It’s only natural to want to be right all of the time but ultimately this can be a huge distraction from making real progress. Always trying to find the “right” investments, “right” timing, and “right” strategies can actually move you further away from accomplishing what’s most important.

Financial planning is inherently imprecise because it concerns the future which is always unknowable. This truism might be wholly unsatisfying for some investors and that’s understandable. However, it’s the actual way the actual world works. It’s reality.

Progress, Not Perfection

Financial planning is first and foremost about helping guide you through the “land of the unknown.” If you become too focused on “being right”, you end up stuck without any discernible direction. Progress can’t happen unless you lose the concern for perfect and “right.”

The truth is much of what appears within canned financial plans spit out by many advisors is far too precise. Something inevitably goes “bump in the night” and all the linear plans, (e.g. “b” follows “a”, and “c” follows “‘b”) become a jumbled-up mess; Instead, plans should acknowledge the way life actually happens and help people make smart choices at critical junctures.

Are You Blissfully Unaware?

Here’s the rub, most investors have been brainwashed by the financial media to believe it’s ok to keep swallowing the “blue pill” and remain blissfully unaware. You’ll remember the allusion to the blue and red pills in the 1999 film The Matrix. In the movie, Morpheus instructs Neo that the red pill equals unpleasant truths and uncertainty (the real world), while the blue pill represents the wonderland he is currently occupying. A tough call for Neo, and for all of us as well.

Like Neo in The Matrix, we often live in a wonderland where if we have an itch we immediately look for a salve to cure the itch. This focus on finding “solutions” to everything causes us to wander around aimlessly at times. This is the central tenet of financial planning, to keep you moving forward, even when you don’t (and can’t) know exactly what tomorrow will look like.

Sometimes, a particular type of schooling or education can inadvertently stand in the way of moving forward. For instance, with no disrespect intended, many engineers for example look at financial planning as one big math equation. They search for “the right” answer that “solves” the equation. The problem is, life isn’t a math equation and the more that you try to make it so, the more you end up attached to the blue pill wonderland. If you succumb to the allure of false precision, you can’t move ahead.

Optimism Bias

Underlying our desire to get things right is our absolute certainty that we actually are right. Neuroscientist Tali Sharot (The Optimism Bias) and a TED Talk  on The Science of Optimism, says that 80% of us suffer from Optimism Bias. That is, we only imagine good (or right) outcomes versus a realistic version of good and bad (or wrong). In her TED Talk she mentions that fully 40% of marriages end in divorce but newlyweds place the likelihood of divorce in their marriage at 0%.

Financial planning may not be able to increase the successful marriage odds but it can provide a more realistic understanding of future uncertainty. Take small steps, make small bets, and steer clear on false precision. Start there. Ready for a real conversation?

 

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