The importance of being intentional

If we don’t stand for something, we will fall for anything. Essentially, our actions will either result from what we choose, or what is chosen for us.

Our days are packed full of communication and actions. From the moment we engage with our mobile device or open our emails, messages begin to stream in and affect us. We will either be triggered into action by what we engage with or choose to follow our own intended plan of action for the day.

When we look deeper into how and why we are triggered, we enter a complex world of psychology and psychoanalysis, encountering things like our ego, our hidden self and our true self. There are excellent resources and coaches to help us understand our personality and strengths. Ultimately, we arrive at a state of being more mindful and intentional.

When we consider intention and how it impacts our future self, it’s helpful to consider the difference between making choices and making decisions. A choice can be seen as the result of intentional mindfulness, and a decision can be expressed as an intentional response to consequences.

Choices connect us to our desired intention, values and beliefs and speak to rights, power and opportunity. Decisions connect us to behaviour, performance and consequences and focus on the act of needing to make up our mind about something. Neither approach is wrong, one is merely premeditated whilst the other is responsive; both can be intentional.

If we want to be successful in our choices and decisions, we need to assess our habits and our cheerleaders.

Habits are at the root of all of our worst and best decisions. It’s often said that it’s not the markets that make us wealthy, but our habits. This is true for every area of our lives – not just our finances. Our habits are so powerful because as we stand at the helm of our life, we determine the direction we will take. If there’s a storm, we can navigate around it or through it; if there’s land, we can go towards it or away from it. We make our habits, and our habits make us.

Our cheerleaders are those standing beside us to help us navigate and manage the ship. They’re our closest friends and family, our colleagues and our coaches. They’re the ones we choose to listen to, and their messages will either reinforce us or ruin us. They can help us see our blindspots and help us identify strengths.

However you want to enhance or improve your life, take the time to be intentional about how you choose what you will stand for.

Four ways to measure your fortune

We often don’t worry about something until we realise that it’s limited. If we have lots of something, it’s a fortune. If we don’t, it can become a focus of concern and anxiety. 

Young children generally don’t worry about much if their needs are met. With access to their parents’ love, attention and confidence, children have much of the social affirmation they need. When school starts and they are placed in a room with lots of other children with similar needs and only a handful of adults, they quickly become aware of social capital.

Within a few years, money becomes more of an issue. Realising we can’t have everything we want, when we want it, awakens us to the importance of financial capital. As soon as we are old enough to start earning money, we jump at the opportunity, whether babysitting, washing cars, a paper route, waiting tables or any other casual position.

With increasing age, our good health becomes harder to maintain. It can happen for some in childhood years; for others, it kicks in around their twenties and thirties when weight gain is the first sign of an ageing body. And, with significant health scares or ageing, our acute awareness of how little time we have left leaves us aware of our time wealth.

If we want to know just how wealthy we are, we need to consider all four of the types of wealth above:

  1. Social Wealth
  2. Financial Wealth
  3. Health Wealth (Physical & Mental)
  4. Time Wealth (Freedom)

Social Wealth

The amount of support for and from others that we enjoy is our social wealth. Investopedia defines social capital as a set of shared values that allows us to work together in a group to achieve a common purpose effectively. The idea is generally used to describe how members can band together to live harmoniously.

In a way, our social capital is our most important as it allows us access to the finances, health, and time of others in our social sphere. 

Financial Wealth 

Indeed, money doesn’t make us happy, but having access to financial resources to build and grow is essential to the contributions we can make in our social circles, in protecting our health and affording us freedom of our time.

Health Wealth 

When we assess our financial portfolio, we often see health in terms of medical cover for emergencies and chronic illness. But it’s so much more than that. It’s physical, mental and emotional, from every bite of food we eat to every word we read and repeat, from how we manage anxiety to how we manage our sleep; our health wealth is integrated into every choice we make.

Time Wealth

We had absolute freedom of time in our first few years of life, and we didn’t realise it until we traded it for schooling, working, and maintaining our health. We need to be intentional about reclaiming our power in this wealth area, and we do this through building our social, financial and health wealth. 

Our fortune is not just the balance at the bottom right of our monthly bank statement or acquired total assets. It’s so much more meaningful and purposeful when we can see the areas in our lives that accrue and attribute value and make us fortunate.

The best time to live

“Remember the past, plan for the future, but live for today, because yesterday is gone and tomorrow may never come.”

The best time to live is in the present. It’s easy to get lost in a daydream of how life could have been different or how good life used to be. It’s equally easy to succumb to the speculative dreaming of what might happen in the future.

