Are You Driving or Riding?

You have brains in your head and feet in your shoes
You can steer yourself any direction you choose.
You’re on your own and you know what you know
And you are the one who’ll decide where to go.

Dr. Seuss

Sometimes the day gets away from you, and it did today. So, with your indulgence, I’d like to re-share a Brief from March 30, 2012 that enjoyed broad readership. It’s also a topic on the subject of allowing ‘the day to slip away from you.’

Anyone who can grasp the concept of a future understands the power of goal-setting and planning. We and no one else are responsible for our own lives, yet we spend so little if any of our time directing our lives, with or for any great purpose.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics how we spend our time might well surprise you. In a 24-hour day, sleep and personal care occupy the greatest chunk at 9.5 hours or 40%. We spend another 1.25 hours eating and drinking and 2 hours cleaning up from it; along with the laundry and the lawn, etc. And don’t forget our work. The average American spends 3.5 hours of his/her day at work (7.8 hours per day for those actually working). We spend 45 minutes shopping and 15 minutes in spiritual activities (for some they are the same). And here’s the topper – we spend a whopping (drum roll) 5.2 hours per day entertaining ourselves that’s more than a third of our waking day spent enjoying ourselves in the moment.

Mark Twain encourages us to “plan for the future because that is where [we are] going to spend the rest of [our] life.” But that is not what we do. In fact, very few of us set goals and plan (beyond our business or job requirements) and fewer still write them down and review them regularly. It is widely thought that no more than 3-5% of the population plans.

So, if almost anyone would agree that planning is important and good, why don’t we do it?

We are too busy

The Labor survey demonstrates that we are just too busy living in the moment to look down the road any great distance. For many of us the future is not much more than our next text response or what’s for lunch. If things are good now, why take time to think about possibly working harder on some goal to make them even better? After all, John Lennon implored us to live in the moment; “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.”

Another way to put it is that too many of us are simply not serious about our future. We don’t live as though we had any greater purpose or significance than simply moving to the next thing. Yet with each passing day, we know in our hearts that unless we get serious, we will not accomplish anything of consequence. Who starts to build and does not count the cost? Clearly what is lost for most of us is a healthy balance between living well today and planning for a better tomorrow.

We Don’t Believe

Our own doubts can be powerful disincentives to goal-setting. We’ve carried many of them from our upbringing, childhood to present, we own them. They are so familiar to us they have become a part of us. And if you can’t squash your dreams yourself, tell them to someone who doesn’t value planning or goal-setting and they’ll help you kill them.

Remember Orville and Wilber the bicycle shop owners? They had a dream to change the world by figuring out this flying thing. How many times do you think they heard how ridiculous their dream was from family, friends, customers, and strangers alike? Through it all they were able to shake off their self-doubts and those of virtually everyone around them to accomplish something far greater than their immediate reach, financially, physically, or emotionally. Visit the Smithsonian sometime to see and read their plans. What a fabulous story of planning at its finest. As Dale Carnegie put it, “most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope at all.”

We Fear Failure

Perhaps the greatest obstacle to success in life is the fear of failure. It can paralyze and lock us into routines that are well below our potential. We focus only on the obstacles, the potential failure. Hannah Moore said that “obstacles are those frightful things when you take your eyes off your goals.”

People who fear failure don’t understand that it is a vital and necessary part of success, in fact a prerequisite. Anyone striving to reach his potential must be willing to risk repeated and often costly failures along the way.

Consider the Wright brothers once again. Not long ago I was able to see an extraordinary exhibit of their accomplishments in a large exhibit devoted to them at the Smithsonian. I was absolutely fascinated by their detailed notes and plans. They read like a story of heroic design against an unknown, uncharted abyss we call the atmosphere. It was standard operating procedure for them to take multiple sets of replacement parts to repair their machine crash after crash. But progress was made with each grinding and dusty crackup. Their notes read like ‘failure, failure, re-design, failure, tweak, slight improvement – failure and so on.’ Then on December 17, 1903 all their plans, failures, blood, sweat, and tears culminated in man’s very first controlled, powered and sustained, heavier-than-air human flight.

