Why Are You Poor? Because of Negative Conditioning

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Secrets of the Millionaire Mind" by T. Harv Eker. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Do you feel powerless when it comes to money? How did you inherit your limiting beliefs about money? What attitudes and ideas about money did your parents model?

If you’re not happy with the state of your finances, it’s because you’ve been negatively conditioned to have a poor mindset. This negative conditioning is the main reason you are poor: it impels you to act in ways that move you away from financial success.

In this article, we’ll explore how negative conditioning works, and how negative conditioning may have led you to develop a “poor mindset.”

Why You Have Negative Attitude and Mismanage Your Money

Eker argues that, if you have a poor mindset, each time you engage in negative thought patterns, you reinforce the belief that you’re powerless when it comes to money. This is the main reason why you are poor—you deny your role in your financial situation and reinforce the negative conditioning you adopted throughout your childhood. The more you engage in this type of thinking, the more you associate money with the feeling of powerlessness.

As a result, you’re incapable of achieving the financial success that you want.

(Shortform note: The Happiness Advantage sheds light on Eker’s claim that negative thoughts lead you to feel powerless. The book presents the latest research in neuroscience and positive psychology to argue that happiness is the cause of success: When you choose to cultivate the habit of thinking positive thoughts, you train your brain to find opportunities in adversity and more easily overcome challenges and setbacks. On the other hand, when you habitually think negative thoughts, your pessimism blocks you from perceiving opportunities and trains your brain to shy away from challenges. This stops you from moving forward and leaves you feeling powerless to improve your situation.)

Negative Conditioning Creates Low Self-Esteem and a Victim Mentality

Eker claims that low self-esteem goes hand in hand with negative conditioning and negative thinking: Poor people generally suffer from low self-esteem—due to their interpretation of their upbringing, they don’t feel like they’re good enough to have or manage more money. This money mindset leads them to unconsciously sabotage their chances of financial success. For example, they feel impelled to spend their money on unnecessary expenses instead of saving.

With every setback poor people face, Eker argues, their confidence takes a knock and they become habituated to the feeling of failure. Eventually, their lack of confidence prevents them from moving past their comfort zones to embrace challenges—this is because they allow their fear of failure to stop them from taking advantage of opportunities.

Not All Poor People Have Low Self-Esteem

Psychological research confirms that negative thought patterns do contribute to low self-esteem. However, it’s necessary to make the distinction here that not all “poor people” have low self-esteem. Eker’s argument is based on the premise that if you’re poor, you must be unhappy because you’re not rich, and that your low self-esteem is holding you back from wealth. 

But his argument is based on the assumption that everyone wants to be rich, and he doesn’t factor in that some people actively choose not to make more money: for example, the parent who wants to prioritize family over career and finances, or the freelancer who works just enough to sustain her lifestyle so that she can spend more time doing things that feel meaningful to her. In both cases, money itself is not a priority, just a means to an end. Therefore, not having money probably wouldn’t impact these people’s self-esteem.

How Negative Conditioning Manifests

Eker claims that this negative conditioning is easy to identify once you start taking notice of how you think and talk about money. But, he argues, instead of investigating why they’re unable to overcome their financial problems, poor people deflect attention away from themselves and seek external causes for their problems. They blame others for their misfortune, resent people who have what they want, and justify their poverty and their negative attitudes with false beliefs such as, “Rich people are greedy and corrupt.” 

Eker claims that poor people use these tactics to relieve the stress of feeling poor and powerless. Unfortunately, these stress-relievers leave them locked into operating from a negative mindset that keeps them in poverty. 

(Shortform note: The negative mindset that Eker describes is more commonly referred to as a victim mentality—the belief that bad things always happen to you through no fault of your own. This belief creates a feeling of apathy because, when you feel like other people are always trying to thwart you, you find it difficult to build the motivation to take positive action and change your life. Instead, people with a victim mentality often magnify their problems and their perceived injustices in an attempt to seek attention (comfort, sympathy, reinforcement of their beliefs) from others. The attention they receive from others validates their powerlessness and keeps them from moving forward.)

Why Are You Poor? Because of Negative Conditioning

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  • The difference between the way rich people and poor people think and feel about money
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Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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