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When It Comes to Financial Stress, Pain and Anxiety, We Don’t Have an Information Problem; We Have a Behavior Problem

Aug 11, 2019

Let’s just jump right to the main point: we live in the Information Age. This ‘Age’ began before the Internet was even born. When mass printing of books (about the 17th century) and then libraries were forged, that’s when this Age commenced.

The Internet drove it to a whole new level, though. People from nearly every corner of the world who have access to the Internet can look up just about anything. And they’ll find information on almost every conceivable subject.

When you stop and think about it, the notion itself can be overwhelming. It’s almost frightening.

We don’t have a problem with getting information.

How Much Information is Out There?

As of 2014, there were over 1 billion websites (Live Science). That’s just the number of websites with legitimate domain addresses.

That doesn’t take into account the number of webpages or blogs that are associated with each of those websites. When you take that into account, with some websites containing hundreds upon hundreds, possibly even thousands of webpages and blogs… you get the idea.

Sure, there’s a lot of crossover. In other words, on any one particular subject, topic, or niche, there will be hundreds, thousands, and possibly even millions of websites. There will also be a lot of plagiarism, identical content on different websites, and even the same general information, though written differently, on a bulk number of those websites.

According to Forbes, people around the world generate 2.5 quintillion bytes of data each and every day. In fact, just during the past two years, 90 percent of all the data that exists in the world (and that has ever existed) was created.

Also according to Forbes, over 3.7 billion people now use the Internet, which represents a 7.5 percent growth over 2016 numbers. Google, the largest search engine in the world that accounts for over 75 percent of all online searches, conducts 40,000 searches every second. Whoa! That equals 3.5 billion searches every day!

It’s also important to remember that with social media, blogs, discussion boards on news sites and sports pages and so on that even when we delete certain posts or pictures or what-have-yous, none of it really goes away. It’s like a bad penny that keeps turning up.

In short, there’s more information available at your fingertips at this very moment than you could ever read, view, or process in thousands upon thousands of lifetimes.

The Issues with Memory Retention

There are numerous underlying issues that are growing out of this easy and quick access to information. One of them involves our memory.

A couple thousand years ago, men and women didn’t have access to libraries or books. The information they received was most often presented orally.

They would hear a teacher, mentor, or even a minister, listen to what they said, and be able to recount it to somebody else with such high accuracy that it may boggle the mind of a modern individual.

When books were becoming mass-produced, libraries were popping up around the country and the world, people started having more access to the sources of information than they ever had previously in history.

That meant our short-term and even long-term memory retention abilities begin diminishing.

Try sitting through a simple seminar, class, or online webinar, pay extremely close attention to everything the instructor or speaker says (but you don’t get to take notes), wait an hour or two (having conversations with your family, friends, boss, coworkers, the receptionist at the local café, or whoever in between), and then try to re-create that seminar, class, or webinar with accuracy.

Without notes.

Most of us would not be able to do that. In fact, their efforts will be almost comical, if it wasn’t so tragic.

Why is poor memory retention a problem? Whether or not it’s a problem per se is a matter of opinion, but it highlights the more important factor I wish to discuss: modifying behavior.

If the average individual has relatively poor memory retention, even when they take copious notes, will any of that abundance of information make much of a difference on behavior?


Behavioral Challenges That Result from an Abundance of Information

How many times have you heard stories of men and sometimes women who were raised in middle or even upper-middle-class families trying to join ISIS or another terrorist organization?

It confounds so many, but what causes it?

Did they just find some information online, suddenly believe in it, going against everything they experienced and knew their entire life? No. They found a cause that spoke to their brokenness, their lack of self-esteem, their feelings of abuse or hostility or neglect by their parents or friends or teachers or whoever.

No matter how much information they came across about their country, their personal wealth, the benefits they enjoyed, the government, etc., did it change their attitude, their mindset, their ultimate behavior?

No. All the information they had access to did was harden their learned and set belief system. Their beliefs were already forged before they started seeking out and gathering all of that information.

Does ‘Information’ Alter Behavior?

