Do you trust your brain? Are you making unbiased decisions 100% of the time? Unlikely. Believing so is dangerous.
In the Art of Thinking Clearly, Rolf Dobelli works through almost 100 common cognitive errors/biases. The sections are easily digestible and a great way to dig into how our brain often works against us – and how bad actors intentionally use that against you.
In short, it was the perfect book to add to my FI quotes series. So, I’ve pulled quotes relevant (in my mind at least) to the pursuit of financial independence. Enjoy these 22 The Art of Thinking Clearly Quotes.
After, if you want to check out the most popular posts in the series:
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Quotes From The Art of Thinking Clearly
“Cognitive errors are far too engrained to rid ourselves of them completely. Silencing them would require superhuman willpower, but that isn’t even a worthy goal.”
Let’s jump in with the whole point of the book. It’s impossible to rid ourselves of cognitive errors. The best we can do is try to understand and counter them.
How do we do this in our search for financial independence? Extensive reading, and lots and lots of running numbers.
I’ve written before about how my sense of financial insecurity is a danger for me. It can impact my happiness and easily lead to “one more year” syndrome. It makes me risk averse in situations that may be to my benefit. I’d love to rid myself of the feeling, but have realized it’s impossible. I use my spreadsheets to reassure myself and counter the danger. But it’s always there.
Instead of ignoring your biases, confront them and build systems to mitigate them.
“In the presence of other people we tend to adjust our behavior to theirs, not the opposite.”
I’m not going to use that quote about “…the 5 people you spend the most time with” because so many people out there repeat it endlessly. Instead, let’s focus on consumption here.
If those around you spend lavishly or frivolously, it becomes much harder for you to resist. It’s one reason living in an expensive neighborhood can be incredibly damaging to your long term financial plans. Not only are you paying more for your house, but those around you are driving more expensive cars, taking luxury vacations, and making lifestyle inflation look normal.
Find friends who value the same things you do and make consumption decisions in line with your plans. It will be more comfortable, and more enjoyable for everyone.
“If we could learn to recognize and evade the biggest errors in thinking—in our private lives, at work, or in government—we might experience a leap in prosperity.”
A leap in prosperity! How could I not include this quote?
I don’t have a lot extra to say about this quote other than to emphasize again how powerful it is to understand our thinking errors.
“Be wary when you are encouraged to strive for certain things—be it abs of steel, immaculate looks, a higher income, a long life, a particular demeanor, or happiness.”
“In other words, the more people who follow a certain idea, the better (truer) we deem the idea to be. And the more people who display a certain behavior, the more appropriate this behavior is judged by others. This is, of course, absurd.”
These two quotes perfectly capture the consumption pressures we all face. Media relentlessly presents images of what we should be striving for. It makes it seem like constantly upgrading and spending ever more is just what everyone does.
If those things truly make you happier – go for it. Or, are you just doing the infamous keeping up with the Joneses?
Resisting the urge to emulate what we see in media and advertising is perhaps the biggest thing you can do to build financial wellness.
“We attach too much likelihood to spectacular, flashy, or loud outcomes. Anything silent or invisible we downgrade in our minds. Our brains imagine showstopping outcomes more readily than mundane ones. We think dramatically, not quantitatively.”
It takes amazing stock knowledge and 30x investment returns to build wealth, right? Did you get in early on Tesla or Bitcoin? Perhaps you started Amazon?
This is how our society talks about becoming rich. While it’s true that becoming a billionaire requires luck, incredible returns, and often screwing everyone else over, for most of us wealth can be built much less dramatically.
Reasonable spending, and investing over time with compounding returns will get you to financial independence more dependably than chasing quick riches. It’s not dramatic, but quantitatively it makes sense. 7% investment returns double your money roughly every ten years. That was the key to our wealth accumulation, not outsized returns.
This is not to say you shouldn’t chase dreams if you’ve got them. Just understand that your financial dreams are more likely to be met with the silent, mundane actions.
“Be aware that you tend to overestimate your knowledge. Be skeptical of predictions, especially if they come from so-called experts. And with all plans, favor the pessimistic scenario.”
I put this one in just to talk quickly about the safe withdrawal rate. Many learn the 4% rule, set their first net worth target, and think they know everything they need to know about planning for financial independence.
Treat it as a starting point, remember that it’s based on historical data, and take some time to really understand it. If you start saving towards 25x your annual income – great! Before you pull the trigger on early retirement, make sure you dig deeper.
The Safe Withdrawal Series over at Early Retirement Now is a great resource, and I tend to favor the pessimistic scenario. We are planning on a 3-3.5% withdrawal rate. Make your own choices, and decide what a pessimistic scenario is for you. Go from there.
This quote too, also applies to all types of stock-picking experts.
“It would be a real wake-up call if all involved realized the truth—that the world economy is a fundamentally uncontrollable system.”
As is the stock market. I love this quote just for its application to investing.
Don’t try and outsmart the market. Don’t time it. You might outsmart the market some of the time, but no one does it all the time. It’s an uncontrollable system.
Instead, make a plan and stick with it.
“Also, realize that you can never make a perfect decision. Aiming for this is, given the flood of possibilities, a form of irrational perfectionism. Instead, learn to love a “good” choice.”
This took me too long to learn, and cost me lots of progress and opportunities along the way. That’s why make solid decisions is one of the three pillars of this website.
“Always on the lookout for the “people angle,” journalists (and their readers) take this principle one step further, and thus fall prey to the fundamental attribution error. This describes the tendency to overestimate individuals’ influence and underestimate external, situational factors.”
“We often ascribe success and superiority where little is due, such as when we favor products from a manufacturer simply because of its good reputation.”
