The process of financial planning isn’t concerned with daily distractions. Rather, the focus is on staying with your plan through good times and bad in order to reap long term benefits. The process is focused on staying the course and lasting the distance.
Your financial life is an endurance race, not a sprint. Remembering that point can help you avoid reacting to scary events that inevitably occur along the way.
The main issue, however, is “our complex, sticky, tricky, emotional lives” as my colleague Carl Richards writes. Emotions often stand in the way of good decisions, financial and otherwise.
Shift Your Focus
The single most important step you can take that will increase your endurance is to shift your focus from the uncontrollable to the controllable. That is, away from shiny objects like short term investment returns to your personal savings rate and how you behave.
Annie Duke in her excellent new book How to Decide says” We want outcome quality to align with decision quality. We want the world to make sense in this way, to be less random than it is.” This is spot on. If you experience good short-term investment performance resulting from a particular investment decision, you surmise that the decision was good. In fact, it’s mostly just random chance or luck.
Duke points out that we tend to think of just one possible outcome from decisions but in reality, there are numerous potential outcomes. Some of the possible decision outcomes are good, some bad, and some in between. There are possibilities, probabilities, and actualities.
The easiest way to stay the course is to be clear about your destination. Where are you headed? Even a small element of fuzziness about the destination will devolve into nervousness about the path. You can’t endure unless you know where you want to go.
Survive and Succeed
Survival is a woefully underappreciated element of financial success. Think about how long it took Amazon to become profitable. Jeff Bezos founded Amazon in 1994 and the company made its first quarterly profit in 2003. The company had to survive for 9 years in order to reap the rewards so obvious today.
You can’t endure for the long haul with a personal economic narrative built upon the sand of daily noise. Financial markets, the economy, and even politics have cycles. Throughout history, it’s never been all up or all down; all good or all bad.
The problem is we want our financial jigsaw puzzle to fit together nicely and neatly. Our incomplete perspective of money realities hampers our ability to stay the course. Because the puzzle doesn’t make sense today, we believe it must be missing some pieces.
Reality based financial planning is all about concentrating on the long-term process. That’s the part we can control. The outcomes will follow if you allow enough time.
Related: What’s Your Investment Game?