A Tale of Two Mindsets: The Kitten & The Monkey



In The Icarus Deception, Seth Godin describes how two different animals respond when faced with danger:

When a kitten gets in trouble, its mother picks it up by the scruff of the neck, rescuing him and taking him to safety.  A baby monkey on the other hand has no choice but to grab onto the back of its mother if he wants to escape. One is rescued. The other rescues himself.

The kitten is passive. It waits to be rescued. The monkey is active. It takes responsibility and ensures its own survival.

This is a perfect metaphor for how we behave as humans. No matter what situation we’re in, we always have two options. We can hope to be rescued by outside forces or we can take action to change our own situation.

90% of people would rather behave like the kitten. Why? Because it’s easier. It requires no uncomfortable work. Our default mode is acting like the kitten. Sit and hope for good things to come to us in life, for someone to come solve our problems, for outside forces to come along and push us ahead in life toward our goals.

The road of the monkey is far less traveled. It’s for the other 10%. It’s for the people who will ultimately win in the long run. The ones who take responsibility, cultivate discipline, and take action to change their circumstances will win. They’ll find freedom.

Discipline Equals Freedom

Jocko Willink, an ex Navy Seal says that “Discipline equals freedom.” The ones who are disciplined enough to put in work will become free in life.

Most of us want financial freedom, but not many of us are willing to take action to acquire this freedom. It’s so easy to be a kitten with your finances. Just sit back, don’t track your expenses, don’t start a side hustle, don’t learn marketable skills, and wait patiently for a great job to land at your feet. Wait for some outside source to deposit money at your doorstep. This is the way of the kitten. 

The Kitten vs. The Monkey

The kitten sits and waits patiently for a promotion at work.
The monkey seeks out a promotion or a new job entirely.

The kitten hopes their new company offers a nice salary.
The monkey learns how to negotiate for a higher salary (Check out Ramit Sethi’s advice)

The kitten takes on a mortgage and hopes for friendly interest rates.
The monkey learns how to house hack (Check out Chad Carson’s experience with this)

The kitten has a fixed mindset – I’m bad with money and always will be.
The monkey has a growth mindset – I can learn about stocks, bonds, real estate, 401(k)’s, and side hustles, all I have to do is put forth effort.

The kitten hopes it catches a break in life. The monkey goes out and gets what it wants.

The Way of the Monkey

If you want to keep the current lifestyle you have, stuck in the same financial situation you’ve always been in, by all means continue to act like the kitten. Wait for life to bestow its gifts upon you. But if you want to radically change your situation, build up a freedom fund and get your financial life in order, you must act like the monkey. You must rescue yourself. There is no other way.

You have to be willing to acquire new skills, learn how to invest, learn how to negotiate higher salaries, learn how to call companies to avoid fees, search for lower phone plans. Personally most of my financial knowledge has come from reading blogs, watching Khan Academy investing videos, and renting personal finance books from my local library. Information is abundant nowadays, all it requires is a little time and effort to acquire.

The other habit you must develop to embrace the monkey mentality is to stop tracking your failures. When you decide to change your circumstances, you will fail often. It’s inevitable. When you send out your resume to dozens of companies, try new side hustles, and ask for promotions, you will experience more failures than all the kittens sitting on the sideline. And you must learn to be okay with this because nobody actually cares about your failures. You’re the only one tracking them.

This realization will help you be more willing to go out and try, try, and try again. The kitten fears the possibility of failure. The monkey embraces it.

In the long run, the monkey will gain freedom. The kitten never will. No matter what your financial situation currently looks like, the only way it will ever change is if you develop a mindset of radical responsibility. Rescue yourself. Do what is necessary to change your situation. Nobody will do it for you.

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10 Replies to “A Tale of Two Mindsets: The Kitten & The Monkey”

  1. John Mulaney once said, “it is 100% easier to do nothing than anything” probably why there are so many kittens in the world.

    I didn’t know that about monkeys. maybe we should make them the rockstar finance mascot 😀

  2. I guess this is why they call cats lazy, lol. For this it’s great to be active now and reap the benefits of passive income later!

  3. I love this analogy! Kitten or monkey (or gorilla as Fritz says above!). That’s an easy choice – or at least it should be. I also love how you incorporated the fix vs growth mindset into the money conversation. Growth mindset is the essence of being the monkey. YOU save yourself, you grow, you learn, you take action. No matter what strategy you use, it comes down to that.
    And thanks for linking to my house hacking article!

    1. Understanding the growth vs. fixed mindset dichotomy is so helpful in the personal finance space. I see so many people who are fearful of the word “finance” that they don’t bother to attempt to understand it at all, which is a shame.

      And I’m always happy to link to resources I find helpful – keep up the great work on your site!

  4. I’m not too keen on any insults to kittens 😛 meow meow meow ?

    I just called grub hub to argue an incorrect charge. The customer service rep can’t help me but I can email someone higher up…should I monkey this injustice? Mmm.

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