Circles in the Dark

A blindfolded human being will walk in circles, not a straight line. We hear stories about lost hikers walking in circles for days which seems odd since walking a straight line seems like it should be second nature. It is not.

Jan Souman, a psychologist at the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics in Germany, strapped a GPS to a group of volunteers in the Sahara desert and again in a German forest. Both environments offered very few clues about the location of the participant other than the sun or stars. On cloudy days, the participants walked in circles sometimes crossing their own path several times. In a follow up experiment, 15 people were blindfolded in a field and asked to walk a straight line. All the participants walked in circles, some as small as 66 feet in diameter. When we lose our bearings, we walk in circles. And, circles don’t get you anywhere.

This may seem like an odd metaphor for financial planning but I find the similarities revealing. The number of people who show up in my office at the exact same spot they were a decade ago is unsettling. I recently had breakfast with an individual that followed the financial factory advice perfectly. He did everything they asked and a decade later found himself in the exact same position. He was frustrated and rightly so. His only mistake was adopting the goals of his advisor and not his own. He took the “expert” advice blindly because they supposedly knew what was best. You must have your own vision, a finish line and a goal or you risk adopting goals not your own. As we approach the new year, it is important to take time to establish your bearings so you don’t find yourself, like the lost hikers, circling in the dark.

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