I promised you that I would spend some time today discussing the concept of overcorrection, which is still one of my go-to mental errors when attempting to solve a problem or reconfigure a system.

Overcorrection, as I wrote yesterday, is a type of shortcut.

Essentially, you’re tricking yourself into thinking that you can get the results you want FASTER if you simply do something BIGGER and HARDER and MORE DETERMINEDER.

Overcorrection is the crash diet — or, if you want to think about it in personal finance terms, the crash budget. It’s the decision to jump from two hours of piano practice per day to four hours (or why not five?) without really thinking about how that might affect your schedule and your energy levels (or, for that matter, what you’re going to do during those additional practice sessions).

Overcorrection isn’t necessarily throwing more resources at the problem, though that’s part of it. It’s throwing resources that pull you out of balance in another area of your life.

That’s why overcorrections never, ever work. They might give you a temporary positive result, if you’re lucky, but they’ll never provide a long-term solution.


This is where I should cite that classic example about cars and skids and the direction in which one should steer, because that’s what you’re doing when you’re attempt an overcorrection — you’re attempting to solve the problem while also trying to avoid the problem.

If the problem is “I’m not achieving my financial goals,” for example, the answer isn’t “NO MORE NONESSENTIAL SPENDING EVER.” That’s gritting your teeth and steering away from the skid as fast as you can, while avoiding the kind of specific, disciplined work that might give you a better solution to the problem.

Why aren’t you achieving your financial goals?

Are your goals unrealistic, based on your current income and expenses?

Is there a way to increase your income or reduce your expenses? What would that take, and is it something you would realistically be able to do based on your current needs, desires, obligations, and responsibilities?

If there is a way to increase your income or reduce your expenses, would it be a short-term fix or something you could sustain over the long-term? If it were a short-term fix, would you need to do anything after the short term to prevent this problem (or a similar problem) from occurring again? Is it possible to put a short-term tactic into place while looking for a more sustainable, long-term strategy?

You get the idea.

This also applies to more serious personal finance situations like “I can’t pay my bills.” In fact, this type of systems-based analysis may be the only application that works.

And yet we all steer our little mental cars away from that slippery, complex line of thought and make an overcorrection that has been, repeatedly, proved not to work. “NO MORE SPENDING, GO GO GO.”

Even me.


So why do I still overcorrect, even when I know that it’s one of the least effective things I can do?

Because I want results more than I want solutions.

Because it worked that one time, even though that was only a short-term fix that didn’t address the underlying problem.

Because something in my life is out of balance, and it’s harder to think carefully about what’s going on when you’re out of balance.

Because there are external pressures to DO THE THING THAT DOESN’T WORK, and it’s a lot harder to say “no, I really want to think about this first.”

Because I don’t trust that time will solve some kinds of problems; because I feel like I have to force a solution on my own.

It’s that last one, I think, that gets me more than any of the others. I know, for example, that the solution to “tired” is “rest+time” (and the long-term solution to “long-term tired” is “lifestyle change”), but if I tell myself that I can skip over “rest+time” by applying “nuts+candy,” well… I mean, it did work, that one time.

And then I had to deal with “tired+indigestion.” Less balance than I had before, and very little to show for it.


I’m going to continue writing about the hazards of overcorrection on Thursday, since tomorrow is a guest post on how to combine freelance writing with piano teaching (very relevant to our interests).

Until then, here’s my question for you (the same question I asked L this morning):

Do you think most systems drift towards balance, or imbalance?

That is, does every balanced life require constant awareness and minute correction (and/or minute-to-minute correction) as needed, or is a balanced life something you can set-and-forget?

I’m tending towards the former; it seems obvious.

And yet, at the same time, we are given these systems (or methods by which to create systems) that theoretically sustain themselves. Take 10 percent out of every paycheck and put it directly into a savings account. Do 25 pushups after you brush your teeth. Every time you repeat something that isn’t currently working, decide what you want to change on your next repetition — and then evaluate whether or not you actually changed it.

The first two are straight-up habit formation (personal finance being “habit formation with numbers in”). The third one can also be framed as a habit (especially when applied to piano practice) but it reads a lot more like awareness+correction to me.

Or, to use the words I was experimenting with earlier this year, discipline+specificity. ❤️

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