Does it feel like you have always been in a competition?
Competing with your classmates in school for good grades, with your college buddies to land your first campus job and now with your colleagues to grab that coveted senior role in the company.
In a world with limited resources (college places, jobs or promotions) it is natural that we find ourselves competing with others from time to time.
We continue this spirit of competition in our personal financial life too.
We believe that just like getting that admission to a prestigious college, winning in your personal life against others will guarantee eternal happiness.
Here is the thing though – When it comes to your personal financial wellness, your main competition is not from the people around you. Your biggest competitor is YOU.
Your Toughest Competitor is YOU
As outlined in the guide to financial wellness, our financial behaviour is one of the 4 pillars of financial wellness. It plays a major role in deciding if you are able to achieve personal financial wellbeing.
Our financial behaviour stands between what we know we should be doing and what we actually end up doing when making financial choices.
If you think about it, we are all in an ongoing contest with our own behaviour to achieve the financial satisfaction that we are seeking.
You Only Hear What You Want to Hear
Trying to process every piece of information signal we get from our daily working environment can drive us nuts.
So we come up with behavioural rules of thumb that help us to quickly make sense of the world around us.
It allows us to deal with the noise around us and quickly process the information in a manner that we are comfortable with.
These rules of thumb are unique to you as they are based on your upbringing, values and your personal experiences.
Let us say, you lost some money in the stock market at your first attempt at investing. You may have since started believing that stock markets are dangerous and it is best to always stay away.
Once these beliefs have been formed, you will continue to hold on to them whenever you have to make any new choice about investing in the stock market.
And whenever you come across some information that conflicts with your beliefs you experience stress. It is not easy for most of us to hold 2 contradictory beliefs in our head at the same time.
The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function
So we try and find ways to rationalise this new information. Anything that allows us to continue holding onto our previous beliefs.
When you hear about someone who made money investing in the stock market you may instantly think it was due to sheer luck.
Your ingrained belief will try to keep you away from the stock market instead of letting you make a second attempt at investing.
You are now competing against your beliefs on stock markets despite new facts being available.
You Fear Missing Out
We evolved in a world with limited resources. Our survival depended on who got their hands first on scarce resources.
While the resources in the modern world have grown manifold, our thinking has not evolved from this fear of missing out.
It does not matter if the product or service being sought after is important enough for you or not. As long as everyone else is going for it, you too go for it to avoid losing out.
As an example, people will eagerly join a long queue, and happily wait for 15-20 minutes to get a free sample of the new yogurt brand. This is even when they don’t like yogurt that much to begin with.
While acting this way may not do much harm when it comes to yogurt, it can be very detrimental to your finances when it extends to the world of finance.
We live in a world that is designed to prey on our fear of losing out. The TV commercials will tell you about how people that bought a certain product are much happier now.
The pushy salesperson will tell you how everyone, including your neighbor and colleagues have already bought the hottest new investment product.
And then you will meet people at social gatherings who will boast about how well their recent investment in X, Y or Z is doing.
When you hear all this, your mind switches into a competitive mode. You don’t want to be left out of all the action. Not surprisingly, you too want your investments to double within a few weeks or deliver some other magical figure you have in mind.
You are constantly competing against your inner fear of missing out.
You Think Bad Things Only Happen to Other People
Human beings are inherently optimistic by nature. I guess it is nature’s way to ensure we survive and progress as a species.
Our optimism allows us to explore the outer reaches of space or the depths of the ocean despite the dangers. In the business world it allows entrepreneurs to start new businesses even knowing that majority of new businesses fail.
Remember those statistics you come across from time to time. The type that tells you that something is very safe because it is safe 99.5% of the time. Or only 1 in 200 cases go wrong.
We take comfort from that and go into that activity without thinking much more.
That statement about the action being safe is true most of the time except when you are in the 0.5%. In that case risk of things going wrong for you is now 100%.
But our optimism makes us believe that we won’t ever be caught in the 0.5%. It will always happen to someone else instead.
A dangerous belief of personal financial wellness is this: It can’t happen to me.
This belief can lead to some risky behaviour in your personal financial life:
– Not taking adequate life insurance.
– Not planning for retirement in time.
– Risking your life savings on a single investment bet.
Sometimes you don’t get a second chance to recover from a fatal personal finance mistake.
You are in competition against your optimism about the risk of things not going wrong in your financial life.
You Think You are in Full Control When Making Choices
We have an ingrained belief that we are in complete control when making a financial decision. We like to believe that we look at all available information and then make a choice that suits us best.
Of course the real world works otherwise. Companies employ entire teams whose only job is to subtly influence how we make those decisions.
They work to subconsciously alter the decisions you are going to make.
Just think of the whiff of freshly brewed coffee or baked bread when you enter your local store. You have been primed for your purchase of a latte or a loaf of bread without you realising it.
Research suggests that even the music being played in the shop while you browse has an impact on what you eventually end up choosing.
It is the same with your online behaviour. What you are shown on the screen is based on your past behaviour and purchasing habits.
The information is being managed to extract the maximum dollars out of you at every opportunity.
You may end up spending much more than you intended because of the clever marketing being employed by companies all around you.
We have much less control than we think on the decisions we are making.
Your conscious rational mind is constantly competing with your subconscious mind that is being primed by companies that want you to spend more and more.
When it comes to your personal financial life, your biggest competitor is you.
Your own behaviour, beliefs and feelings can be a much bigger threat to your financial wellbeing compared to, say the risk of a thief breaking into your house.
We spend enormous resources on looking at our external competitors. If we devote the same resources to our own decision making process, the results can turn out to be far superior.
Look in the mirror. That’s your competition.