Sunday, October 13, 2013

Don't Wait for the 100th Monkey

Here is how the story goes. Once upon a time, Japanese researchers studying snow monkeys were having trouble getting the simians in front of their cameras, so they started putting out sweet potatoes as an enticement to get them to come out in the open. The monkeys really enjoy sweet potatoes. However, the macaques had a problem. The researchers were leaving the sweet potatoes out on beaches. They would get covered with sand. The monkeys had to pick the sand off the sweet potatoes. This was an annoying, time consuming task. Then one day, one the apes dropped her potato into a tidal pool. All the sand was instantly gone. Maybe, she also liked a little sea salt on her sweet potato. Who knows? She started washing her sweet potatoes in water on a regular basis. The other monkeys watching this process began to imitate what they had witnessed. This new information spread in a predictable linear manner until it reached 100th monkey. Then, instantly through some sort of psychic communication all of the monkeys on the island knew how to wash sweet potatoes, even if they never witnessed the process. New age writers popularized this myth until it reached urban legend status.

The truth is much more prosaic. The smart apes, like smart humans learned through vicarious experience. They watched a superior method demonstrated by one of their own kind. Then they asked themselves two very important questions.

“Is this worth doing?”

“Can I do this?”

In their monkey minds the answer to both questions was, “Yes,” so they started washing their own potatoes. The number of monkeys who wash potatoes rather than picking at the sand rises and falls over time. Not surprisingly, the offspring of the smart (informed?) monkeys are more likely to wash their potatoes than their not so smart or informed cousins. There could well have been a monkey equivalent to Sir Isaac Newton and the apple, but as far as anybody can tell, the monkeys just learned from modeling each others’ behavior.

Monkey see. Monkey do.

Now look around. Is anyone getting the results in their life that you want to see in your life? Ask yourself two questions.

“Is this worth doing?”

“Can I do this?”

The answer to both of these questions when applied to most financial problems will be yes and yes.

Are you a student facing the cost of college? There are ways you can avoid losing ten years of your life to student debt. Start with Pell Grants and junior college. Get high grades and you just might land a scholarship at a quality state school for the last two years. Apply for every scholarship under the sun. You can’t win if you don’t enter. Find an employer who will fund your education. I even know a woman who worked at a job she didn’t like for a year in an enterprise associated with an expensive private university. She used the network she built over that year to land a job as a graduate teaching assistant. Her seniority plus her new part time job netted her a full free ride to a Master’s degree.

When you get your first credit card, decide that you will not use the thing unless you can pay it off every month--without fail. If you ever fall short of that goal, even one time, lock up your credit card until you pay it off. Use some cash in designated envelopes, your debit card, or paper checks until you get rid of that credit card debt. The longer I live the better I like the 80 year old envelope system.

Don’t bite the hook! You can live without a car note. What if you paid $3,000 cash for a Toyota pickup truck? Those things are cheap to repair, get pretty decent gas mileage, and last just about forever. After eight years driving around in that rust bucket you will probably have enough cash set aside in that new car envelope (electronic envelope please) to pay cash for a new BMW.

What if you manage to pay off your mortgage early? All of a sudden you will get the biggest raise of your entire life. It will shock your socks off. If your take home pay is $3,000 a month and your mortgage payment is $1,000 a month you have effectively received a 50% after tax increase in your take home pay! If you were able to whack ten years off your mortgage, that is an extra $120,000 in your pocket. What could you do with that kind of cash money in your pocket? A new sports car? Vacation in Hawaii? Investments that pay dividends in your brokerage account? How about all three?

Speaking about those investments, wouldn’t it be nice if you didn’t have to worry about retirement, your grandchildren’s college expenses or your children’s retirement. Yea, those are big dreams but they are all possible. It’s only money.

Oh, one more thing. As you learn from those smart monkeys, you will be in a position to give. I can’t say enough good things about giving. Start today. Give of your wealth, even as the Lord increases it. Don’t limit your mind to just money. Money is the lowest type of giving. There are four levels of giving money, time, emotional energy, and the precious gift of an open heart. You will find that they nest like those little Russian dolls. The greater gift always contains the lesser gift.

Please don’t wait for the first 100 monkeys to give you some kind of psychic insight. Start watching today. Open your mind. Learn how to wash your own potatoes.

Let’s start something together. Maybe if enough of us learn these basic lessons, something dramatic will shift in the tectonic plates that underlie our culture. Wouldn’t that be cool?

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