Believing in a better future is hope, and being confident of what we hope for; that is faith. Faith is grounded in the reality of the past; hope is looking to the anticipated reality of the future. In this way, to truly live with purpose today, we need to remember our past and plan for our future.

But there is a difference between thinking about the past or future and living in it. Sometimes we live in the past because it’s familiar; we know what happened; there are no surprises. So too we might live in the future because we are deeply dissatisfied with where we are.

When we dwell on thoughts to the point that they consume most of our energy and attention, this is when we move from thinking to dwelling. As the old proverb goes, “home is where the heart dwells”.

When the past was really good, we can be tempted to live in our memories because just thinking back on it gives you a feeling of comfort and happiness. And, if the past was really bad, we can live in the future seeking the same comfort and happiness.

We need to identify this in our lives because we can’t change the past and we cannot predict the future. The only place we can make changes is in the present moment. No matter how certain our plans might be, if some major event happens, that can all dissipate into the ether with the snap of a finger.

Being present to our present is where we regain and maintain control of our power to choose. When you speak to people with children or people on their deathbed, a common regret is missing their kids growing up or wishing they’d spent more time with their loved ones.

If you feel like you’re not quite focussed enough on the present, grab a journal and a pen and jot down one of these questions on each page. When your mind wanders and you find yourself dwelling on something that is taking you away from the present moment, jot it down on that page. This will help you release it from your focus, but still, be able to recall it to help you in your planning.

  1. Is there one particular period from the past that you find yourself clinging to?
  2. Are you frustrated with where you currently are in life?
  3. What causes you to be anxious for the future?
  4. What are you most grateful for in life?

Whilst these are helpful life questions, they’re also rooted in the core motivations for how we work with our money. When we can slowly break these questions apart and work through them, we can start to understand our money better and embrace what it means to remember the past, plan for the future and live for today.

Catastrophising and how to manage it

Have you ever gone down a rabbit hole on social media? You know, that moment when you see something triggering and you click on it, and then scroll down through the comments, becoming wholly engrossed in a conversation that turns out to be a waste of time and emotional energy. While we’re in that moment, we’re often completely unaware of how it’s affecting us. Catastrophising is a little like that.

We can all be affected by catastrophic thinking to differing degrees. It happens when we ruminate about irrational worst-case outcomes, assuming that the worst will come true.

For example, when we get a sore throat, we might leap from one disastrous medical condition to the next, ending in our impending doom from some rare and awful disease. Or, when someone doesn’t reply to our text message, we immediately start to assume the worst and run down a track that ends in our removal from every social group.

Perhaps there is a significant crash in the markets, and we assume our investment portfolio will be wiped out, or we lose a large client, and we think our business will crash. If these patterns sound familiar, don’t panic – you’re not alone.

Many of us engage in this type of self-sabotaging thinking at very manageable levels, we snap out of the catastrophe-coma and vow to never do it again (until the next day…) and carry on with life. However, there are times when catastrophising can become a debilitating reality. Various research has linked this more profound experience of catastrophic thinking to other conditions, such as chronic pain, chronic illness, or poor mental health.

If we are prone to depression or high anxiety, then catastrophising might very well be much harder for us to identify and manage. If we are in constant physical pain, this too will impact our mental health and render us more vulnerable to crippling thoughts. Some articles have shown that it’s not just psychological as it can affect the physiology of the brain.

The first step to managing catastrophising is to identify it. Many of us do it without realising it, so the sooner we can observe this behaviour, the sooner we can change it. As with most mental concerns, therapy is beneficial, and so are mindfulness practices and meditation. These are reflective processes that break down our repetitive thought patterns and allow us to decide which habits we should develop and which to abandon.

We can also intentionally surround ourselves with people who help us make better decisions, who understand what is important to us and can lovingly support us when we fall down the inevitable minefield of rabbit holes ahead of us. Most of the battle ahead is fought in the mind; if we can take steps to protect not only how we think but who we allow into our headspace, we will be stronger, safer and happier.

Ask yourself these questions BEFORE switching funds

As financial planning conversations deepen and explore more value, we find ourselves moving from the empirical to the emotional, from processes to perceptions and from products to people. It’s an enlightening journey that takes us away from numbers and allows us to reflect and reconstruct our future planning approach.

But, it’s also extremely challenging as we find questions we can’t easily answer; but, that’s still healthier than having answers we can’t question! This point of reflection helps us form questions that enable us to navigate the flow and rate of change around us. The questions empower us to see choices more clearly and engage with our life and financial plan in a significant and impactful way.

