I recently asked race car driver Danica Patrick if she thinks there is any validity to the adage that more money simply creates more problems, as the near epidemic documented in professional sports would seem to indicate.
I wanted to know whether she has seen this firsthand, and whether it has been a challenge for her.
“I can see how some would have difficulty managing the money they earn — especially if they do not have an existing mindset geared towards savings,” Patrick said.
“But for me, more money presents more responsibility,” she added.
We were talking because she’s advocating on behalf of Life Happens, a nonprofit dedicated to raising awareness about the importance of life insurance. But to Patrick, it all flows from a mindset about personal responsibility and holistic self-care.
“You have to take care of your body by working out and preparing for the future to make sure that it’s healthy,” she told me.
“Later, you do things to prepare yourself mentally, to make sure that you can handle all situations and have peace of mind and have perspective and know what’s important. So then why wouldn’t you also take that approach with what it takes to operate in the society that we live in–money?”
Good question, Danica. It seems so logical, yet year-after-year, I’ll bet two of the resolutions most often broken are related to maintaining health and finances.
So why do we have so much trouble doing these things that we all seem to agree we should?
Well, for one, we’ve learned through the fields of behavioral economics and finance that knowing what to do isn’t the issue. Knowing what to do is a System 2 process, as Daniel Kahneman teaches us. System 2 is our brain’s intellectual center that processes information.
Doing what we know, however, is a System 1 process. This is our emotional processor, where the will resides. System 1 is notorious for resisting our well-conceived plans, but it can also be a powerful ally, as it’s where resiliency is fueled.
Jonathan Haidt gave us the analogy that System 1 is like an (emotional) Elephant while System 2 is the elephant’s (reflective) Rider. When the two are in conflict, we all know who wins; but when the team is aligned, they are a formidable force.
The Rider is in charge of what to do and how to do it, but the Elephant only cares why.
The big challenge when it comes to getting and staying healthy, physically or financially, is that the vast majority of information out there is System 2 stuff–what and how. Think: “Lose 50 pounds!” or “Make a million dollars!”
But System 1 is the boss, the “decider,” and the source of resolve.
When Patrick decided to become a race car driver, she chose the course her life would take with System 1. Then she used System 2 to chart that course.
When people said she was too small (read: a woman), she appealed to her System 1 to stay the course while plotting with her System 2 how she’d prove them wrong.
When it comes to your health, you know you should get more sleep, watch your diet and exercise, right?
When it comes to your financial life, you know you should spend less than you make, pay your bills and invest for the future, right?
Well, let’s start with an easy one, the one Danica Patrick is advocating for: life insurance.
Why do you need life insurance?
Well, maybe you don’t. If you’re independently wealthy and/or no one relies on you financially, then you don’t need life insurance. (There are a couple reasons why you might still want it, but they’re outliers and probably don’t apply to you.)
If, on the other hand, you’re like most of us–still on the path to financial independence with people in your life who would suffer financially if you left this Earth tomorrow–you probably do need life insurance.
Patrick saw a twenty-something friend in racing lose his life on the track–that was more than enough motivation.
But perhaps you’ve heard some version of this “why” story, and it didn’t inspire the Elephant to apply for a life insurance policy. It’s likely because the very next thing that happened involved the Elephant getting spooked by all of the “whats” and “hows” of life insurance.
There are so many life insurance companies and so many more life insurance salespeople, all so highly motivated to sell you too many types of policies, that the end result is way too much information.The Rider might enjoy the mental gymnastics, but it simply tires the Elephant out.
So if you recognize the need for life insurance but you’re overwhelmed by the information overload, let me offer a simple life insurance plan that will take care of most:
Why? (Since I’ve argued that is the operative question…) Well, it’s likely your salary that needs to be replaced if you’re gone, and a multiple of 15 should create a sufficient pot of money that, conservatively invested, will replicate your income for a good while.
Why term life? Because if you’re healthy, even though 15 times your income is a big life-changing number, the premiums tend to be small enough that they won’t change your lifestyle. That’s not the case with most forms of permanent life insurance.
And why 20-year term? Because for most, their need for life insurance will expire before they do (thankfully!). For most, 20 years in, the kids are out of the house and retirement is close. If you’re just starting a family, you might want to extend some of your coverage to 30-year term, and if you expect to retire in 10 years, get 10-year term.
And if you still need some additional motivation to get that Elephant moving, a final word from Danica Patrick:
“ There are only so many things in life that we can control – do everything you can to position yourself for success by being fit. When you’re taking care of yourself, whether it’s your health or what you eat or your finances, it’s about self-worth. Never doubt that you are worth it and invest in yourself and your future both physically and financially.”
This commentary originally appeared September 30, 2017 in Forbes.com
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