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How to solve Solomon's Paradox

Solomon's Paradox refers to a psychological phenomenon. Individuals are better at solving other people's problems than their own. 

The paradox is named after the biblical King Solomon, known for wisdom in dealing with others' issues but struggling with his own. This highlights a common human tendency. When advising others, we often have greater emotional distance and objectivity. This allows for clearer and more rational thinking.

Solomon's Paradox, while not a specific set of historical events, is a concept derived from the biblical portrayal of King Solomon. He was known for his extraordinary wisdom, especially in matters concerning others. However, he struggled with personal issues and failed to apply the same wisdom.

Here are two of the many biblical accounts where Solomon’s own life differed from the advice he bestowed to others: 

  • Solomon displayed remarkable judgment and diplomacy when dealing with the disputes of others. This was most famously shown in the case where two women claimed to be the mother of the same child. Solomon proposed to divide the child in two, knowing the real mother would rather give up her child than see it harmed.

  • Despite this wisdom, Solomon struggled in his personal life. He had difficulties with governance and relationships. According to biblical accounts, he had many wives and concubines. Many of them were from foreign lands with different religious backgrounds. This led to a lifetime of internal conflict within his kingdom and in some cases, several costly wars.

It is impossible not to be your version of King Solomon as a financial adviser. I spend all day telling others what they should do with their money. Do I always get it right? Absolutely not.

  • At 21 I signed a car finance agreement without reading the small print. It cost me £6,000 to exit

  • At 28, my budgeting was so poor one month that I had to withdraw cash from my credit card to cover the mortgage payment. Dreadful planning, think of the interest and charges!

  • I only calculated how much money I would need to retire at 33 (I'm 41 now). I realised my pension was far too low after working for over a decade in financial services.

Using our WealthMap process on my own finances has helped massively. But, in addition to that, I've added five tips to avoid Solomon’s Paradox. 

  1. Be honest. By talking to others about my own financial mistakes, it made me more self aware and less judgemental. That made future decisions better and from a place of accountability and acceptance. 

  1. Be kind. Nobody has a perfect set of finances or makes the best decision every time. Both too much and too little in savings can be problematic and the result of poor decision-making. And in hindsight, you won't view every purchase you make as a good decision. Accept that luck, good or bad, plays more of a role in our lives than we care to admit. 

  1. Be reflective. Write down your decision process. Or make a list of “10 things I’d do differently next time”. It can help you to view challenges more objectively. It's amazing the difference staring down at the issues makes, when compared to the same problem floating around in your mind. 

  1. Be analytical. Look at what has worked for others. Listen to podcasts or read memoirs. Take elements that might work for you and reframe or remold them to a process that will work for you. 

  1. Be structured. Follow a process. If you have something important to discuss, even if with family members, use an agenda. If you desire something expensive, follow a savings plan. If you want to become stronger, follow a weights routine. Following a process allows us to evaluate what’s worked well, what’s no longer and adds discipline.

In a modern context, Solomon's Paradox can serve as a cautionary tale. It's much easier to find solutions to the problems faced by others, which can mask our issues in our own affairs and, result in sub-optimal decision making.

Tom.

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