No, it doesn’t. We may find people who discover certain truths that countered their previous belief sets, but most of the time one of two things happens:

  1. They either discount those truths as ‘fake news,’ to highlight a common stumbling block in our modern culture, or
  2. They have other information, alternate ‘truths,’ they can use to argue against the other. Most often, though, people have a tendency to rely on the opinions of others as the foundation for their arguments rather than scientifically supported evidences.

Information doesn’t generally affect behavior, not unless certain other conditions are in place, which we will discuss shortly.

What About the Regulating of ‘Information’?

Our modern political climate is becoming more polarized. I’m not going to engage in political discussion, take a position on which ideological side is right or wrong, but I want to discuss the prospect of regulating information.

Some believe it has become necessary — because of the vast amount and easy accessibility to information — to monitor, control, and regulate it.

Whether this is done through some as-of-yet undeveloped system, social media, search engines, laws, or anything else is irrelevant.

The regulating of information may have some impact on certain individuals on a superficial level, but it’s not going to do anything to alter behavior because, ultimately, behavior is rooted in something much deeper than simple information.

Then What’s the REAL Issue?

The real issue here is your belief system.

That’s it. It’s not about information, not about the type of job you have, the income you pull in, how much money you put away into savings or investments every pay period, or anything else of that nature.

It’s about your beliefs.

It is neurological. In other words, your belief systems are the result of certain ‘wiring’ within your brain. This is not to say it’s genetic or biological, but rather how your thought processes develop in your earliest years.

When a young boy witnesses his father or stepfather verbally and maybe even physically abusing his mother, this will certainly instill anger and fear and doubt within him, but it also does something else extremely harmful and damaging: it creates an inherent belief system that this is how men should treat women.

As this young boy becomes a teenager, his friends may influence his behavior even more. He may witness some of his friends dismissive about their girlfriends, disparage girls, call them names, make fun of them, and so on.

Over time, this belief system becomes rooted deep within his persona.

As an adult, he may get in trouble with the law, hurt more than a few women along the way, and even though you can have a mountain of newspaper ads, television commercials, public service announcements, lawyers, judges, and others disciplining, disparaging, and telling him it’s wrong and why it’s wrong, that information is generally not going to do anything to change those behaviors.

He will have to reach a point where there is a reason to want to change.

This Is Where Behavior Then Can (Finally) Change

This doesn’t mean behavior will change, but until and unless a person reaches a point when he or she feels the inherent and deep-seated need to make a change, that information is essentially powerless.

That’s what has happened with millions of people and their financial lives. We are bombarded by information about the importance of paying down our debts, saving, investing for retirement, being frugal with our earnings, not trying to keep up with our neighbors and family and friends and spending every dime we earn on material possessions, and so on.

Yet, even in the midst of all of this information, we still face the hard, real fact: more than three quarters of all full-time working American adults are scraping by, living paycheck to paycheck (CNBC).

By ‘scraping by,’ I don’t mean people are starving, living in the streets, because plenty of families and individuals have nice homes, drive fancy cars, and seem to live the “good life”. But they are just a couple of weeks or months away from losing it all.

For most of these people, if they suddenly lost their job, couldn’t find a new one at the same pay scale before unemployment ran out, they could lose their car, their house, and maybe even more.

Yet, we have all this information! So why does this keep happening? Not only that … why does the financial situation for individuals in this country continue to get worse?

Because people are rooted in their belief systems. Everything you learned about money, finances, and how to be a good steward of what you earn was likely taught during your childhood and high school years.

Until and unless you reach a point where you strongly desire a change in your financial circumstances, you can keep reading information, learn about the Snowball debt payment plan, follow tips and steps and so on, and maybe you get yourself out of debt, rebuild your credit, and start saving, but more likely than not you will slip back into those old behavioral patterns because of a broken belief system surrounding money.

This is the most important thing to focus on first: digging deep to understand what your beliefs are regarding money.

Until you understand them, until you figure out where you developed those beliefs involving your finances, you can keep looking up information, seem to make a little progress, but eventually in almost every case people fall back into their old, “comfortable,” habits.