Why Should You Pay for Financial Advice? To Tell Monkey Brain It’s Important

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Not getting towed: important to Monkey Brain

“If you think hiring professionals is expensive, try hiring amateurs”
–Unknown

Let’s say that you’re a newly minted graduate of the University of Nevada at Las Vegas and you need a job. You can’t stand smoke, so working for a casino isn’t going to be a viable option.

Where do you go?

One of the most obvious places to look is Zappos, the shoe selling giant. You’ll probably be lined up to work in a call center, a job which will pay you about $15 an hour.

If you pass the initial screening process, they’ll put you through two weeks of intensive training, geared to getting you acclimated to the Zappos way.

Then, the Friday afternoon at the end of the two weeks, they’ll offer you a $3,000 check. To quit.

You’ll have 48 hours to think it over, and if you show back up to work that Monday, you lose the opportunity to get the $3,000, going back, instead, to your $15 an hour job. It’ll take 5 weeks of full-time work just to be at the same place you could have been had you thanked them and walked away, check in hand.

Why do they do this? The answer that comes to mind, and the one which the CEO Tony Hsieh tells, is that they want people who really want to work there. Unhappy people pollute the culture and their toxicity spreads throughout the organization like an oil slick.

Duke’s Dan Ariely offers another explanation, though.

Zappos is using cognitive dissonance to affect their employees’ Monkey Brains.

Mass Monkey Brain manipulation. I like it!

Cognitive dissonance is the psychological concept that if you act in a way which goes against your beliefs and values, then you start to change your beliefs to match your actions.

Think about the person who only smokes when he or she drinks. That person is a smoker. That person may say, at first, that he’s not a smoker. But, eventually, after having sent enough lung darts down his throat, he’ll start to say “I only smoke when I drink, but otherwise, I’m not a smoker.”

In the case of the Zappos workers, they’re creating this narrative in Monkey Brain’s mind:

MONKEY BRAIN: “ME TURN DOWN $3,000 TO STAY IN THIS JOB. MUST LOVE JOB. WORK FUN!”

YOU: “Darn skippy! Let’s go make some happy feet!”

Here’s another example. If you aren’t happy with the physical shape you’re in, you know that the real answer to your problems is pretty simple. Lower caloric intake, increase caloric burn, and put stress on your muscles (e.g. lift weights). Go to the gym and pay for your membership in cash.

Paying in cash lights up all sorts of pain receptors in your brain. Whenever you have to peel off some bones to pay for something, Monkey Brain pays attention (to learn how to get Monkey Brain to pay even more attention when you pay with cash, subscribe to my 52 week Financial Game Plan). If you’re going to be poking Monkey Brain with some cattle prods, then it better be important. So, Monkey Brain will start to think that working out and living healthy must be important, since you’re peeling off Benjamins to do it. He’ll pay attention, and he’ll start thinking that sitting around on the couch watching Jersey Shore marathons isn’t cool.

Let’s look at cognitive dissonance in another context (come on…you had to know this one was coming!).

How many of you read multiple personal finance blogs? Raise your hand. Now, how many of you have actually done anything about what you’ve read about? Raise the other hand.

Now type. OK. Just kidding!

For those of you who are actually doing something based on what you’re reading, great! Keep calm and carry on. See you next time.

However, if your inner dialogue looks more like

I read all of this stuff and I think I know what to do, but nothing has changed!

then you’re suffering from cognitive concordance. Usually, that’d be a great thing. You think something and then you act that way. I like dogs. I own a dog. I walk my dog. I play with my dog. I play with other people’s dogs. That’s alignment all throughout my head when it comes to the subject of dogs.

In this case, though, you’re living through this story: personal finance isn’t that important to you. Sometimes you hear little whines of fear in the middle of the night of “ohmygod! What if I run out of money in retirement and have to eat cat food?!?” and you go read a few articles to tell yourself that you know what you’re doing and make it all feel better. But you’re not actually doing anything about your situation because Monkey Brain doesn’t think it’s important. Why should Monkey Brain care about the future you when he wants pleasure NOW (darnit!)? He wants a man cave and Jimmy Choo shoes. Future You can deal with those future problems.

By reading about personal finance, you’ve given Monkey Brain the opportunity to tell you that everything is A-OK. You read something. Therefore, you acted. Stop worrying about cat food.

As we know, intention is not the same as execution.

One way to get yourself motivated to do something about your financial situation is to pay for it. By creating the pain in Monkey Brain’s tender regions, you’ll send a signal that personal finance really is important. After all, if you’re willing to go through the pain of parting with your hard-earned shekels to get a plan, then it has to be something worthwhile. You’ll create the cognitive dissonance which will actually close the loop. You know, objectively, that personal finance is important. However, emotionally, you haven’t been able to convince Monkey Brain of your argument. Creating the cognitive dissonance via your actions (“I’m paying for financial planning”) will force Monkey Brain to adjust his beliefs (“BEING MONEY SMART IMPORTANT. MORE MONEY LATER MEANS MORE BANANAS LATER.”). His voice might even start to sound euharmonic after a while. Don’t count on it, though.

Yes, you can find 80% of what you need to find for free on the Internet. But, if you need the extra spur to actually do something about it and to learn about the other 20% (paging Mr. Pareto), then you can use cognitive dissonance to help you down the path towards inner financial harmony between you and Monkey Brain.

Does paying for something commit you to doing it? Tell us your experiences in the comments below!

Disclosure: Zappos is a client of OpenSource Connections, the company I co-founded and still own shares in.

About Jason Hull, CFP®

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

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