CFI Blog

Beat Your Monkey Brain

“Instant gratification is not soon enough.”
–Meryl Streep

“Instant gratification takes too long.”
–Carrie Fisher

Have you ever felt buyer’s remorse? Have you come home with a pair of $200 shoes or that $150 designer shirt that you thought was awesome at the time you bought them, but when you got home, wondered what in the heck you were going to do with an 18th pair of shoes or why you thought you needed another shirt when you have a rack full of them? Ever looked at the credit card bill at the end of the month and wondered how the balance got to be so high and then looked at all the times you went out to eat?

Men actually spend approximately $488 a year more on impulse buys than women! – Click to Tweet!

It eats you up, doesn’t it? You know you should be doing better, saving money, spending on things which matter. Yet, when you think back on what you did, you give yourself a facepalm and wonder what you were thinking.

Do you know who’s to blame?

It’s Monkey Brain!

Our brains are deeply complex creations. No matter what you might believe about the origin of humans, you cannot help but to be amazed at how our brain works. We have a frontal cortex which allows us to have things like rational thought and to have the voice (or voices) in our head. In addition to all of that higher level philosophical capability our brain possesses, it’s also endowed with a part which enables us to fight danger or run away from it and which enjoys pleasure immensely. It’s called the limbic system, and it’s also the predominant part of the brain in monkeys.

To oversimplify, the limbic system is what makes you want something right now, and your frontal cortex is what allows you to make more rational choices and delay gratification into the future. When presented with the ability to choose future eating options, people are more likely to make healthier food choices for what they will eat than they do when they’re forced into a decision about what to eat right now. It’s a case of the rational frontal cortex beating Monkey Brain. Wimpy from the cartoon Popeye illustrates the archetypical example of Monkey Brain winning: he’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today (unless, of course, today is Tuesday).

Monkey Brain also gets in the way of your money. Monkeys don’t have a monetary system, mind you, but your limbic system throws off conflicting signals compared to what your frontal cortex knows should be done. Most of the time, you already know what to do. Just about the entire personal finance industry has been borne from coming up with a zillion different ways to tell you to earn more and spend less and to live within your means. We generally know what to do, but our behavior is an entirely different animal (so to speak).

If you commit yourself now to future decisions, Monkey Brain won’t have a say. – Click to Tweet

If given free rein, the battle between Monkey Brain and the frontal cortex will almost inevitably result in a victory for Monkey Brain. Here’s how a typical mental fight goes.

FRONTAL CORTEX: “Let’s cook at home tonight. It’s healthier and cheaper.”


FRONTAL CORTEX: “No, really. We’ve eaten at McDonald’s for the past 29 days. We’re starting to look like Morgan Spurlock. Plus, you always want to get three desserts. The money’s getting tight, and we haven’t even contributed to the IRA this month.”


FRONTAL CORTEX: “Honestly. Let’s reason this through. A McDonald’s meal that you want will be about 7,350 calories, give or take fifteen. I already have some fresh veggies and chicken which will go bad if we don’t eat them tonight. Let’s stay at home and watch Leno.”


FRONTAL CORTEX: “Look, if I take you to McDonald’s tonight, do you promise not to bug me again for at least a week?”


FRONTAL CORTEX: “OK. This is absolutely, positively, definitely, the last time that we go to McDonald’s! I swear…”

This scene, of course, will repeat tomorrow.

The easiest way to short-circuit this fight is to not give Monkey Brain a choice in the first place.

If you commit yourself now to future decisions, Monkey Brain won’t have a say. Why? It’s because Monkey Brain doesn’t care about the future; he only cares about the present. The best way to shut Monkey Brain down is to make decisions that don’t interest him. It’s sort of like doing things behind Monkey Brain’s back, and by the time he finds out what you’ve done, it’s too late.

You Versus Monkey Brain – Give It a Beatdown!

You Versus Monkey Brain – Give It a Beatdown!

Sometimes short-circuiting Monkey Brain is easier said than done. Now that I’ve explained how Monkey Brain can take control of you, these action steps should make much more sense.

Keep Monkey Brain Out of Your Budget

Money that is in your pocket, checking account, or credit card is fair game as far as Monkey Brain is concerned. You need to do things that minimize the amount of money Monkey Brain can actually access lest it derail you from your priorities in life.

Check Out These ArticlesDon’t Wait Until the End of the Month To Save
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Keep Monkey Brain Out of Your Investments

Keep Monkey Brain Out of Your Investments

Monkey Brain likes action. If given the choice, Monkey Brain would move to Las Vegas and spend every waking moment in a casino. Don’t let Monkey Brain turn your investments into its personal casino.

Check Out These ArticlesPlay the Market Like a Hedge Fund Manager
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Keep Monkey Brain Out of Your House

A man’s home is his castle. At least, that’s how the maxim goes. However, Monkey Brain can get you way too emotionally committed to a structure of bricks, wood, concrete, and drywall. When you’re looking for housing, and when you have to sell your house, Monkey Brain can play havoc on the transaction.

Check Out This Article Buy a Foreclosure and Never Sell To an Investor

Keep Monkey Brain Out of Your Life

Keep Monkey Brain Out of Your Life

Monkey Brain likes to look good and feel good. He’s a sucker for a fad diet and a bottle of pills that will give you a six-pack. Get-rich-quick schemes sound like surefire methods for an easy life. Monkey Brain swears Robert Heinlein’s saying “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch” was aimed at everyone else. Don’t let Monkey Brain win these arguments.

Check Out These ArticlesVisualization Does Not Equal Execution
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If you can take these steps, you’ll come a long way in beating Monkey Brain at his game and you’ll make your financial life much more secure.

If you are interested in a personal financial plan, please fill in the contact form, and I will connect you with a financial planner.

Author Profile

John Davis
John Davis is a nationally recognized expert on credit reporting, credit scoring, and identity theft. He has written four books about his expertise in the field and has been featured extensively in numerous media outlets such as The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, CNN, CBS News, CNBC, Fox Business, and many more. With over 20 years of experience helping consumers understand their credit and identity protection rights, John is passionate about empowering people to take control of their finances. He works with financial institutions to develop consumer-friendly policies that promote financial literacy and responsible borrowing habits.

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