The Herd Mentality and Retirement – How to Free Yourself and Others

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In my last piece, I wrote about my apparent decision that perhaps early retirement just isn’t for me. I outlined several pros and cons of early retirement, all of which I had previously read about or otherwise heard expressed.

Confession time: I was subtly and intentionally trying to stir the pot.

The result? It worked. My faux-criticism of early retirement worked just well enough to spark some lively discussion.

For reference sake, here are the pros and cons I listed.


*Opportunity to spend increased time with family and friends
*Freedom to travel
*Reduced stress and improved health
*More time to pursue other interests or even a new career


*Possible negative impact upon health (possible loss of health benefits, decreased physical activity)
*Possible boredom and/or depression
*Increased stress (more time to worry; constant fear that your nest egg may be insufficient)
*Limitations due to fixed income

For the record, I don’t necessarily buy into the above cons. They are possible, but as Physician On Fire stated, “if you’re more stressed and less active when retired, resulting in poorer physical and mental health, you’re doing it wrong.”

So why was I intentionally-deceptive?

The herd mentality plays a large role in the formation of the average retirement plan. We may wish to deny it, yet our actions are telling. Learn how to break free and help others do the same.

Testing the Herd

While I don’t mind readers agreeing with me based upon the merits of my arguments, I do have a problem with those who mindlessly agree with others. To the credit of those who left responses in the comments, you all got pretty critical with my shallow analysis. Some of you were kind, even though I could sense that you really wanted to sock it to me. Some of you downright took me to the cleaners, which I fully deserved!

I’ve noticed more and more that this kind of honest dialogue is rare. Heck, if the two top candidates to become the next leader of the free world cannot even participate in a simple debate without displaying an egregious lack of manners and an overall inability to communicate, how can we expect people to be candid yet respectful in a blog or other forum? And how can we expect people to disagree with one another in person and still continue the conversation?

These are tough questions to navigate, so many just don’t bother to try. We pat each other on the back despite the presence of disagreement, stand pat as others share misinformed or half-baked ideas, and keep our mouths shut.

We might not possess a herd mentality ourselves, but we often do very little to discourage its advancement among our friends and loved ones. Think about it. How many of us have said nothing when a friend or family member spoke of his latest voluntary investment in “can’t miss” company stock, the “stable return” of her annuity, or the “deal” he received on a whole life insurance policy?

I know I am often far too nice, and you are, too, in all likelihood.

Understanding the Herd Mentality

The act of discouraging the herd mentality on retirement begins with understanding. If we can grasp the reasons for the perpetuation of this mentality, we may be better equipped to combat against it.

At its heart, the herd mentality may be traced to man’s desire for conformity. Put another way, being different is very often undesirable. Even a majority of the weirdo middle school kids with dreadlocks and trench coats don’t like being different, if they’re being honest. So we often find ourselves following along with others in group-think as a means of gaining a sense of belonging and becoming part of a group.

Similarly, the heard mentality is rooted in the fear of being wrong. Even if we feel we are more likely to be correct in taking a specific course of action, nagging fear may drive us to choose the opposite course out of fear that we could end up isolated by our own wrong doing. After all, it is better to be wrong and with others than to be correct and alone, no?

Intellectually, many of us may wish to shed these notions, yet our behaviors and actions say otherwise.

Discouraging the Herd Mentality

So how exactly can we help others overcome the tendency to conform, fear mistakes, and perpetuate a herd mentality? No two people are alike, but the following guidelines will prove to be helpful in most situations and with most people.

1. Listen more than you speak

When helping another person by seeking to change their opinion or behavior, it is most important to fully understand their position. This understanding can only be achieved through careful listening.

Billionaire Richard Branson articulated the importance of listening very well in sharing a lesson learned from his father:

When I grew up our house was always a hive of activity, with Mum dreaming up new entrepreneurial schemes left, right and centre, and me and my sisters running wild. You were as likely to find me helping Mum with a new project as outside climbing a tree. Amidst all the fun and chaos, Dad was always a supportive, calming influence on us all. He wasn’t quiet, but he was not often as talkative as the rest of us. It made for a wonderful balance, and we always knew we could rely on him no matter what.

Within this discreet support lay one of his best and most simple pieces of advice for me: listen more than you talk. Nobody learned anything by hearing themselves speak. Wherever I go, I try to spend as much time as possible listening to the people I meet. I am fortunate to travel widely and come across fascinating characters from all walks of life. While I am always happy to share my own experiences with them, it would be foolish if I didn’t listen back.

2. Ask questions with care and humility

Aside from listening, it is equally important to engage with others by asking thoughtful questions and remaining humble. These steps go hand-in-hand, and they are the keys to earning others’ trust.

Remember, most people do not care what you know until they know that you care.

3. Acknowledge your own mistakes and imperfections

In order to continue building a foundation of trust and credibility, seek to admit your own mistakes and imperfections. It is very difficult to shatter the herd mentality if you skip this step.

