Friday, July 22, 2005

Friday Mythbustin': A Magic Pill

Myth: If I just refinance my house/consolidate my debt/get liposuction/get my stomach stapled, my problems will be solved.

Truth: By treating only the symptom of the problem rather than the cause, you're just postponing the moment you have to deal with the problem, and possibly making them worse.

How did I get here?

In trying to find one's way out of a mess, this question is often the first one you need to answer. You need it answered before you even begin to answer the question that seems more pressing--How do I get out?

Because without answering the "How did I get here?" question, even if there were a "magic pill" that could whisk you away to Someplace Better, you would likely begin to wander much as you had before, and end up back in the same spot!

The real power would come not from your relocation, but from your power to prevent your return.

However, the so-called cures are rarely as magical as in our examples.

Home refinances are often more expensive than simply paying off debt. Thirty years of low interest can add up to more than five years of high interest. And if you opt for an interest-only loan, then your debt doesn't go down at all. You pay extra interest for the ability to lock your debt up somewhere, only so it can pop out and terrorize you later.

Stomach stapling is an incredible health trade-off. Often people who have had the operation end up thinner, but with reduced immune systems and other symptoms of malnutrition. Some even manage to re-grow their stomachs and gain back lost weight in spite of the surgery.

It's like if someone who's beginning to have trouble walking rushing out and purchasing a motorized cart. While the cart may seem easier, the fact that it's keeping them from walking can actually accelerate the problem. The answer may be that they need to walk more, not less, and they really ought to consult a physician.

All of these things are treating symptoms, rather than the problem. It's the equivalent of shoving two cotton balls up your nose because your nose is running. It plugs up the leak, but doesn't actually address the fact that you've got germs inside you doing bad stuff.

If you are having problems with your finances or with your weight, there is an underlying cause or two. Some examples:

1. Lack of Information. You simply do not know another way, or are ignorant of the effects of certain things. This one can be obvious--if somebody says 403b, for example, you either know what they're talking about or you don't.

Sometimes, though, the knowledge void isn't obvious, and you have to look a little harder to find it.

2. Incorrect or incomplete information. Someone might have told you, for example, that it's good to carry around some debt at all times in order to boost your credit score, or some other such silly nonsense.

The problem with this one, as opposed to the previous one, is this one is less obvious. There isn't an obvious gap in your knowledge--you think you know the answer!

Because of this, it is impossible to self-diagnose. You have no way of knowing, by yourself, which of your beliefs are true or false or a combination thereof. The only way to address this issue is to be constantly testing for it, by being in a constant state of learning, though whatever medium appeals to you.

3. Assumptions. I think this one is particularly true about weight problems. People think they're overweight because they're big boned, or they have a metabolism problem, or a thyroid problem. Or, they think their weight can't possibly be because of metabolism or a thyroid problem (It's never the big-boned thing. That's just bunk).

The problem with the assumptions is they exist independent of actual reality. And until the assumptions, either through research or professional diagnosis, are corrected, you are incapable of solving the problem.

4. Emotional issues. We are emotional creatures. We don't act logically all the time--Mr. Spock seemed weird to us for a reason. Getting our emotions regarding these things straightened out can be an even bigger hindrance than any of the previous three problems.

So it's in one of these four areas that things have gone wrong, and whichever one it is will keep steering you wrong no matter how many quick-fix patch-up jobs you attempt.

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