PRN: Apply Repetition to Learning

Physician's Money Digest, January15 2004, Volume 11, Issue 1

I like to avoid writing on the same subjecttwice. I've always thought that ifI've learned something, why repeat itand beat a dead horse? The financialworld is so vast, encompassing so muchof our experience, that there is only adistant limit to our possibilities.

Education Tendencies

Physician's Money Digest

But as our editor-in-chief Greg Kellyironically reminded me, human naturerequires repetition for most learning. Wemight read or hear something of interest,hear it again, and perhaps rephraseit in our minds and digest the information.Isn't that how we have been educated?Financial affairs are only differentfrom traditional schooling in that thereis no recognized time or place for peopleof any age or station in life to addressthis important area in a formal way.That's one reason why publications like often revisitongoing topics of interest like retirement,taxes, and investing.

While we're on the subject, I ask yourhetorically, shouldn't there actually be apart of our scheduled education devotedto learning about money life instead of acatch-as-catch-can apprenticeship? It certainlywould ease some pain and probablysave a lot of money. We may or maynot use algebra in our lives, but no oneescapes having to cope with financialaffairs in its myriad aspects.

Financial Functioning

Think back to your first experiencewith income taxes, taking a loan, lookingfor a job, buying a house or car, etc.It's possible that you did okay, but thereprobably wasn't a good reason to predictsuccess. Some of these experienceswere embarrassing or expensive, whichwe know is another way to learn, buthopefully were not repeated.

No one would argue that this is howwe should prepare young people toflourish, or simply function, in a complexfinancial society. Maybe money educationshould be like sex education, tacitlyleft to parents, but defaulted to theschools because we parents are unpreparedand unreliable. Studies have toldus what we already know: People aremore uncomfortable talking about moneythan any other topic of their life. Lookat the vast unburdening of secrets peopletalk about on TV and then try tothink about the last time anyone toldyou what their income was.

Financial Education

Because we're less informed than wecould be and emotionally uncomfortablein dealing with money issues, this potentsubject is always listed as the number-onereason for divorce. Arguments usuallyresult from a pastiche of poor communicationand ignorance. The goodnews is that these are both preventableand even fixable. Don't give up just yet.

While I am on the soapbox for financialeducation, let me repeat themessage that humans prefer positiveexposure and repetition as an evolvedtechnique for learning. That meanseveryone in the family, in an age-specificway, could participate in an ongoing,planned money education. Youknow your kids will learn from watchinghow you manage money, and yourmarriage can only benefit from bettercommunication and participation inyour financial situation.

I just noticed that in an attempt toexplain why we need to repeat financialinformation for retention, I ended upkeeping my fresh column subject stringgoing and not repeating myself. Howlong is Andy Rooney's record?

Jeff Brown, MD, CPE, a practicingphysician who is a partner onthe Stanford University GraduateSchool of Business Alumni ConsultingTeam, teaches in the StanfordSchool of Medicine FamilyPractice Program. He welcomes questions orcomments at jeffebrownmd@aol.com.