Written by: Drew Feutz, CFP®
Life is busy. Really busy, at times. It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day and not think about what you really want to accomplish in the long run. Summer is one of those times when our lives can be especially busy which can lead to forgetting about those long-term goals.
The job of a financial planner is to help people identify and work towards achieving their goals and dreams. While we encourage our clients to update their financial plans every year, financial planning isn’t a once per year event. Financial planning is a continuous process and clients must stay disciplined and take actions that support reaching those goals all throughout the year.
However, if you’re not intentional, it can be difficult to stay focused on your goals and to consistently take actions that will get you closer to reaching them while also consistently refraining from actions that will push you farther away from reaching them. That’s why it’s so important to be purposeful about keeping your goals top of mind throughout the year, not just when you meet with your financial planner to talk about your progress towards reaching them.
Prepare Yourself for Distractions
You know it’s going to happen. You’re going to be distracted from your goals at some point. Take some time to prepare yourself in advance. It’s okay to get distracted – it happens to everyone. But it’s important to make sure that you get back on track and don’t let short-term distractions become long-term issues that keep you from reaching your goals.
On the other hand, if you continue to go down the path of being distracted from your goals, it might be time to reevaluate if those are the things that you really want to accomplish or if your priorities have changed. This is another reason why we want clients to update their financial plans annually – life changes happen quickly and priorities shift. As financial planners, it’s important for us to know when your priorities change. If we don’t know of those changes, we could end up giving advice that doesn’t support them.
Sometimes it’s best to remove distractions all together. Have you set a goal to retire early knowing that the trade-off means that you won’t be able to afford that dream house across town? Remove Zillow and other real estate apps from your phone. Change your route to and from work so that you don’t drive by it every day and have those thoughts pop up in your mind.
This is just one example that may sound simple (even silly?), but the mere-exposure effect tells us that we tend to develop a preference for things the more that we’re exposed to them.
There are so many financial decisions made throughout the course of a day, week, and month that a financial planner just can’t be there to help remind you of your stated goals when you’re about to go off track or make a significant decision “just this one time”.
Make an agreement with your financial planner (or another accountability partner) that you’ll talk through the pros and cons of any big financial decisions with them, and how that will affect your progress towards reaching your goals, before making a decision.
Review Your Goals Regularly
Oftentimes, we’ll see clients accomplish quite a few follow-up tasks immediately preceding a financial plan update, but then the tasks that may be more difficult to accomplish or that may take longer tend to fall to the wayside without continual probing from the financial planner. We don’t want to be pests, but sometimes it’s our job to do so when it comes to making sure that recommendations that are important to your financial plan are acted upon.
There are many ways to help you keep your goals top of mind. The key to doing so successfully is finding the method that you find works the best for you.
To help remind yourself to think about your goals on a daily basis you could implement practices as simple as taping a list of them to your bathroom mirror so that you see it every day when you brush their teeth (hopefully you’ll see it at least twice per day), changing the background of your phone to your goals list, and/or telling an accountability partner about what you want to accomplish and asking them to help keep you on track.
Some people like to use a vision board to see what accomplishing their goals would actually look like. It’s probably not practical to carry a vision board with you every day, but you can set an appointment with yourself to review it as you begin or wind down your week to help bring you back to what really matters to you.
If you’re married, it may make sense to setup a monthly “money meeting” with your spouse to review what has happened over the past month, plan for the month ahead, and review where you are in regards to making progress towards reaching your financial goals and if any changes need to be made.
There are plenty of ways to make sure that you’re thinking about your what you want to accomplish on a regular basis. It’s up to you to figure out what works best and how you can implement it consistently.
Change Your Financial Identity
How we think about ourselves drives our actions. James Clear, the author of the book Atomic Habits, has already written about this topic much more eloquently than I ever could. Here’s an excerpt from his blog article titled Identity-Based Habits: How to Actually Stick to Your Goals This Year:
“The key to building lasting habits is focusing on creating a new identity first. Your current behaviors are simply a reflection of your current identity. What you do now is a mirror image of the type of person you believe that you are (either consciously or subconsciously).
To change your behavior for good, you need to start believing new things about yourself. You need to build identity-based habits.”
Rather than focusing on the outcomes that we want, it’s important to focus on how we can become the type of person who would accomplish those outcomes. What would someone who wants to take a break from work and travel the world for a year do to make sure they can achieve that goal? How would they think? What actions would they take on a daily basis?
As Clear mentions, our identity drives our actions which result in the outcomes that we realize. Changing how you think about yourself and your goals, and keeping them top of mind all throughout the year, can go a long way in helping you to accomplish them.
How Do You Keep Your Goals Top of Mind?
There are many strategies to making sure that you remain focused on your goals all throughout the year rather than just when you set your New Year’s resolutions or when you meet with your financial planner for an update. Being intentional about doing so can help you to keep your eye on the prize and be a reminder of what to do (and what not to do) to help make sure that you can accomplish those goals.