The pebble in your shoe

How long will you keep walking?

written by oz chen

get my weekly digest on psychology & money

pebble inside shoe - why we avoid problems

As you take a walk, you notice something’s off—
There’s a pebble in your shoe.
It’s not enough to stop you from walking.

You’re in a rush to get to your destination.
And stopping in the middle of the street to take the pebble out…
Would feel awkward and doesn’t look good.

You decide to ignore it.

By the time you get to your destination,
Your foot is hurting.
It dawns on you that you’ve developed a blister from the pebble constantly rubbing against your foot, with each step you took.

Dammit, should have taken the pebble out of my shoe the moment I felt it.

When the metaphorical pebble is in the shoe, how long will you keep walking?

Here are my own examples of letting small problems compound into big problems:

  • Resist paying that parking ticket that I don’t think I deserve. Oops, the penalty jumped up for paying after a certain deadline…
  • Procrastinate on an important conversation, letting incorrect expectations and resentment build up.
  • Ignoring what my body is telling me until I feel burnout.

A few guesses why we don’t address the situation right away:

  1. Switching cost: when we’re already on a path, changing mid-stride can feel unnecessarily effortful.
  2. Social pressure: How many of us have stayed in a conversation longer than necessary when we needed to pee?
  3. Cognitive overload: there are too many distractions and competing priorities. Yes there’s a pebble, but I’m late for Sunday brunch with endless mimosas.

Most of all, we don’t change when the pain is not big enough.
Imagine the pebble was a blade instead?
We’d be insane to walk in that shoe.

The more invisible and abstract the thing – like finance – the easier it is to ignore problems.

The pain of not dealing with money does not seem immediate, compared to a blade in your shoe.

Don’t ignore your finances

Credit card debt is probably the sneakiest financial “pebble in your shoe.”

You open a credit card to get a spicy sign up bonus.
You planned on just using the card for necessary expenses…but the next thing you know, you’re spending more.
Months later, you realize the interest you owe is far more than the original purchase price.

The pebble in your shoe became a fat ‘ol blister that’s doing real damage now.

This is life’s convenience fee: we pay the price for avoiding temporary discomfort and inconvenience.

The complement to the pebble (problem) is the snowball (solution).

Both start small; building a snowball is positive action that gathers momentum over time. Like these good habits:

  • Automate a transfer from checking to savings
  • Have a weekly check-in on an important area of your life
  • Do a weekly recurring buy into index funds


Don’t let financial problems become major setbacks. Address them early, like removing a pebble from your shoe, before they cause lasting damage.

liked this article? tell your mom, tell your kids


Leave a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.