How to be better than your information avoidance tendencies

You don’t have to like numbers for them to help you

If you’ve ever been in a workshop or coaching session with me, I have probably said this.

Because, my sweet and sassy dears, some of us labor under the misguided illusion that information we dislike must be put out of our heads.

Financial information falls privy to this frequently. What bill? What credit card balance? What uncomfortable conversation with my roommate? What loan payment that’s been deferred for years? What retirement account I’ve been putting off signing up for and contributing to? 

Aside from the overtly christian source of this thinking [see no evil, banish sin, have a pure heart, etc], it’s a juvenile approach to things you’d rather not confront, with the short-term benefit of avoiding painful truths [for now]. As adults we do know better: it’s not like if you can’t see something, it can’t hurt you. Instead, and in fact… usually, the more you know, the better you can deal with stuff.

But many people embrace this behavior: it is so common, it’s called Information Avoidance in behavioral economics. We see it show up in people’s reaction to news they dislike [IPCC report, anyone?] because it’s more uncomfortable to have to actively change how we live than to create a reason to refute or just simply avoid thinking about things we’d rather not have to respond to. It’s easier to ignore – or, for some people – catastrophize so extremely so as to validate getting to take no action…

And so, I introduce:

Unfortunately for the inertia in all of us, usually some action can make some difference. 

Look, I’m no angel – I TOTALLY understand the urge to refuse to engage with inconvenient facts… I was a smoker for years. And at some point, I stopped. Not because the facts were suddenly more right, but because I was ready enough to do the work the facts made evident I needed to do.

Fucking sigh, with a nod to all the amazing thinkers out there who help us frame up self-care as love, and restoration as critical, and self-preservation as radical. It’s still hard and feels like work. 

The question each of us face is: am I feeling ready to do any of the work which the facts of my money are making evident?

Some of these facts might be:

  • Your life costs more than it used to and it feels like you have less money left over every month…but nothing is falling apart YET soooooooo
  • At some point you might have to pay on your student loans but you’re not thinking about how that’s going to work
  • You haven’t started putting money into a retirement account but everyone’s talking about a recession so you are avoiding it [even though the stock market is up 8% over the last 6 months] because it’s easier to keep spending rather than sit down and figure out what you can put aside
  • Your business is stagnating and while you could change some stuff here and there, it’s not like it’s totally dysfunctional…

Avoiding the facts is endemic in the US – from rejecting the IPCC reports [?!?], to businesses who do user research only to avoid responding to what people are telling them about what they need [ahem, my other work as a strategist is dealing with this…]

While implications and fear of change might be big, it’s not as odious as you might think – and a lot of folks tell me it’s liberatory to stop ignoring things and get on with it. I definitely felt that way when I stopped ignoring my defaulted loans, and later when I stopped assuming I could never get a mortgage, and just started figuring this stuff out.

What to do instead:

So, how can you reset your approach if you’re tangled in Information Avoidance? 

It’s about remembering that you do have power to decide how to respond and act on information.

Let me bring you back to “you don’t have to like numbers for them to help you” – facts are neutral, it’s how you engage with them [or don’t].

Let’s say you’re learning that you spend more than you earn, or spend exactly what you earn and therefore don’t have money in your budget available for other things you want.

First off, this doesn’t feel good to learn. But aside from the valid discomfort, there’s a critical piece of data now available: about HOW MUCH are you overspending? What is the amount of increased money you’d like to earn, so taht you can fund your goals?

Most people stop at that “I am underearning” stage in defeat and retreat into avoidance. This is totally understandable BUT it sucks because the next step is so freaking close at this moment.

If you can let yourself discover the number – the amount of money you need – you are way closer to getting it. 

This is because it’s so much easier to problem solve a specific than a vague.

“I need to earn more money” can feel overwhelming. “I need to earn $500more a month” is more actionable. How do you get $500? Work Saturday mornings at a farmers market stand for $125/week? Get a $9k raise and bring home more in your salary? Get a roommate to cut costs? There are discoverable answers to this question, probably more than one for you to consider and try. 

The sooner you get the facts, the sooner you can decide how to work with them.

Of course, I teach money courses to help people find and face the facts – and make informed decisions about their businesses and personal finances; and I have a few new courses this Spring to do just that. On your own, with me, or with a friend – I hope this inspires you to take an action. Just a little one <3