I overheard a conversation on a Saturday morning in a tiny coffee shop. Tables squashed close; a woman was asking her friend’s opinion about her personal money situation. Specifically, what her options looked like.
‘I could sell my flat and invest the money in America. That seems like the best place right now. Everyone says the UK is the worst place and it is likely to get worse. Europe doesn’t look attractive to me either. It just seems like a sensible thing to get my money out of the country. And then I’m updating my will. I think I should leave everything to the boys in a trust. What do you think?’
It came out in one breath. The friend affirmed her sentiments and the conversation drifted to travel plans.
I wondered what she had hoped to achieve with the conversation. The friend was clearly not in the financial industry. It didn’t seem like the friend even had much experience with investments.
Yet, it is how many people decide what to do with their money. In a casual conversation over cups of coffee, they seek confirmation of their views. Views, which had likely been informed by the most recent trends. Because the American economy seems strong, most people will want to invest there now.
What the woman was doing, was not unreasonable. She was acting from her primal instincts. Seeking validation from a friend, observing the most recent trends, and extrapolating those outcomes into the future – these are all behavioural patterns that our brains follow, mainly to protect us.
The brain’s main job is not to think. The brain’s job is to keep us alive. In fact, we do little thinking with the rational part of our brain. If we are not conscious of our patterns, we typically even rationalise the prompts from the primal brain with the thinking part of our brain.
I was saddened by the conversation I overheard. I thought about the potential ruin within these decisions that she may face because of that conversation. I recognised the possible legal pitfalls she invited without a proper analysis of the tax and financial implications. I was also upset by her chances of finding solid, holistic financial planning – it is still too rare.
We should all have solid sounding boards in our life – people who can hear us out and help us to make good decisions and not necessarily affirm our views. Better yet to have professional people to advise us on tax, legal and financial issues.
At the very least we should be aware of our ‘thinking’ patterns and how we make decisions. This also applies to professionals – they are not immune to falling into these traps - like everyone else - unless they guard against it.
It asks that we practice a certain awareness of our thinking and actions. It asks that we be observant of ourselves. And it’s not easy, it’s hard work. But it’s also a very necessary life skill, especially in the face of the choices we make.
How will you make your next big life decision?
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