2.1.4: How to stop financial rumination

Becoming wiser with money requires you to first stop your head spinning in ruminatory circles

There is a rule in coaching and negotiation circles that ‘why’ questions are a bad idea. A ‘why’ question should be rephrased as a ‘what’ question because ‘why’ questions risk sounding accusatory and putting the receiver on the defensive. This is entirely true. However, in introspective interrogations, there’s another reason ‘what’ questions are better: they make it much harder to get trapped in a solutionless centrifuge of rumination. ‘Why can’t I do this?’ inflames itches that ‘What is it about this I’m struggling with?’ starts to soothe. ‘What about this is important to me?’ demands the sort of answer that ‘Why do I bother?’ is set up to forego in favour of wallowing in sticky self-pity.

This book is an encouragement to turn whys into whats, and then to persistently pursue answers that unlock hitherto unknown levels of comfort and confidence with managing money. It’s about moving from ‘why must investments be so complicated?’ to ‘what is it about investments that I want to understand better?’ or ‘what do I need to know to be able to trust that the advice I’m getting is as helpful as it is well-meaning?’ It’s about recognising that if you walk around blindfolded, then someone will always be happy to sell you directions, and that when scruples are optional, if you don’t know where you’re going, you won’t know when you’ve been taken for a ride in the wrong direction. It’s about removing the blindfold and stepping into the light, fit to first find your own path and then to skip happily and confidently along it. It’s about not dwelling on money problems, but methodologically moving towards solutions to them.

If you don’t pinpoint your concerns – if you don’t move from ‘why?’ to ‘what?’ – you’ll jump into getting help that’s simply not very helpful. And you’ll continue to get stuck in rumination rather than moving to resolution.

This is a suicidal waste of your life’s resources. ‘Regardless of the possible number of computations our brain is capable of,’ wrote neuroscientists David Perlmutter and Alberto Villoldo, ‘the truth of the matter is that most people use most of their computational ability to dwell on everyday problems. This waste of a good brain leaves hardly any computational power for innovation, creative problem solving, and enlightenment.’[i]

As we saw earlier, there is no shortage of personal finance books that set out in sane, user-friendly steps how to manage your money. However, if you don’t manage your mind first, it’s perfectly possible, almost perhaps inevitable, that you can manage your money in textbook fashion and still have the very thought of that money do nothing but cause you discomfort, and detract from the goodness of the life it should be enabling.

The point of this book isn’t to tell you which investment is the best,[1] or to tell you to use or not use any particular type of investment guru, just as it isn’t to tell you how to spend (or not spend) your resources. It is to encourage you simply to think through these and other aspects of your relationship with money and how it can contribute to or distract you from your Good Life. It is to provide frameworks for thinking that cut through the crap (and there’s a lot of crap), and to know how to see true value in a world blinded by price. It is for you to learn how to advise yourself, even if you then delegate the donkey work (and to learn how to not delegate it to an actual donkey).

page2.2: Misunderstandings and Lethargy

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[1] There’s no such thing, as we’ll see in Part 3, Chapter 4.


[i] David Perlmutter and Alberto Villoldo, Power Up Your Brain: The Neuroscience of Enlightenment

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