It can be difficult to take action on a decision, even if you know it will be good for you. This “status quo” bias can be interrupted by considering your future self.
Barriers to Taking Action
Sometimes I work with someone who has a hard time taking action. These folks have the best intentions, and in our meetings they express a willingness to take action. But then next time we meet, they still haven’t done any of the things we have discussed – things that will help them get closer to achieving their financial goals and aligning their money with their life.
I’ve tried everything I can think of to help overcome this lack of action: presenting the information in a different way (more graphs! more numbers!); scheduling weekly status calls; setting up a meeting where I sit next to them while they are on their computer; sending emails with very detailed instructions, and more. But still, some clients have a hard time actually *doing the thing* that they know they should do.
What is going on here? Does the person not really want to take action? Do they silently disagree with the recommendation? An interesting article from Kitces.com (link opens in new tab) sheds some light on the possible reasons why people sometimes have a hard time taking action, even when they know they should.
The article posits that the problem is not that the person doesn’t understand or doesn’t want to take action. Instead, it’s something called “status quo bias”.
Status Quo Bias
Status quo bias refers to the idea that even if the decision or action seems to be a path toward making your life better, there is always the possibility of the action not working out the way it was expected to. So, you may be reluctant to make a decision that is a significant departure from the status quo, which you’re living with right now (the devil you know…). This can result in general ambivalence towards taking action on improvements to one’s life – whether these improvements are financial in nature, like contributing to a 401k; personal, like ending a relationship that isn’t going well; or a combination of both like buying a new home. This is the bias towards the way things are today, the status quo bias.
[W]hen entertaining and planning for a new idea or opportunity (e.g., a new job, house, or phase of life), it is common to just keep doing what we are already doing – and when what we are currently doing is working well enough, the emotional ‘cost’ of change often outweighs the potential benefits, even if the new opportunity is truly better.“Simplify Decision-Making”, kitces.com
Overcoming the Status Quo Bias
One way the article suggests overcoming the status quo bias essentially short-circuits the brain’s fear of making a change that may not go well.
Here’s the idea. Consider this question:
What would your “future self” think about the decision?
Imagine your future self, having already made the decision. How does your future self feel about the decision? How has your future self’s life changed as a result of the decision? What specific improvements can you see as a result of the decision?
Considering your future self may make it easier to take action today.
The next time you’re stuck and can’t take action, try this idea of imagining your future self. Does this framing help you get un-stuck?