goals

It’s a Whole New Ball Game

picture shows sunrise behind dewy grass

Millions of us are living through new experiences. The global pandemic has affected many aspects of daily life. Sportscasters and others have used the expression “It’s a whole new ball game” to describe suddenly changed circumstances.

It seems apt now. The rate of change—and the stakes—in this pandemic can feel overwhelming and disorienting. And yet we wonder…

We humans start out knowing nothing about anything, right? Babyhood was a whole new ball game, along with getting teeth, walking, going to kindergarten, making friends (and enemies), and all the other developments in our lives.

So how is it that we have each managed to adapt and deal with this lifetime of ever-changing circumstances, coped with each and every “whole new ball game”? What lessons are there as we each deal with our current set of changes?

Some of the answers might be found in our own pasts, the things that have taught us perspective. Maybe the answers are in our goals and priorities: they could guide the way through. No matter what we each face now, the overall challenge of change remains.

We might revise the old saying and conclude, “It’s always a whole new ball game.”

Clients, if you’d like to discuss this or anything else, write or call.

Thoughts and Destiny

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Our thoughts become words; words, actions; actions, habits; habits, character.

What we “do” for work is sometimes hard to describe. Often, it starts in the mind. Either we have a hunch, or a client wonders, “What if…”

Soon, we’re writing or talking about it. We’re acting on our plan. We’re integrating the change into the overall vision. And we’ve done it! We’re working our whole, integrated system.

Simple enough, right? Deliberate motion.

But it starts with planning, taking those thoughts and arranging them in the direction of our goals.

Lately, we’ve been thinking about that series of relationships. We’ve seen the sentiment posted above in many forms over the years, and we found out that versions of that idea have been ascribed to various poets and teachers for hundreds of years (not to mention Lao Tzu, Margaret Thatcher, and even the Buddha!).

Maybe the credit ought to be shared after all, because we think there is treasure of wisdom in this notion. If we could condense the chain, it would be this: planning is the attempt to shape your destiny.

Planning is agreeing to take your ideas seriously enough to examine them. Planning is a decision that your life will no longer be a thing that happens to you.

Planning is “opting in” to your life.

Clients, there is no one path we’re prescribing here. But we are firm believers in helping you work toward your goals, and geez are we geared up about it.

Whether it’s a thought from your head or a question for us, we’d love to hear from you. Write or call anytime.

First Light

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Each one of us remembers some new beginning. Perhaps your first thought at seeing the phrase might be of a first day of school, or first kiss, first day at a new job, new relationship, life in a new neighborhood, or something else.

Beginnings are all about potential, anticipation and excitement: a journey on roads we’ve not traveled.

I often take walks in the first light of dawn. The quality of the light in that hour can be magical, whether in the village of Louisville or the banks of the Platte River, along San Diego Bay or Michigan Avenue or in Pinellas County, Florida.

But the meaning of first light is more special to me than the beautiful scenes it might envelope. First light is a new day dawning, another step on a path never before taken. It is fraught with potential, anticipation, and excitement. Each day is a beginning.

This perspective may be helpful to move forward from past hard times, or to change things we would like to change. But it can also be useful as we seek to strengthen new habits or build on recent successes. Whether things are going well or poorly, a beginning is a chance to reset.

What new beginning excites you? Clients, if you would like to talk about this or anything else, please email us or call.

S.M.A.R.T. Goals?

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We’ve all hard about SMART goals, haven’t we? The acronym stands for “Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound.”

Perhaps SMART goals should be balanced with GUT goals: General, Unbounded, Timeless.

SMART goals are all about what we do. GUT goals are all about who we are.

Great thinker James Clear talks says the key to lasting improvement is to change who we believe we are. This is key because we humans are always in the process of becoming who we believe we are. This is a general concept. For example, we might come to believe we are a person who prioritizes exercise.

Compare that to a SMART goal like ‘walk two miles every day.’ Life has a way of getting in the way of our plans; the specific plan to walk might fall to inclement weather, or an upset schedule. But if we believe we are a person who prioritizes exercise, we will usually figure out a way to get exercise despite the disruptions that inevitably pop up.

The SMART goal of walking two miles every day is specific, so involves failure when it is not met. But the GUT goal of becoming a person who prioritizes exercise, being general, does not chalk up a failure when the inevitable lapse occurs.

On another parameter, SMART goals can only be applied to things that are measurable. Many of the most important things cannot be measured. Try to quantify empathy, love, a sunset, or the work of an inspired person. A GUT goal might be about things that cannot be measured. One example, to be present in the presence of others: more empathetic, more attentive, more closely connected to the moment. If we come to believe we are that person, our actions will reflect it.

There are corollaries to personal financial planning. If we believe we are people who put something away every payday, who think twice before committing to large expenditures, who live below our means, who balance long term goals against impulsive spending, then our daily actions may support our key objectives.

Clients, if you would like to talk about this or anything else, please email us or call.

