How often do you stop to think about why you do things the way you do? It’s very possible you have a good reason, but do you remember what that is? Sometimes we get so set in our ways; it’s hard to remember why that’s our way in the first place.
Sometimes we don’t know the reason why we do things the way they are done at all. It could be a personal way of doing things or at work, but an answer of “that’s just how it’s always been done” can be rather frightening. These days, life moves so fast that a protocol or procedure that is only a few months or years old can be outdated.
When it comes to our finances, many of us will set a budget, invest, or form other aspects of them and then never revisit them, but is that smart? Things can change very quickly, for better or worse. Something that you had a good reason for doing now might not hold true down the road. Periodically taking a look at your finances or even other aspects of your life can stop you from being a monkey.
The Five Monkey Experiment
Before going much further, I should explain my monkey analogy. When I think of doing the same behavior without knowing the reason or following the crowd, I’m reminded of the Five Monkey Experiment.
The experiment starts with five monkeys in a room together. In the middle of the room is a ladder that has a bunch of bananas hanging above it. Being monkeys, they see the bananas and immediately climb the ladder to reach them. At that point, all of the monkeys get sprayed with freezing cold water. The monkeys learn not to go near the ladder. Eventually, when one can’t resist, the others will physically stop them to avoid all of them from being sprayed.
At this point, one of the monkeys is removed from the room, and an all new monkey is brought in. Again, as monkeys do, he sees some delicious bananas that no other monkey seems to be interested in. As he goes straight for that ladder, the other monkeys will self-police and stop the new monkey, physically preventing him from going anywhere near the ladder, so they don’t get sprayed.
Eventually, the new monkey learns not to go near the ladder and stops other monkeys from going near the ladder even though he’s never been sprayed by the cold water. This is important, the monkey does not know why he or any other monkey shouldn’t go up the ladder for the bananas; all he knows is that the other four will stop him at all costs, so he behaves the same way.
Continuing with the experiment, one by one, each of the original monkeys is removed from the room with a new monkey brought in to replace them. What you are eventually left with are five monkeys in a room that won’t go near the bananas and will stop the other monkeys from doing the same thing, but none of them have any clue as to why! None of the monkeys in the room now have been sprayed by the cold water or even know that the possibility of being sprayed by water even exists.
What Is Being a Monkey With Your Finances?
So what does being a monkey with your finances mean? Well, I’ve entirely made it up, so what it means to me is doing anything that revolves around your money without really knowing why you do it in the first place. This can include but is not limited to:
- Buying certain products\brands
- Investing Strategies
- Where you shop
You can apply “being a monkey” to any part of your finances. If there is something you are doing financially, but you’re not sure why then you’re “being a monkey.”
Why Do We Become Monkeys?
Being a monkey isn’t typically a conscious choice many of us make, so how does it happen?
Falling into a Routine
A big part of being human is likely being a creature of habit. We all like to have nice comfortable routines. We want our brands, products, shows, etc., all to be what we know and are familiar with. Even simple changes can come with a decent amount of reservation no matter who you are. We often fail to look at our routine to see if we can improve it in any way. The same goes for our finances. Something that made sense to do last year, three years ago or five years ago, might not make as much sense now, but it’s our routine, so we continue with it.
Following the Crowd
Worse than following your own routine blindly is following the crowd blindly. At least with your routine, it made sense for you at some point. Following the crowd can lead to a solution that was never best for you in the first place. We typically refer to finances as being Personal Finances, not The Crowd’s Finances.
One thing to consider, however, is that the crowd is not always wrong. In the case of the monkeys, they stopped going after the bananas and stopped new monkeys from going after the bananas to avoid a bad outcome, so in this case, they were right to behave the way they did. But, this is a big but, without knowing why they were acting a certain way, the new monkeys wouldn’t know it was safe to get the bananas when…
The Hose is Gone
With all the original monkeys out of the room, the experimenters did not need to spray the new monkeys with water. The monkeys knew not to touch the bananas; they just didn’t know why. The hose could be taken away, and the new monkeys would continue to stop each other from taking the bananas.
Things can change pretty quickly in today’s world, and everyone’s situation is different. What was right for you today might not be suitable for you tomorrow. The factors that lead you to a decision to avoid “being sprayed by water,” financially speaking, likely have changed or could be gone entirely. If you don’t stop to take a look around and assess what you’re doing, you likely won’t notice.
How Can I Stop Being a Monkey?
If being a monkey means you don’t know why you behave the way you do, then not being a monkey is easy; simply ask Why. This doesn’t mean to constantly second guess yourself or to ask why every day. But every so often, take a look at your overall financial situation and check to make sure that what you are doing continues to make sense. Maybe you paid off a loan and can invest more; perhaps you got a new job and can put more toward paying off a loan. There are hundreds of factors that can change the best way to use your money, but it’s up to you to ask yourself Why.
Not Limited To Your Finances
“Being a monkey” doesn’t have to be limited to your finances. You can apply “Asking Why” to any part of your life. There are tons of behaviors we learn or advise we follow without really understanding the why behind it. Taking the time to understand why we act the way we do can help us in basically every aspect of our lives.
A lot of what we do is based on routine or advice from others. Rather than blindly following our routines or the crowd, it’s essential to understand why we do the things we do. Situations can change very quickly, and without knowing the reason for past behavior, we wouldn’t know if we should adjust and how. Monkeys don’t usually stop to think about why they do something, but you should.
Jeff is a fan of all things finance. When he’s not out there changing the world with his blog, you can find him on a run, a Mets game, playing video games, or just playing around with his kids.