Analysis Paralysis of Personal Finance

Analysis is Paralysis

Post this sticky note on Monkey Brain’s cage.

“A mediocre plan violently executed is better than the best plan which is never executed at all.”
–Scott Cunningham

A couple of years ago, I was finally at the point in the sale and transition of the company that I co-founded that I started to free up some of my time. The person who the company had brought in to handle most of the administrative work I’d done was in place, and I was free to start planning out my new venture – this financial planning firm.

I’d done business to business marketing, with varying levels of success, for the past seven years, but now I was moving into business to consumer marketing – trying to find out how to get information out to as many eyeballs as humanly possible to convince as many of them as possible that I was the next coming of sliced bread.

I knew I’d need a website, and I knew I’d need to write articles. That much anyone who runs an enterprise that is online knows. I knew it back in 2005 when we started the last company, and it was still true in 2012.

However, I was convinced that there was a way that I could make what I did stand out from the crowd.

I took a course. It taught me some good information and gave me some insight, but it also gave me misplaced confidence that I could do just a few simple things, and BOOM! More exposure than the halftime show at the Super Bowl!

It didn’t turn out that way. I launched with a whimper rather than a bang. After all, how many people except the most dedicated junkies wanted to read tons and tons of personal finance writing?

But, still, I figured that I must have missed something in the training. I went back and went through the entire course again, rereading everything and doing all of the exercises again.

I hadn’t.

So, I went on a mad search through the Internet to see if I could find something that I’d missed.

I hadn’t.

All roads pointed to writing tons of articles. And then writing some more. And then writing some more.

Fortunately, that hadn’t been a problem. I had a lot of ideas (and still, as of right now, as I peek at my crib sheet, over 50 unpublished articles and over 260 topics that I want to write about), but had, through taking the course, convinced myself that a slow trickle of articles was the way to go, even though every other piece of information I found argued otherwise.

I’d been hit with the curse of knowledge. I was looking all over the online world, reading guru after guru after self-proclaimed but not really guru trying to find information which would support my original plan.

I finally spoke with my friend Philip Taylor at PT Money about the situation I faced. His answer was the same that I’d been seeing in all of my research: publish lots of articles and, over time, Google will discover you and think you’re pretty cool. If it doesn’t work, he reasoned, I could always go back to Plan A.

It took that final nudge from him before I pulled the trigger on what I figured three months prior I should have been doing.

I’d been caught in analysis paralysis for how to market my planning services. Even though I was pretty much going in circles, I kept looking at new and different sources, asking Google different questions in a quest to get out of the cul-de-sac I found myself in. Even though I was living in Einstein’s definition of insanity – doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results – Monkey Brain refused to let go of the anchor I’d put in front of him and to try to swim somewhere different.

Have you ever been in that situation? Paralyzed to take action and rationalizing it by saying that you just need a little bit more information?

Do you experience this in your financial life? Do you hop on here every day reading article after article hoping that you’ll finally find the answer in there somewhere? Do you read ten other personal finance writers hoping that someone will offer a different perspective? (I hope that I offer that different perspective, but not even my Monkey Brain is that delusional to think that everything I say is completely new!)

What will it take to spur you into action?


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Cornell University’s Benjamin Zuckerberg took a crack at answering the question of how to overcome analysis paralysis. Here are some of his suggestions:

  • Find someone who will mentor you. You want someone with experience and wisdom and the competence to provide you with the right answers. You may think that you’re doing this already by visiting several of your favorite personal finance websites, but the difference is that you can’t ask specific questions and get tailored answers for your situation, which, according to Zuckerberg, is key for helping you move forward. Along those lines…
  • Know what questions you want to ask. If you’re simply thrashing about for general guidance, then even if you find the answer, you won’t find your answer, since you don’t understand what the problem is that you’re trying to solve. I often find that people come to me looking to solve specific points of pain when the real questions lie a level above the pain – the difference between understanding and addressing a root cause to a problem rather than the symptom of pain that it causes.
  • Look for simplicity. We often look for more complex solutions to our problems in life because we assume that it must be the complex solution that is the right one. They wouldn’t have added 23 steps to the 25 step program if steps 3 through 25 weren’t important, would they? Oftentimes, though, the simplest solution is the right one; Occam’s Razor is quite sharp indeed. We eschew the simpler solution because Monkey Brain likes the appeal of more complex solutions.
  • Find an accountabilibuddy who’s going through the same issues you are. Maybe you’re both struggling with the same problems or you’ve decided to take the plunge and both take a course. Having someone both to bounce ideas off of before you narrow down the range of ideas to take to your mentor and someone who will keep you motivated and on target towards reaching your goals can make you take action rather than provide yourself with excuses that you need more information.

There’s one more argument for an action that can help you overcome analysis paralysis, but I don’t reveal it until the 52nd week of the Financial Game Plan. You’ll have to subscribe to find out what it is.

Did you read this article and think “yeah, that’s me?” What’s stopping you from taking action? Tell us about it in the comments below.

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Around a year ago, I interviewed trusts and estates attorney Ben Grosz about planning for your future. If you haven’t seen the interview, go check it out!

About Jason Hull, CFP®

Jason Hull, CFP®, is the Chief Technology officer of myFinancialAnswers, an online comprehensive financial planning service.

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