Taking Stock

© Can Stock Photo / gajdamak

One of the things we do periodically with you is take stock. Having a periodic review helps us stay in touch with what is going on in your life. It’s also a good time to review your holdings, the economy and the markets as well. The items to discuss fall into these two basic categories.

  1. Planning – connecting your money to your life.
    1. Cash flow needs, saving, spending and lifestyle.
    2. Thinking on retirement.
    3. Plans for residence, if any, moving or major remodeling.
    4. Estate and trust considerations.
    5. Other objectives, special considerations, taxes.
  2. Investing – your portfolio and the markets.
    1. The role of volatility in long term investing.
    2. Risk tolerance discussion.
    3. Time horizon review.
    4. Our assessment of opportunities and risks.

Of course, we spend a lot of time working with you when a money question comes up. You can ask us anything, any time. If we don’t know the answer, we’ll do our best to find it.

Clients, if things are happening we should know about, please email us or call. Otherwise, we’ll be in touch by and by.

Life in Four Dimensions

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Kurt Vonnegut wrote about a race of beings who could see in four dimensions. The fourth dimension is time. “All moments, past, present, and future, have always existed, always will exist.” They could look at different moments from the past or future the way you and I might look at a stretch of the Rocky Mountains.

This is an interesting way to think about the work we do together with you, planning for the future. It requires us to see the future we want, and do what is needed to make that plan potentially become reality. People in their working years need to see ahead a decade or two or three, and envision the future.

Our investment process relies heavily on history, being able to see the past. Most conditions in the economy and markets repeat from time to time in one form or another. We can better understand these things when we know what has gone on before. In other words, seeing the past may provide clues that help us in the present.

The Vonnegut quote contains an implication with which we strongly disagree. The idea that the future is already set implies that nothing we do matters.

In fact, our whole philosophy is that the choices we make are crucial in shaping the future. There are many things beyond our control, but we control our actions. We do not control the future, but we can work to make the best things more likely to happen.

Putting this all together, we can formulate our own idea about life in four dimensions: learn from the past to shape the future we desire. When we work together, we have a better chance to pull this off.

Clients, if you would like to talk about this, or anything else, please email us or call.

Directing Positive Change

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We humans are not perfect, have you noticed? Many of us have aspects we would like to improve in order to make life better.

In his book Atomic Habits, James Clear illustrates three layers of behavior change. We may seek to change an outcome, or the process to get that outcome, or our identity. Let me explain.

The outcome is the obvious thing, what we want to end up with. I’m reminded of comedian Steve Martin’s advice on how to become a millionaire. “First, get a million dollars.” Lose weight, get a degree, or get in shape are other examples of outcomes.

The process or systems you use to get to a desired outcome are a better focus for our efforts to change. If your goal is financial independence, you might begin contributing to a retirement plan, start a Roth IRA, begin a monthly automatic deposit to a savings account, find ways to earn more money, or monitor your expenses more carefully.

It seems like a process orientation – how we get to our desired outcomes – is a better place to focus than on the outcomes. But there may be a more powerful layer to effect change.

A recent news story indicated that a large fraction of pre-retirees believe they will struggle financially in retirement. If part of one’s identity is they will end up broke, it may be difficult to make process improvements stick. “What’s the use, if I am going to end up broke anyway?”

If identity becomes “I am a person who will always be able to get along financially,” then doing the things that are necessary to make that true become easier, if not automatic. But can our identities be changed?

James Clear says that what we do affects what we believe about ourselves, our identity, just as our identity affects what we do. So taking those steps to improve our processes, combined with a thoughtful approach to what we want to become, may actually shape our identity over time.

Consider the difference between “I’m trying to quit smoking” and “I don’t smoke anymore.” The first version is from a person who still identifies as a smoker. The second version is from someone who believes that smoking is now a part of their past, not their present identity. You know which one is a more effective way to look at it.

Clients, if you would like to talk about this or anything else, please email us or call.


The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

Sacrifice or Joy?

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The ability to delay gratification is supposed by some to be the key to reaching our goals. And it seems to make sense.

If one can spend less and save more day by day, greater wealth results over time. Skipping dessert and taking the stairs instead of the elevator over the weeks and months may improve our health over the years and decades.

This framework casts our future welfare as something that contends with current enjoyment of life. “Sacrifice today for a brighter tomorrow,” and all that. It takes willpower to struggle against today’s desires for distant benefits, somewhere down the road.

We believe there is a more productive way to think about this.

The key is to find the immediate gratification hiding inside deferred gratification. If you are broke but begin saving a little bit of money every payday in a systematic way, you have the immediate gratification of changing your trajectory, of moving in the right direction.

Imagine the gratification of getting your act together in the way that most needs it. You have known it needs attention, and its neglect nags at you. Embarking on a plan gives you the immediate gratification of taking action to improve your life.

In short, you can struggle and sacrifice today for benefits in the misty future, or reframe it so that reaching for your goals brings you immediate joy. It’s a matter of the narrative you choose to tell yourself, the framing in your mind.

Clients, if you would like to talk about your goals or anything else, please email us or call.