What Do You Think About?

I have a good friend who, as a college professor, frequently asks young people this question when meeting for the first time: “what do you think about?” At the moment she considers most opportune, she gently tosses the question into the conversation like a freshly baited hook onto a still pond, and she patiently waits for the cork to bob.

Most often the question is met with an immediate and uncomfortable response – “what do I think about what?” But after some silence, answers begin to bubble up like “glassblowing,” “fermenting kimchi,” “making art,” or “taking a nap.” She says the best one she ever got was from an 80-year-old man who said “I think constantly about cosmology.”

What we spend our time thinking about is important, because ultimately our thoughts, attitudes, and decisions shape our lives. Thoughts are the fathers of our deeds, and our deeds are the building blocks of our lives. If we are disorganized in our thinking, then our lives will be the same. Without intentionality and organization, we simply put luck or chance in the driver’s seat of our most important pursuit.

Our professor says she asks the question because she does not like “superficial” talk and always wants to go deeper by “breaking through the surface.” She admits some ambiguity on the merits of her approach. On the one hand she is “fairly certain people are favorably surprised by the joy of the question, since we generally do not ask such ‘personal’ questions.” But on the other hand “is it right to pry or probe?”

Interestingly, the most common answer she gets is a question – “what do I think about what?” The response is particularly instructive. It reveals that most if not all of us can use some help, some guidance in our thinking. Our most natural thoughts are about the things closest to us, physically and chronologically. Watch out for that car slowing down in front of us. Don’t forget the milk on the way home tonight. What am I going to do for lunch today? Will so and so go pro?

Most of us simply don’t venture too far from ‘home’ in our minds unless we are prompted or guided by thought leaders, counselors, or advisors. We need the guidance of “what do we think about what?” to bring the question into boundaries with which we are comfortable. It doesn’t come naturally to think big thoughts or to imagine far into the future. Too many of today’s realities right in front of us or failures from our past argue so strongly against our success. Sadly, for most, it is far easier to dismiss the process of thinking about the future, setting goals, and creating plans as a complete waste of time.

I cannot think of a process that better reveals the difficulties we have in imagining beyond our immediate concerns than that of financial planning. The discipline takes people out of their comfort zones on so many levels. We are asked to share our deepest thoughts, fears, hopes and dreams sometimes for the very first time. And imagining our lives and our needs 20 or 30 years from now is understandably difficult. Concepts like planning the size of our estate when we die or whether we should leave one, and how will it be used by the next generation, are all uniquely foreign to most until asked for the first time.

If the process wasn’t difficult enough, consider that it is conducted in a language that may be foreign, intimidating, or overly important (money and investing) and it takes place within a minefield that is shaped by past experiences of successes and failures. Understanding how each client thinks about money and investing is more important factor in determining the success or failure of the life-long financial planning process.

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

Share your thoughts with us and we’ll ensure you get there sooner and bigger.

Thanks for reading. As a special treat, I’d like to share a treasure I found some years ago. It’s a video of Mark Gungor explaining better than anyone I’ve eve seen the differences between men’s and women’s brains. In only five minutes you will gain wisdom that will benefit you for a lifetime.