Grocery shopping aisles

Financial planning is in many ways quite simple, it’s just about decision making. So I spend just as much time reading material from the field of psychology as I do from finance and economics.

A really important text in decision making is a book called Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. In this book Professor Kahneman talks at length about the presence of two modes of thought in our minds. System 1 is the process that is fast, instinctive and emotional, while System 2 is slower, deliberate and more logical.

Think of it this way: when you’ve stepped into the corner store because you’re a little hungry and you’re deciding whether to buy a chocolate bar or a banana, System 1 is the little guy sitting on your left shoulder whispering into your ear how sweet that chocolate is going to taste. System 2 is telling you that the chocolate bar is much higher in kilojoules than the banana, so you really should buy the banana to help you maintain a healthy weight in the long term.

System 1 exists on a subconscious level – nobody has to stop and remind themselves that the chocolate bar will be sweet and delicious, but system 2 is a much more deliberate, conscious process which we need to kick-start, and that takes energy.

Self-control exists in System 2, and really draws on that mental energy. What’s interesting though is a series of studies by psychologist Roy Baumeister have shown that a wide range of self-control tasks draw on the same pool of mental energy. If you’ve drawn on that energy source to stay strong and buy the banana rather than the chocolate bar, you’re less likely to be able to exert good self-control in a following task.

So how is this relevant to divorce? Well here is a list of some of the things that Baumeister’s studies have shown to be mentally depleting:

  • Avoiding the thought of something on your mind (eg, the person you are in the process of separating from)
  • Inhibiting emotions (trying to keep your head straight at work, amongst personal turmoil)
  • Responding kindly to a partner’s bad behaviour

Even in the most pleasant of separations – you are going to be in a situation where these emotionally and mentally taxing incidents occur. There are a lot of areas of your life where you generally want your more rational System 2 to be able to have a say:

  • What you eat, because in the long run it will impact your health
  • Controlling your reaction to provocation (be it in personal relationships, or even in the workplace)
  • Performing mentally and physically intense tasks, such as needing to focus on an important piece of work
  • Watching your spending. Not all spending is bad, but spending with no control in the short term will reduce your financial choices later such as when you get to retire

So now it’s time to talk solutions. When you’re going through such a mentally draining process as a separation, property settlement and divorce, what can you do to improve your outcomes?


When you put in place automatic systems, you reduce the number of decisions you have to make. This has two benefits – firstly, by putting a system in place you won’t have to keep making a decision over and over again, leaving more good decision fuel for the other choices you need to make. Secondly, it removes the opportunity for the short-term, often irrational, System 1 to get a shot at a decision.

If you’re worried about whether you’ll be able to make good food choices while going through a separation, consider signing up for a Lite’n’Easy or similar where you know that healthy meals will be provided and become easier than the less healthy options like takeaway food.


Is negotiating with your partner just going to drain all of your energy? There are probably times when you can decide to let your lawyer manage the discussion.

Likewise a good financial plan gives you the ability to put in train a whole series of financial decisions, so you can avoid having to worry about every little financial decision.


If the process has got you down, maybe a short break from work, or a change of scenery in the form of a little holiday is just what you need. Do something that you find relaxing!

You can’t automate or avoid all of the tough decisions when you’re separating, and there are some really important decisions to make, so doing what you can to replenish your energy and improve your ability to make the right choice is a really worthwhile exercise.

So think about how you can make better decisions – to get our help with the financial side of your life you should call on (02) 6247 1233 or email to book an obligation-free appointment.


(image credit: “Carrefour Market Voisins-le-Bretonneux 2012 09” by Lionel Allorge – Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons)