Code words: Why we don’t work out or handle our money
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Every time I see an Indian girl in the gym, I nearly shit my pants.
Going to the gym is not part of Indian culture. It’s like seeing an anteater casually sitting next to the receptionist in a dentist’s office. One of you does not belong here.
But beneath the surface of this hilarious finding (it’s actually not funny to my Indian guy friends) is a much-deeper pathology.
If you ask these people if they go to the gym, they will respond in code: “No, I’ve been really busy” or “I’m just not motivated right now.”
Notice that they always qualify it with external factors like time. That’s because it’s not socially acceptable to say, “I’m just not into working out (and likely won’t ever be into it).” Instead, we use code words to camouflage what will likely be a lifetime of not exercising.
You can see similar code words in money, too.
You ask people about investing, and they say: “Oh, I don’t have that kind of money right now.” They’re assuming that one magical day, they’ll have enough time and money to start investing.
What actually matters in both these cases is HABITS.
If you don’t work out when you’re single with all the time in the world, it’s unlikely that you’ll pick up an exercise habit after years of inaction, a new family, a busy job, and an entire household to manage. On its face, it’s delusional to expect to change such a dramatic life habit. Yet we assign more value to the future than to the present when it comes to changing our habits.
Same with money. “I don’t have enough money to invest” is code for “I will do this later (when I have more time/money)”. In truth, life gets busier. And it’s not about the amount you invest — it’s about the habit.
Using the Tuner Strategy
You may not have an extra $500/month to invest. But you don’t need that.
Instead, you can get started with $50/month, then “tune” that number up when you have more money to invest.
This is my 85% Solution:
Too many of us get overwhelmed thinking we need to manage our money perfectly, which leads us to do nothing at all. That’s why we the easiest way to manage your money is to take it one step at a time — and not worry about being perfect. I’d rather act and get it 85% right than do nothing. Think about it: 85% of the way is far better than 0%. Once your money system is good enough — or 85% of the way there — you can get on with your life and do the things you really want to do.
Do you know what the hardest part of investing is? It’s not deciding the complex asset allocation (which low-cost target-date funds do for you, as I outline in my book). It’s actually getting started and sending that first automatic payment.
By tackling that now, even with $50/month, you can overcome the hardest part. Later, when you use my Tuner Strategy to slowly increase the amount you invest each month, you’ll be far ahead of your peers.
Put another way, losers wait for perfection. Winners execute by starting off simple, then ramping up, because the hardest part is not perfecting the system — it’s just getting started.
This idea of getting started is the crux of the Tiny Habits project run by one of my mentors, Stanford professor BJ Fogg, to change your behavior. (It’s free. Check it out.)
You can also get an interview where BJ and I talk about the deep psychology of behavioral change and persuasion, like how to floss more, exercise, or even how to persuade others to change their behavior. The recording is here.
For today, think about what code words you use to rationalize your behavior.
Think about how you talk about doing something “some day” in the future — and how much more you could get done by just doing it 85% of the way NOW, then tuning your behavior.
It’s better to get 85% of the way there than to dream about 100% and actually get 0%.
What code words do you use to rationalize your behavior?