We rescued our cat, Molly, from the RSCPA about 10 years ago. When we found her, she was in a large cage with about a dozen other cats waiting for their forever home. Some of those cats paraded around the cage, jumping around and darting from one spot to the other proactively seeking out their new owners. Molly, by contrast, was passive. There she was, curled up and snoozing towards the back of the cage near the litter trays. My wife, Kathy, was immediately drawn to her. Why? She looked lonely, dejected and without hope. Molly’s world changed that day, in what was perhaps Molly’s version of a very positive black swan event.

Fast forward about 10 years, and here’s a typical morning for Molly, sprawled out on one of our deck chairs catching the morning sun with a full belly and a contented peace.

Molly the cat

Why am I telling you this? Well, while it’s impossible to know for sure, Molly’s behaviour suggests she spends most of her time in the present moment, simply enjoying what that moment brings. But she remains attentive to possible threats and if a threat arises, she has a strategy, run inside to safety!

While Molly’s life may be simpler than ours, we can draw some interesting parallels.

Unlike Molly, humans spend very little time in the present moment. Instead, we spend most of our waking hours in time travel, ruminating on the past or worrying about the future. There are good evolutionary reasons for this. Principally, we’re wired for survival, making us sensitive to threat (which, in the modern day world, might include stock market fluctuations), and attuned to reward, particularly near term reward. You see, our brains have shiny new object syndrome in that they like newness and novelty. Giving into it feels great but usually only fleetingly, and then we want the next shiny new thing. It’s pernicious, powerful and entirely controllable, with conscious effort.

What does this mean for me? Saving and investing for retirement is a long term goal that our brains, developed over thousands of years, aren’t well suited to. Sticking to our longer term objectives, especially when it means deferring instant gratification, can be hard. For example, thousands of years ago one of the most precious resources was food (still is). However, we could only use what we could consume as saving it was nigh on impossible. We humans, have a natural instinct to consume.

In terms of human evolution, the discipline of saving and investing is a relatively new concept and it is alien to our natural instincts. This creates tension between our natural instincts and our rational decision making. We know what we should do, but it’s easy to fall into the trap of doing what we want to do, unless we have help.

Working with an adviser to clarify and quantify your long term financial objectives and putting in place strategies, structures and investments that help you achieve your longer term financial goals, such as retirement, can help override our natural impulses to consume all that we have today. Plus, our process of regular reviews can help to satisfy the shiny new object part of our brain. You see, achieving goals or milestones can give us the same sense of reward as instant gratification.

So, like Molly, we can have the best of both worlds, enjoying the present moment knowing that we have a safety net in place. For Molly, it’s the ability to run inside; for us, it’s financial security and empowerment.

Please note this article provides general advice only and has not taken your personal, business or financial circumstances into consideration. If you would like more tailored advice, please contact us today.