Surviving the economy by thinking differently: a talk with an expert

Yes, prices are expensive, and the economy isn't exactly ducky, but what do we do about it? One expert I interviewed says that we need to create a different mindset for these times, if we're going to get through them without getting an ulcer. He says that we need to be durable. So how do we cope? How do we emerge from all of this stronger, instead of severely stressed?

I asked John Baker, a business speaker and the founder of the consulting firm, READY Thinking, LLC. The former COO at a Fortune 25 company and a 20-year veteran of the business world, his firm specializes in helping organizes change their thinking during times of change and opportunity. He identifies several different ways of thinking that anyone rattled by the economy should consider:

"Define your reality clearly and uncompromisingly, but -- most importantly -- personally,"
says Baker. He says that we all face different circumstances, and so "don't let your reality be clouded by the definition of others." For example, Baker explains, "The media, especially, love to report the worst of the world. Most of it has no real bearing on your life."
"Drop your labels," says Baker. "Maybe you don't consider yourself a 'coupon person' or someone who rides mass transit. Perhaps in the past you have been uninterested in asking for help, car pooling or getting a second job. Times change, and you need to change the labels by which you live." He points out that there are plenty of things one can do that don't cost money, like going to a park, checking out a book at the library, listening to a ballgame on the radio or fishing off a city pier (unless, I guess, you need a fishing license, but I see his point). "If you say, 'I can't stay on a budget,' then precisely by the label you use, you won't stay on a budget."

"Put things in perspective," stresses Baker. "Good times come and go. So do bad times. With every economic setback, it seems there is no end in sight, yet history has shown that market cycles are part of an economy. Recognize that tough times are part of life. We admire people who are fighters, survivors, people who summon the courage to make tough decisions and trade-offs. We're attracted to people who enjoy life in both good times and bad, how they shrug off discouragement and pull themselves up by their bootstraps." In other words, be one of those people we all admire.

And maybe most importantly, Baker says that we should all focus on the now and not the later. Think about the first step to success, not one of the last. "The best course of action in crisis -- economic or otherwise -- when facing what can seem to be insurmountable odds is to take the first step. Sometimes people can't execute on a financial plan is because the end game seems so far out of reach. Yet, wealth and economic well-being is generally accomplished by consistently saving small amounts of money over long periods of time."

Geoff Williams is a business journalist and the author of C.C. Pyle's Amazing Foot Race: The True Story of the 1928 Coast-to-Coast Run Across America (Rodale).
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