At some point in any legal drama on TV or in a movie, one of the trial lawyers will attack the character of a key witness. This is usually done in a dramatic way where they bring up a past transgression, fluster them into incoherence, or twist the witness into telling a lie. At this point, it appears all hope is lost for the other side.
In real life, trial lawyers employ this tactic, though it usually lacks the drama. They do it because, regardless of the facts, a jury is less likely to believe a witness if they find them untrustworthy. If a lawyer can plant even the slightest doubt about their motives or character, jurors are apt to dismiss their testimony entirely.
That’s because it’s our human nature to believe this old adage: How you do anything is how you do everything.
If a person lied about one thing then it stands to reason they are willing to lie about more.
It’s about trust.
TRUST IS PREDICTABILITY
Our lives are built around an assumed level of trust in each other. We trust that while we’re at work, our neighbors won’t break into our homes and steal things. We trust that when we order food at a restaurant, the chef won’t put something toxic in our chicken.
And when people do something to violate that trust, we keep our distance or otherwise limit our contact with them because we can no longer predict their behavior.
That’s ultimately what trust is - it’s the ability to predict how another person will behave or respond based on their past actions, which leads us to believe they will keep their promises and do what they say they'll do. So, when someone acts in an untrustworthy way, we question all of their actions and decisions, because how you do anything is how you do everything.
Trust is crucial. And believe it or not, financial planning has a lot to do with trust. No, not trust in your financial planner, but in yourself.
TRUST, CHARACTER, AND STRESS
Our pattern of trustworthiness (or lack there of) is also called our character. Our character is especially revealed in times of stress. We typically act in socially appropriate ways, but it becomes more difficult when our bodies are tired, when there is much to do, or when conflict arises.
Stress reverts us back to behaviors we’ve learned to keep below the surface. We sometimes think our response to stress is “unlike us.” We even apologize to people and say something like, “I’m just not myself right now.” But stress actually reveals something about us. Our tendency to push harder, become sarcastic, grow defensive, retreat into silence, or act dismissive in times of stress is our default setting - the one we acquired early on as children based on a number of factors, but mostly from the way we connected with our parents and caregivers. It’s actually a clear example of who we are, not an anomaly.
The subcortical regions of the brain take the wheel during stress, sending logic, reason, and empathy to the backseat. Among other things, this causes us to become reactive rather than receptive. We become impulsive and do things we otherwise know not to do. We mistreat people around us so that they will stay away and not see this ugly side of us up close.
While those behaviors may be most evident in times of stress, there’s a good chance you act that way in other areas of your life, too, without even knowing it.
We especially revert to our default setting when it comes to money.
STRESS AND MONEY
But when we are stressed, money can become a weapon that inflicts mass destruction. Think of the damage that’s possible when we’re stressed and have large sums of money: substance abuse, gambling, illicit sex, impulsive purchases, escaping without notice to another city or country, and other manic actions.
Our default behaviors may not manifest in such extreme ways, but financially they can be just as harmful. When we are too stressed to set or stick to a budget, think long-term, or face our mounting debt with a strategy for paying it down, our financial foundation crumbles. You don’t have to have a gambling addiction to get in deep financial trouble.
This is where trust and financial planning come together. When we are in a rational state - operating with our cortical and prefrontal regions of the brain - money is a useful tool for acquiring the things we need to live the life we want. We filter out bad decisions, we stick to a budget rather than act on impulse, and we keep long-term goals in mind. In other words, we are receptive instead of reactive.
How you do anything is how you do everything, including how you respond to stress. You cannot avoid it, but you can build structures into your life that help you recognize it and respond in a productive way. Financial planning is about trusting yourself when you are in a rational and thoughtful state of mind so that when stress creeps in and you're “not your normal self” , your hard-earned income cannot be used against you.