Elephants, Twitter, and Self Control

The Elephant and the Rider

©iStockphoto.com/antb

I’ve always loved the analogy that the rational portion of our brains is akin to a rider strapped to the top of an elephant that is our emotional brain.  The feeling of “probably not the best thing to do right now, but damned if I can stop it,” seems pretty much in line with the control I feel when I haven’t eaten in eight hours, and someone places a Hostess Cupcake in front of me.  Despite all my reading about the Marshmallow Test, I fear a well placed baked good would still occasionally get the better of me.  And, this is what we deal with in investing every day.

Elephants in the Room of Investing

No matter how much you have read, no matter how well you understand the value of quietly researching while sitting on a hoard of cash until Mr. Market gives you that fat pitch you’ve been waiting so patiently for, sometimes the elephant sees something it likes, and you realize just how much of a rider you are.  Sure you should be reading that recently released 10Q of the wide moat firm you’ve owned a stake in for years, but damned if it isn’t more fun to soak up the latest tabloid financial news at DealBreaker.com. (And, if you just left this page for DealBreaker, I think you just proved my case.)

However, the rider still has many tools at his disposal, the primary one being controlling what the animal below sees.   It’s all about culling information and making sure you don’t put your inner elephant in those situations where it says “OOOOOHHHH SHINY!” and goes barreling towards the newest dopamine source.  Enter technology.

Controlling the Elephant with RSS and Twitter

RSS and Twitter have probably increased time wasted by information workers by multiple orders of magnitude in the past decade, but they don’t have to be that way.  In fact they can be downright useful in keeping your elephant on track.  Here’s how.

Write down the blogs and friends on twitter that you admire, i.e. that practice the behavior you wish to emulate, and follow exclusively them, adding only add bloggers/tweeters that you admire thereafter.  It’s a subtle change and may take some of the cheap laughs out of your daily routine, but remember we’re trying to shape the direction the elephant goes, so we don’t have to fight with him so often.  If you still want to use Twitter as a social mechanism, I’d suggest creating a second account for investing purposes and only check your social one on a particular device you use on the way home from work or when you relax.

I just set this up for myself on Google Reader and was surprised at the amount of unhelpful information I would consume in a day.  The maxims “We are what we eat,” and “Garbage in garbage out,” are very real when it comes to our brains, and we seldom realize the need to put our brains on a diet.  Getting into the habit of checking your RSS feed as opposed to checking websites has the added benefit of focusing your attention to what you think is really important and not aimlessly stumbling upon site after site on a dopamine binge.

Take a moment and look at the RSS feed and Twitter account you check regularly.  Does it have primarily an entertainment purpose, or do you want to make it into a tool that will help you grow a nest egg into something that gives you the freedom to follow your dreams?  If so, you may want to make it into something a bit more elephant friendly.

(PS – If you notice my Twitter account, @truelson, following you, know that you’re someone I admire! )

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2 Responses to “Elephants, Twitter, and Self Control”

  1. Graeme August 16, 2011 at 12:05 pm #

    What the heck!? I’m just finding out about your blog now? I’m taking your advice and adding you to the super-exclusive Google reader that is…uh…my Google reader.

    • Palmer Truelson August 16, 2011 at 2:43 pm #

      Highly recommend Reeder which ties into google reader if you have an iPad, Mac, or iPhone. Way better interface than ugly ol’ google reader.

      Glad your here! Need all the feedback I can get!