As far as your financial planning goes with us, our Monte Carlo model ‘lives’ the failures so you don’t have to experience them. We can confidently avoid them leaving nothing to fear, on the financial front anyway.

We Don’t Understand the Importance

Many people, in fact most, grow up with no introduction to the importance of goal-setting or planning. And unless they were introduced along the way, they remain unaware of the true potential. For these folks, stories about the heroes of goal-setting and achievement could well be about people from another planet. They would have no frame of reference even of the concept of planning for a better future.

How to Improve and How we can Help? 

Heidi Grant Halvorson, a Ph.D., motivational psychologist and author of the Harvard Business Review Single Nine Things Successful People Do Differently, addresses the reasons we are successful in reaching some of our goals and not others. She says that even brilliant and highly accomplished people are not good at understanding why they succeed or fail at goal-setting. Its really quite more than native talent.

Here are Halvorson’s nine things successful people do differently (in quotes) with my thoughts added (in italics) where we can help.

1. “Get specific. When you set a goal, try to be as specific as possible. Knowing exactly what you want to achieve keeps you motivated until you get there. Also, think about the specific actions that need to be taken to reach your goal.” Every financial goal you value is integrated into our planning and management process. 

2. “Seize the moment to act on your goals. Given busy schedules and multiple goals we routinely miss opportunities to act on a goal because we simply fail to notice them. Decide when and where you will take each action you want to take, in advance. Studies show that this kind of planning will help your brain to detect and seize the opportunity when it arises, increasing your chances of success by roughly 300%.” We continually monitor and alert you to opportunities and threats as they are revealed to make necessary adjustments when or if confidence slips.

3. “Know exactly how far you have left to go. Check your progress frequently — weekly, or even daily, depending on the goal.”  As Stephen Covey reminded us, ‘start with the end in mind.’ Setting targets or ranges allows us to monitor not only progress, but the statistical confidence of meeting your goals. We review these metrics every time we meet. 

4. “Be a realistic optimist. When you are setting a goal, by all means engage in lots of positive thinking about how likely you are to achieve it. Believing in your ability to succeed is enormously helpful for creating and sustaining your motivation. But whatever you do, don’t underestimate how difficult it will be to reach your goal. Most goals worth achieving require time, planning, effort, and persistence.” We recognize that effective and sustainable planning require not only the must dos, but also a commitment to and passion for future (sometimes long off goals). Finding that healthy, sustainable balance between todays’ give ups to ensure meeting important future goals is our goal in each panning relationship. 

5. “Focus on getting better, rather than being good. Believing you have the ability to reach your goals is important, but so is believing you can get the ability. Many of us believe that our intelligence, our personality, and our physical aptitudes are fixed — that no matter what we do, we won’t improve. As a result, we focus on goals that are all about proving ourselves, rather than developing and acquiring new skills.” Every time we meet you get better at planning and we potentially find more opportunities. 

6. “Have grit. Grit is a willingness to commit to long-term goals, and to persist in the face of difficulty. Studies show that gritty people obtain more education in their lifetime, and earn higher college GPAs. Grit predicts which cadets will stick out their first grueling year at West Point.” We know you have what it takes. We’ll help you apply it in the right direction. 

7. “Build your willpower muscle. Your self-control “muscle” is just like the other muscles in your body — when it doesn’t get much exercise, it becomes weaker over time. But when you give it regular workouts by putting it to good use, it will grow stronger and stronger, and better able to help you successfully reach your goals.”  We are doing all we can to make our workouts (meetings) as fun, engaging and effective as possible. But we need you in the ‘gym’ regularly if you want to achieve that control.

8. Don’t tempt fate. No matter how strong your willpower muscle becomes, it’s important to always respect the fact that it is limited, and if you overtax it you will temporarily run out of steam. Successful people know not to make reaching a goal harder than it already is. We have decades of experience working with clients through all kinds of markets, bad spending habits, and inertia. If your willpower muscle is fatigues, lean on us.

9. Focus on what you will do, not what you won’t do. If you want to change your ways, ask yourself, What will I do instead? We are all about focus and balance. We help you identify and reduce spending on the things you don’t highly value in order to invest more in the things you do. Focus and intentionality are a powerful duo.     

That’s it for now. Hope you have a great weekend and “follow your dreams, they know the way.”