But, before we make any changes to our investment portfolio, there are some helpful questions to ask. A recent article from fbfs.com offered several questions; here are some of them.

Am I working with a financial adviser I can trust?

In the same way, our personal and professional relationships depend on strong bonds of trust; our relationship with our money needs the same foundation. And, this begins by working with a financial adviser we can trust.

We all have blind spots (which is why financial advisers ALSO NEED financial advisers for their personal portfolios!), so it’s not just about working with someone our bank recommended; it’s about working with someone who we know, like, and trust.

How have my circumstances changed?

Some life changes are apparent, and we don’t need someone to help us spot them, but other life changes are slow and gradual. When we’ve been working with a trusted financial adviser, they can help us track and identify the gradual changes that will impact how we invest and plan for the future. Not all life changes require a shift in funds, but some might. This is how we build an investment strategy that consistently reflects what is important to us.

Has there been a change in my risk tolerance?

Various factors influence risk tolerance, but one of the most significant is our investment horizon. Ask yourself: “Has my financial timeline changed?” For example, if you’ve decided to move your financial independence (retirement) date, this might change your investment strategy. Your financial situation or a change in your risk preferences could also trigger tweaks to your investment portfolio.

Are any of my funds underperforming?

This is probably the question we ask ourselves most… but it’s also one of the most detrimental if not answered correctly. A bad week, month or even year may not be a valid cause for concern for long-term investment strategies. However, consistent poor performance over several years may yield a legitimate concern and reason to reflect on your fund selection. But, even so, it still needs to be taken in the context of the entire portfolio and the outcomes for which we’d hoped.

No matter how much we plan and how meticulous we might be, things generally never go directly according to plan. So there will always be reasons to feel like we need to switch funds; some will be valid, others won’t be. Hopefully, this blog helps you prepare for your next financial planning conversation!

How much do you need?

One of the hardest questions to answer when it comes to financial planning is: How much do I need?

There are two ways we can look at this. Either, I believe that my external circumstances will eventually reach a point where I have earned enough, and I’ll finally feel that I have enough. Or, I will come to the realisation that my wants and needs are based on my own personal perceptions.

It’s also difficult because no matter how we see this, external or internal, we will most likely continue to vacillate between the two. This is because our head seldom wants what our heart wants, and our heart seldom wants what our head wants. Even when we can discern the difference between a want and a need, the goalposts keep shifting.

There’s no list of one hundred things every family must have – it’s incredibly personal. And this is what makes financial planning so complex. We can’t actually answer the question “How much do I need” because that answer will keep changing.

This is why we need to find better questions to ask, and we’re doing that with some success, but it still doesn’t always help when we’re sitting staring at a Black Friday special and wondering if we should impulsively add it to our basket.

At this point in the conversation, it’s important to remember to be kind to ourselves. We will always make impulse purchases, and that’s okay. The dangerous territory lies in what habits we’re forming. If we’re habitually buying things we don’t need and spending money too carelessly, we will find ourselves in a place that is tough to change.

Here is a great way to leverage better money habits in our purchasing behaviour: create space to reflect on your purchase.

This is how:

1 – Be a basket case: once you’ve decided you want something (or need it…), put off purchasing for a day or two. For online shopping, leave it in your basket for 48 hours before proceeding to the checkout.

2 – Quarantine it: leave it sitting in the garage or your spare room for three days after buying it. If you’re no longer convinced it was a worthy purchase, send it back to the store.

3 – Last in, first out: if you buy a new one, give the old one away. The more clutter we accumulate, the harder it is to appreciate what we have.

These tips help us create space to think about how much we really need and can be powerful practices in developing habits that make us wealthy.

Making goals easier to achieve

“If I had a penny for every time I put something off until tomorrow, and never got to it… I’d put them all in a sock and hit myself with it.” Unknown

In our digital age, it has become increasingly easy to create lists of things to do and remember. We can just call out “Alexa!” or “Hey Siri!” and add to a virtual reminder list that, for the most part, just adds more stress and clutter to our lives.

If you’re smiling, you’re not alone. All of us have lists filled with great intentions and a serious challenge regarding follow-through. This is not necessarily because our lists are too long (although that may sometimes be the case); several factors can influence our ability to see our goals through to completion.

Take a moment to breathe in some kindness and let’s look at a couple of tips together.

Whether you’re sitting with a diary for a new week, month or year in front of you, here are some great ways to create goals that are easier to achieve.