“Stories are dubious entities. They simplify and distort reality and filter things that don’t fit.”
I packaged these three quotes together because they related to a fundamental problem in how we are made to perceive the world. Why hype stories of people who become rich. In the United States, in particular, we ascribe heroic status to these individuals.
Even within the financial independence community, individual success stories are lionized. Sometimes, those who can’t do it are demonized as weak, insufficiently motivated, or undisciplined.
Such stories aren’t bad. I read and enjoy them. Just remember, there is more to every story. No one achieves success alone. Our existence isn’t separate from systemic factors. Failures don’t get mentioned, unusual benefits are glossed over, and we don’t hear about those who did the same thing without systemic benefits.
Use success stories as motivation and opportunities to learn. Don’t treat them as roadmaps that work for everyone. Definitely don’t assume someone is better than you because they’ve made it. Chances are, there is plenty going unsaid.
Write your own success story.
“In new or shaky circumstances, we feel compelled to do something, anything. Afterward we feel better, even if we have made things worse by acting too quickly or too often.”
If the stock market historically goes up over time, why do so many people lose money or underperform the market?
Too many panic and sell when the market is falling. Or, they try to make just the right trades and manage to miss large gains or lock in large losses. Action feels good, especially if everything else is out of control.
I’ve been honest about my bias for action. To cope with it, I build systems and intentionally give myself some things to tinker with. Both are incredibly important in investing.
Create a plan for your investing and then stick to it even (or especially) when you feel the overwhelming urge to react. If you, like me, have an urge to tinker and play, designate a small amount of your portfolio to speculation/tinkering and follow a consistent plan with the rest.
“Do you have friends who tell you the truth—no holds barred? If so, consider yourself lucky.”
We all want to believe the best of our plans. We’ve already agreed that our brains sometimes work against us. We need others to help.
Find people you can trust, who are willing to tell you when you’re wrong. Use them to test your assumptions, review your plans, and hold you accountable. This will massively improve your chances of success.
“Aim for as much free time and autonomy as possible since long-lasting positive effects generally come from what you actively do.”
The whole point of financial independence! Thanks to our FI plan, I’m about to jump into FIOR (financial independence optional retirement.) I won’t quit working, but I’ll choose what I actively do.
Time freedom, not wealth, is the ultimate benefit of financial independence.
“We place huge value on immediacy—much more than is justifiable. “Enjoy each day to the fullest and don’t worry about tomorrow” is simply not a smart way to live.”
YOLO, am I right?!!?! Too many people, especially the young, fall prey to this error. I certainly did. It’s why I started my career in six-figures of debt and spent a decade just getting back to zero.
Don’t make yourself miserable in the present for some potential future – but understand that everything you do now compounds. Find a balance that works for you and give yourself an incredible tomorrow.
“Money is money, after all. But we don’t see it that way. Depending on how we get it, we treat it differently. Money is not naked; it is wrapped in an emotional shroud.”
Too much advice treats money simply as a number. If money and personal finance were disconnected from emotion it would be much easier.
Instead, most of our negative money moves are not rational. We experience escalation cycles. We might spend money to balance out another negative emotion. We treat windfalls differently than earned money.
We can counter this by setting financial goals and building plans to follow. As one example, we automatically invest 50% of any unexpected money.
Such systems help. But, we can never entirely remove emotion from money.
We all slip. But remember, positive moves over time end in progress.
“When I find myself suffering pangs of envy, my wife reminds me: ‘It’s okay to be envious—but only of the person you aspire to become.’”
Perhaps the best reminder in the whole book. Do you want to be the person who has an amazing house, luxury car, and will work until they’re 70? If so – great.
I’m envious of those with time freedom, who have enough to live securely, and give generously. That’s what I’m building towards.
Who do you aspire to be? Envy that person, not the one that just drove by in a car he can’t actually afford, or that instagram influencer.
“The brain is not a central computer. Rather, it is a Swiss Army knife with many specialized tools. Unfortunately, our “pocketknives” are incomplete. Given our life experiences and our professional expertise, we already possess a few blades. But to better equip ourselves, we must try to add two or three additional tools to our repertoire—mental models that are far afield from our areas of expertise.”
I love this quote for two reasons. First, stumbling across the idea of financial independence for the first time was all about finding a new mental model for me. Realizing there was a different way to think about earning and future planning changed everything!
Second, one of my drives for financial independence is I want to spend more time adding mental models. Freeing up the massive percentage of my brain that goes to my work (which I love) is exciting because I can now apply it to other things.
How will you add new mental models?
“We don’t know for sure what makes us successful. We can’t pinpoint exactly what makes us happy. But we know with certainty what destroys success or happiness. This realization, as simple as it is, is fundamental: Negative knowledge (what not to do) is much more potent than positive knowledge (what to do).”
I can’t add to this great quote. Just find what destroys your success and happiness and use that negative knowledge to improve your life.
“To believe that we can completely control our emotions through thinking is illusory—as illusory as trying to make your hair grow by willing it to.”
“We systematically err in the same direction. That makes our mistakes predictable, and thus fixable to a degree—but only to a degree, never completely.”
I’m closing with these two quotes as the perfect summary of the main point of the book.
Accept that you’re going to make mistakes. Do what you can to avoid them, correct them when they happen.
Working toward financial independence is a long game. You should be reviewing your goals, updating your targets, and adjusting your actions. If you’re ready to get started, here is a quick FI primer, and a list of personal finance goal examples.
Whether you’re diving into financial independence or not, anyone can benefit from reading The Art of Thinking Clearly (affiliate link).
Don’t forget to check out my other entries in the FI Quotes series: