a really wonderful to be mindful. Focusing outside yourself on someone else — for the sheer sake of being present FOR THEM — is a great way to integrate mindfulness into their everyday lives.

Do you have any mindfulness tools that you find most helpful at work?

I find that a lunch time yoga class or HIIT workout can REALLY help me on work days. There’s something about feeling your body move in those ways that breaks up the way we normally experience our bodies at work — which so often is in a stationary, seated position.

And when I feel myself starting to “spin out”, going faster and faster, I find the simple practice of taking 10 breaths in this manner help tremendously to get me recentered and back to a place of mindfulness: I take a deep breath in. Then I inhale even deeper and hold for three seconds. Then I exhale deeply and at the bottom try and exhale even more and hold that for three seconds.

I also find alternate nostril breathing, 10 times on each side works great to. You put your note in between your thumb and index finger. You shut one nostril and take a deep breath in and out. They you repeat on the opposite nostril. Do this 10 time and you’ll bee amazed how you feel.

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to use mindfulness tools or practices?

Books: Reading anything by Thich Nhat Hahn or Pema Chodrrron

Resources: The Omega Institute and 1440 Multiversity

Podcasts: true WELLth 🙂

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Our lives are frittered away in details…simplify,simplify” -Thoreau

I’ve had a mental framework by which I’ve been using as my north start since it first came to me in 1991 when I was on the airplane flying back to the US after spending my junior year abroad at Oxford University studying PPE (politics, philosophy, and economics). It was a triangle. At the top I wrote the word “Simplicity”, in the bottom left corner I wrote “Small Joys” and in the bottom right hand corner I wrote “Financial Independence.” Every year when I sit down to do New Year’s resolutions I ask myself if there is anything I want to change about that guiding framework and in the past 28 years the only thing I’ve changed is to add the word “curiosity” in the center. The biggest impact this is had on my life is that I’ve been very aware of trying to reduce complexity in my life — be it in the number of “things” I have in life, the number of “goals” I’m trying to reach or the amount of “commitments — work and volunteer” I take on… so I can truly enjoy the daily awe in the fewer.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I want to “normalize” mental health / mental illness as topic that we talk about as freely as we’d talk about a situational physical issue like a broken bone or a chronic condition like asthma. I personally have struggled with mental health issues for over 30 years. For the longest time, I thought that the mood swings I was going through — from feeling extreme joy to the depth of depression/anxiety were symptomatic of simply working in the financial services industry where pushing yourself to the max and then hitting a wall, crashing, and need some R&R to recover was “normal.” But in my heart of hearts — I could see that what I was grappling with on that front was different than my peers. I talked to various general physicians that I had in various cities I was living in over the course of my career — and consistently I was prescribed antidepressants and from time to time also anti-anxiety medicine. And then a few years ago I moved to Portland Oregon, found a new general physician and she suggested I go to a psychiatrist before she continued prescribing medications that weren’t solving the problem. Because I was a new patient my psychiatrist wanted to see me regularly and after a year of watching me cycle between extreme highs and lows, she diagnosed me as bipolar2.

The thing with mental illness is that you can’t take a blood test for it. In many respects you basically know you’ve found the right diagnosis when a combination of meds that is associated with the treatment of that particular diagnosis moderates or eliminates your symptoms. In my case, once I added atypical antipsychotics to my med regimen it was like night and day. I still “cycle” (swing between mania and depression) but now I know what it is so it’s not so scary and the meds have dramatically reduced the heights and depths of what I experience. So in my case, I have chronic mental illness (which often runs in the family and now in retrospect we realize my grandmother had the same — back then people didn’t talk about it. But she went through electroshock therapy which back in the day was something that only happened if you were having severe mental health issues).

And while I have what I’d call a chemical (imbalance) based chronic mental illness that I will live with for the rest of my life most likely… there are also huge numbers of people who struggle with situation induces mental health issues — postpartum is finally getting a proper light shined on it… but there are so many different types of life experiences that can lead to periods (some quite prolonged) of poor mental health — so an issue related to but also separate from a chronic chemical imbalance leading to full out mental illness (which by the way, with the right “cocktail” of meds combined with sleep, nutrition, exercise, meditation and a supportive network of family and friends — you can lead a “normal” life — and in fact many people who have accomplished great things — like Winston Churchill for example — have suffered from mental illnesses like Bipolar).

So that’s my mission — to create an open and healthy dialogue about mental illness and mental health issues!

Thank you for all of these great insights!

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