When something big happens, whether it’s positive or negative, it’s an opportunity to change our thinking. Here’s how.
You know that I’ve had no new insights, no blinding revelations, arising from the coronavirus pandemic. Rather, my reflections (http://donezra.com/102-six-reflections-prompted-by-the-pandemic/) have mostly led me to remember that the need to survive sometimes asserts itself as more fundamental than the ability to thrive, and that it’s a good thing to save and invest for the future.
In addition, farsightedness isn’t something that comes naturally to us. We’re hardwired to place a much higher value on the present than on the future (http://donezra.com/73-when-the-time-comes-to-make-decisions/). So, what is it that causes us to save? I think there are two kinds of influences.
One is gradual. It’s when we’re raised in an atmosphere when those around us talk about these things. I think, for example, from Podcast Episode 9, of Cindy Deere (http://donezra.com/podcasts/) and her husband bringing up their children – or of the conversations around the dinner table that were natural for my wife and me and our children. Not that retirement and saving were a theme – far from it! It’s more the family values that are unconsciously conveyed as we discuss life events.
The second – no surprise – is life events themselves. Life events are one-shot experiences that disrupt your normal lifestyle. And at those moments our mental equilibrium is also disrupted, and we become, for a short while, open to changing the way we think about things. When the disruption is positive, we say there’s a teachable moment (http://donezra.com/13-teachable-moments-and-wake-up-calls/). The negative variant is a wake-up call, a sort of narrow miss, when we’re grateful something didn’t actually happen to us, but it still opens our mind to the possibility.
As you can see, I wrote about this in that very early blog post. Today I want to expand on the idea and get into more detail.
What are the kinds of life events that we can take advantage of, to re-examine how we think about things? There are many. Any big one-shot change in our environment or circumstances qualifies. The coronavirus pandemic, for example.
But also: things like a relationship change. Engagement (if that still exists as an event!), marriage – and divorce. The birth of a child. A child coming of age, graduating, experiencing a big life event. The same with grandchildren.
A round number birthday.
A change in employment. Praise, an award, promotion. Losing your job.
Moving. A special vacation, a big out of town trip. Buying a home. Paying off your mortgage.
Becoming an empty nester. Having your children move back in. Or your parents.
Starting a new activity. A big one-shot expense.
An injury. Illness – in yourself or a loved one. Caring for a sick loved one. The death of a loved one. For many, the category “loved one” includes pets.
An interesting aspect is that all of these life events, even the positive ones, cause an increase in stress. This shouldn’t be a surprise: how often have you thought that children can be a joy and a burden at the same time? The stress comes from having to cope with the change – and yes, we have to cope with the change, even when it’s a good change. That’s what opens our mind.
If you have a teachable moment following a life event (or a wake-up call), how should you think about it, if you’re to make progress? Here are some thoughts I’ve come across, as I research the subject.
Ask yourself: what sort of change is this? Is it financial? Is it emotional? Is it both?
Ask yourself: is this a positive change, or a negative one? If it’s mainly positive, are there also negative aspects? If it’s mainly negative, is there a way to view aspects of it positively?
Ask yourself: what do you need to do, to cope, financially and/or emotionally? This can be very difficult, to put it mildly.
And so: involve others – for example, your partner, or other family members or close friends. Nothing says you always have to analyze it, or cope, on your own. Having other perspectives can be not only valuable but also reassuring and comforting, to help share the moment.
Ask yourself: do I need to change my goals? A strategy? My attitude?
Remember, there are two desirable outcomes. One is to cope. The other is to learn. Coping builds resilience. Learning builds a better future.
If you’ve had a teachable moment recently, I hope this helps you to cope with it and to learn from it. The opportunity with each event tends to be brief. We tend to spend more time choosing a restaurant than in making and adapting life plans. Make use of natural opportunities.
Life provides natural teachable moments. Here I’ve provided a “to do” list to help you cope and learn.
I have written about retirement planning before and some of that material also relates to topics or issues that are being discussed here. Where relevant I draw on material from three sources: The Retirement Plan Solution (co-authored with Bob Collie and Matt Smith, published by John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2009), my foreword to Someday Rich (by Timothy Noonan and Matt Smith, also published by Wiley, 2012), and my occasional column The Art of Investment in the FT Money supplement of The Financial Times, published in the UK. I am grateful to the other authors and to The Financial Times for permission to use the material here.