Yesterday, I was listening to the Dave Ramsey show podcast when Dave took a call from a confused caller. The wife and mother of four shared that she and her husband were considering following the advice of friends and family by moving in with her parents and selling their house to save money. Dave took this caller to task in a manner that made me wince a bit. He was critical of the caller’s lack of planning, overblown spending, and knee-jerk reactions. Dave also pointed out the this woman was attempting to implement a plan which treated only the symptoms of the problem rather than the problem itself.

Naturally, this caller became a bit distressed and defensive. In a moment of swift timing, Dave pointed out that he himself had made “far dumber” mistakes with money than even the mistake that this woman and her husband were about to make. As he outlined several of them in crystal clear detail, he displayed empathy and earned credibility with the caller. Little by little, the caller warmed up to Dave and become more and more interested in what he had to say. By admitting his own mistakes, Dave broke down the herd mentality barrier which had driven this caller.

Final Word

I apologize for any genuine concern I may have caused over my views on early retirement. Despite my deception, my true vision for early retirement is simple:

I desire to reach financial independence and gain the option to work, if I so choose, for purposes other than monetary rewards.

Despite experiencing some guilt over my slight deception in my previous piece, I am glad that the outcome was as I had expected. Collectively, the tight-nit community listened to my ideas, posed relevant questions and counter-examples, shared personal anecdotes, and tapped into long-established trust and credibility in an attempt to show me the error of my ways.

I am proud to be running with the right herd.

Have you had experience breaking others free from the herd mentality surrounding retirement? 





12 thoughts on “The Herd Mentality and Retirement – How to Free Yourself and Others

  1. Uh….yeah! Definitely not a conformist considering I’ve opted to take a little “mini retirement” even before financial independence.

    I have the rest of my life to work (until I hit the necessary number)….no foul in re-arranging the timelines a bit. 😀

  2. Ok wow I feel a little silly that I was the first commenter on that post and I was basically agreeing with your lie. My husband and I really aren’t focusing on early retirement because we have other priorities. I am totally ok with reaching financial independence 10 years later because we were busy giving our kids a good education and some family vacations along the way. If it we could have figured all this out BEFORE kids and become financially independent before becoming parents, that would have been ideal… But since we figured it out later, our choices are to sacrifice lot while our kids are at home and maybe reach retirement around the time they are leaving or spend more time enjoying our lives now and work to reach FI later. I am totally ok with the slightly slower path.

    1. I didn’t mean to make you or anyone feel silly, Cindy! I’m sorry about that. I think your values and plans are perfectly aligned to suit your desired outcomes, and that is what is important. My “lie,” so to speak, was parroting the early retirement cons I had read about previously. To your credit, you didn’t touch them with a ten foot pole in your comment. 🙂

  3. Early retirement is definitely not a goal that makes sense, or is even realistic, for everyone, and I think that’s ok. But what you’re saying about the herd mentality is 100% right and so important. Because the herd mentality is usually so self-defeating. But the good thing about the herd mentality is that if you can go all “Money Ball”, you can be one of the few to take advantage of things that are only available because most people do what is expected – i.e. credit card rewards. Great post!

  4. I feel like I just participated in a psychology experiment 🙂 I agree with you though we need to become critical thinkers and avoid going with what others are telling us is right. Unfortunately I think that is mostly how elections go.

    You have entrenched voters that are convinced one party is against them no matter what the data says one way or another. It’s pretty sad when you think about it but such is the herd mentality.

    1. Thanks for the wise comment, MSM. Retirement planning and voting receive the same amount of consideration (which is to say, very little) from most people.

  5. Interesting experiment. I think herd mentality is a very real societal issue that needs to be addressed. Especially since the advent of the Internet, people have been able to find corners with people who agree with them on everything so that their thoughts and positions are never challenged. It creates a real drag on productive debate that harms society as a whole.

  6. The desire for conformity.. I read an interesting article the other day that conformity stems from long ago. During the tribal times, we needed to care about what other people thought of us because if we were kicked out of a tribe, going the lone wolf route is almost suicidal because getting food by yourself was hard.

    Therefore, it’s hard to be the one that conflicts with another because of our instinct to survive. What other people thought of us directly correlated with our survival. It’s still true today. We care about what bosses think of us because otherwise, we could get fired, not get promoted, etc. It’s our survival instinct!

  7. At several training sessions I attended, it was pointed out that LISTEN is an anagram of SILENT, and that the two of them go together. You cannot Listen properly without being Silent. Your Dad was very wise.
    As for Early Retirement? The most important thing is Financial Independence / security. After you achieve that, you have choices. My 68 year old husband continues to work part-time, totally through choice, (we save his salary….), he knows he doesn’t have to but he loves what he does. However, if he had to work because we needed the money, then he would resent it. I choose not to work, enjoy my hobbies, just started blogging on how great retirement can be, and do voluntary work. We are both happy with our choices.

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