Cultivate Your Inner Narrator

There’s an expression that people are OK with ignorance, but absolutely hate being deprived of information. Ignorance is bliss – but only when everything is fine. It’s once things start turning negative that we demand answers. If our perception is that someone else is either withholding information or keeping information away from us, things can get ugly quickly.

When the economy and markets are doing well, people don’t want the details because there are no perceived threats. However, when stuff starts to decline, then people demand to know, “who knew what before me and why wasn’t I informed?” Our natural biases only make matters worse from there. 

We have to remember that a person in a threatened state is like a person who just got surprised out of a deep sleep. They remember that everything was peaceful but then something woke them up. While we can assure them everything OK and to just go back to bed, unless we’re their parents, that’s an inadequate answer. Expressions like “stay the course” have to be used with extreme caution for just that reason. We can’t return an agitated person to a state of comfort until the perception of threat has been dealt with. Going against someone’s senses can and will feel patronizing.

A doctor who delivered a negative diagnosis doesn’t just do a mic drop and exit. She takes the time to define the next steps, the expectations, and how to measure and mark progress. This conversation often includes talking about the scary scenarios. A person who is jogged out of sleep because something went bump in the night often needs to have their fears acknowledged (no monsters under the bed, checked and confirmed). The financial equivalent could include discussing what declines actually look and feel like, and then explaining which processes and behaviors a recovery will depend on (ex. rebalancing and not panicking). We should never tell someone to stay the course without first explaining what the course is and why it matters to them and their personal objectives to stay on it. 

The purpose of a plan is not to predict what will happen next, but to predict that something will happen, and when it does, we’ll be ready to respond intelligently. That mental model works in medicine, with under-the-bed monsters, and bear markets – plus, it’s empathetic, and not patronizing.  Confidence always stems from a story we feel we understand. When we focus on our process and how we narrate it through periods of both ignorance and information deprivation, the rest will take care of itself.

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