Overcommitment Cannibalizes Lasting Success

by | May 12, 2017 | Investor Behavior

Overcommitting to something positive often becomes a net negative because the process and, in turn, the results tend to be unsustainable. We all know overnight success is a myth, but we still want to skip the process and get straight to the solution. Overcommitting to a drastic and immediate change feels like it solves our problem, but it’s usually only a temporary fix, at best.  Small continual improvements tend to be a more sustainable way to change.

Here are a couple non-financial examples of overcommitment cannibalizing lasting success:

– Somebody researching ways to become healthier might come up with a plan to achieve that goal, including dietary adjustments. However, if the changes suggested are too dramatic, chances are they’ll be back at square one again in the not-so-distant future. Many diets are abandoned because they’re simply unsustainable. Even worse, some extreme dieting methods can leave practitioners worse off than when they began. Crash dieting will actually break down your body, instead of making it healthier.

– Somebody who wants to run longer distances at a faster rate might believe the solution is to just start doing it. I’m guilty of this myself. I’ll decide I’m going to run more when the weather begins getting nice here in New Jersey. Instead of gradually upping my running distance every week at a reasonable rate, I overcommit and dive in full force. Then I come down with something like shin splints or plantar fasciitis because my body isn’t ready for what my ego believes it is. This results in having to take time off to let the injury heal, which is obviously counterproductive and frustrating.

Here are a couple financial examples of overcommitment cannibalizing lasting success:

– Somebody with no life savings wants to get going. They hear from a friend that they should be saving at least 10% of their salary. This isn’t terrible blanket advice, but depending on the person, it might be entirely inappropriate. I’ve seen plenty of people, especially younger investors, struggle to find a solid savings rate. They’ll pile a high percentage of their income into a retirement account through work, only to end up taking a loan against its value. This normally happens because they never analyzed their cash flows or had no/minimal emergency funds. A definite positive (saving for the future) becomes a net negative (retirement plan loan) fast. The intention is good, but the execution gets rushed. When hasty decisions are made, important steps get skipped in favor of immediate action.

– Somebody investing for their future is worried because the market’s gone down 10+%. They know this happens every once in a while, but it feels different this time. What if it continues? How far will it go? Will things actually come back this time? All reasonable (and human) reactions to a scary situation. The quick, drastic change that feels like it fixes the problem is to sell everything and go to cash until things get better. However, all-in/all-out decisions with investments rarely work out well. A gradual, pre-planned adjustment to investments for peace of mind would be infinitely less destructive.

The bottom line is this, quick fixes come just as advertised: they happen fast, but are also short lived. Quick, drastic change feels more rewarding in the short term. Gradual change doesn’t feel as rewarding initially, but is normally more sustainable. It often takes years to become an “overnight success”. Like most worthwhile pursuits, gradual change’s cost is additional patience. Your perceived progress will be slower than somebody who makes quick, drastic changes, but I believe your odds of actually improving, in a lasting way, are far better.


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