When you discover a revolutionary lifestyle like financial independence, you want to shout it from the rooftops. It’s somewhat like a religious awakening. You’ve seen the light, drunk the Kool-Aid, bought the t-shirt, and now you want to herd everyone else onto the Ark and away from the rising tide of normality.
When it turns out that no one wants to be saved, it can be exasperating.
Are you sure you don’t want to be spared from the fiery pit of crushing debt and constant financial strain? You really want to spend an eternity in the purgatory of your 9-5 existence?!
The fact is, no one wants to hear your plan for their salvation. Even if they grudgingly listen to the pitch, they probably won’t apply much, if any, of the information you shared. Why?
A little thing psychologists call cognitive dissonance. We seek consistency in our lives and facing conflicting attitudes, beliefs, or behaviors can lead to a feeling of discomfort. To maintain cognitive alignment we attempt to reduce this discomfort in one of three ways:
- acquire new information
- shift our perception
These attempts to restore cognitive consonance can lead to irrational and potentially maladaptive thoughts or actions as we struggle to maintain equilibrium at all costs.
In the personal finance sphere, there are many conflicting attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors that can lead to cognitive dissonance.
|Financial Dependence||Financial Independence|
|purchases are routine
I am too busy to optimize
work is required
frugality is deprivation
I deserve pleasure
I want to enjoy my life now
|purchases are mindful
I am too busy not to optimize
work is optional
frugality is abundance
I deserve financial freedom
I want to enjoy my life
When confronted with these conflicts, individuals will attempt to process the situation in a way that restores cognitive consonance.
Change is one of the most difficult ways to re-establish balance. It’s often easier to perform mental gymnastics to justify our current behavior than admit to years or even decades of mistakes and then overwrite established behavioral responses.
Unless someone is motivated to change, and their beliefs are now aligned with the new behavior, a shift in actions is unlikely.
Acquire new information
Attempting to outweigh a belief with new information can also be especially challenging, particularly when the new information opposes a social norm. Financial dependence is the default social construct and is constantly justified by advertising, media, and social interactions.
Another layer to the influx of new information is the idea of confirmation bias which is our tendency to use information in a way that confirms our preexisting beliefs. We even tend to interpret evidence that is ambiguous in our favor!
Confirmation bias in the financial independence realm often displays itself in the form “I can’t … because …”:
- I can’t spend less on groceries because I have children.
- I can’t save 50% of my income because I don’t make six figures.
- I can’t reach financial independence because my city has a high cost of living.
We tend to think that informing someone of the facts will sway their opinion. In reality, sharing articles about financial independence with someone who hasn’t already experienced a shift in beliefs can have the opposite effect. In response to this new information, someone might gather additional information that supports financial dependence and become even more entrenched in their existing belief!
Shift our perception
In order to restore harmony, a person might even convince themselves that certain cognitions are less important than they previously perceived. Consider the following comments:
- Quit my job? I don’t need to, I love my job!
- Why would I want to retire early? That sounds boring!
- I want to enjoy myself now, not worry about the future.
Faced with these overwhelming psychological challenges, how can we convince someone to pursue financial independence?
The short answer is that we can’t. Sorry, I know that’s probably not what you wanted to hear. The truth is that we can often do more damage to their progress and to our relationship by trying to intervene. If we want others to achieve financial independence, we have to let them find their own path.
That being said, don’t feel too disheartened..
There are things we can do to create a space that encourages financial independence.
- focus on improving our own behavior
- offer advice only when asked
- reserve judgement
- emphasize abundance rather than deprivation
- build community with other financial independence advocates
- use social cues to frame financial independence as a desirable lifestyle
- create informative content
So, are you ready to ditch the savior mentality?