03 Aug 2023 Financial Claustrophobia and 3 Non-Negotiables
In a recent podcast hosted by economist Tyler Cowen, the following exchange took place between Tyler and his guest, Noam Dworman (owner of the Comedy Cellar in New York City):
COWEN: How important is the seating arrangement for a good comedy show? Do you think long and hard, how close together should the seats be? How far away? Looking down, looking up? What’s the deal?
DWORMAN: The most important thing is that everybody should be a little bit closer than they want to be. The claustrophobia of the room, I think, is extremely important.
Dworman then tries to explain why this is the case but in the end essentially chalks it up to a certain je ne sais quoi. The importance of the claustrophobia is vague, yet unassailably true.
If you want to get better at something—listening to music, appreciating comedy, getting in better shape, running a business, making good financial decisions—then I think most if not all of the positive actions you can take toward achieving that goal fall into one of three buckets:
- Paying attention to the right things
- Being open to new information and experiences
- Surrounding yourself with like-minded people
You can see that, among other je ne sais quoi sorts of reasons, the claustrophobia of a comedy club is essentially trying to force all three of these at once: You have no choice but to pay attention to the comic; that singular focus works the other way, forcing you to be open to the experience; and you are packed in with a bunch of other people in the same boat. And it’s part of the magic of comedy that, when the conditions are right, everyone in the room laughs at the same time, at the same places, in the same bits.
If you want to make better financial decisions, paying attention to the right things, being open to new information and experiences, and surrounding yourself with like-minded people are non-negotiables. But non-negotiables are rarely easy, and examples of the difficulties abound: All too often, financial progress is stalled out by getting obsessed with haphazard market timing and trading rather than focusing on a proven, simple strategy for a long time. All too often financial progress is stalled out by refusing to adjust our spending in the face of new data or circumstances. And all too often financial progress is stalled out by the people around us being more obstacle than teammate.
It doesn’t have to be that way! It’s possible to keep an unwavering focus on the Main Thing, it’s possible to be flexible and open to change, and it’s possible to surround yourself with people who value the same things you do. If you do those things, the magic is that you will be more content, less anxious, and better equipped to make decisions that align your money with your values.
Of course, it’s not magic at all. It’s hard work. But it’s work you can do! And we can help you do it, without making you sit right next to a stranger in a comedy club.
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