  1. Measurability is massive!

Vaguely huge goals, such as “get out of debt” or “go on an overseas holiday”, seem specific, but they’re not measurable.

“My best advice is to write down your goals in SMART format,” says Kate Mielitz, an accredited financial counsellor and assistant professor at Oklahoma State University.

As a reminder, the SMART acronym stands for specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic and timely. In other words, you want your goals to be something that you can see progress towards and achieve in a relatively short period. This is how goals become measurable.

So – instead of saying “get out of debt”, it is better to set a weekly goal to pay 500 bucks towards your credit cards. Setting something as specific as this helps you determine how sustainable that goal is. If you meet this each week, you might want to increase it; if you can’t meet it, you might want to reduce it, making the goal more realistic and timely.

  1. Visibility is valuable

One of the issues with virtual lists is that we can’t always see them, and they’re tucked away neatly behind an app or in a folder in the cloud somewhere. Many of us are visual beings, and we like to see things. Remember that phrase when we were kids – out of sight, out of mind? It’s true for our goals. 

There are plenty of coaches who advocate using a vision board for our goals. This is because it makes our goals super visual and keeps us present to them throughout the week. If a vision board is too grandiose, have a pile of post-its that you can jot your goals on and stick them inside your cupboard. Then, every time you meet a goal, rip off the sticky square and toss it away in the bin.

Another helpful way to meet our goals is to have an accountability partner. Financial goals are no different – having a financial advisor who is in your court, knows how you make choices and what you want to achieve in life is highly beneficial to making your goals easier to achieve.

At the end of each day, remind yourself that you’re not alone and that tomorrow is a new day where you can keep working towards something new and awesome!

Sustainable sanity

When we stand together, we can succeed together. We can support and encourage one another. But this only happens in our smaller, more intimate groups. The fourth industrial revolution has slowly edged us into a communication environment that is overwhelmed with information.

We are learning that whilst we can stand together in powerful support, we can also suffer together. A burden indeed shared is a burden halved, but if we’re not aware of it, the cumulative stress of those around us becomes additional stress for us.

This means that whilst we’re battling our own stress, we’re also taking on the stress of our collective unconscious.

This is known as the allostatic load: “the wear and tear on the body” that accumulates as we are exposed to repeated or chronic stress. As we scroll through our social media channels late at night (instead of getting an early night…), the algorithms feed us information that shows people behaving with less tolerance, forgiveness and empathy.

It’s because this keeps us scrolling for a few seconds longer. 

Mass media, for decades, has known that bad news sells. Social media has taken it to an exponentially higher level. It’s mentally corrosive and erosive, all at the cost of public interest – purely to remain interesting to the public.

It would be lovely to simply silence the onslaught of media and messages that cling to the virtual platforms that we use to engage with our family, friends, colleagues and customers, but we’re too far into the 4IR to turn back now. We need a different strategy to regain our sanity – and sustain our sanity.

Clean your feed 

Begin by boycotting the channels that happily fill your head and mind with a worst-case view of what’s going on in the world and, in the process of doing it, make you sad or angry.

Be more proactive on your social media channels. Hide or unfollow posts that are bating or triggering you.

Choose trust over mistrust

If we can break the natural circle of societal mistrust that has grown over the last decade, we can begin to rebuild a circle of trust in its place.

This isn’t about blind trust – if someone is being a bully online, we should shut them down. It’s about retraining our brain to realise that not everyone is out to spread malignant information. If we can slow down our reactionary time and squeeze in some reflection before responding, we can improve our ability to filter the riff-raff from the genuinely benevolent.

Avoid putting a spotlight on drama

We’ve become masters at making mountains out of molehills, and we have to keep our overreactions in check! Catastrophising is an extraordinarily debilitating trait because it is a trigger for anxiety, stress and depression.

Late night (or 3am) browsing is often a recipe for terrible decisions. We’re tired and emotionally vulnerable at these times – it’s not a great state for responsible online engagement. Put boundaries in place, both on what you’re seeing and when you’re seeing it.

In her blog – How To Stay Sane In A World Of Pain – Zoë Clews offers this advice:

Know what you’re in charge of – for good mental health, it’s important to understand these three areas: 

Locum of control – what time you get up, what you choose to put into your body, whether you pay your bills on time – this is you being in charge of yourself. 

Areas of influence – these are the things we can influence, but not directly control. They might include helping someone to quit smoking or persuading a friend not to go back to a toxic ex. Once we have done what we can to influence, we have to be ready to let go regardless of the outcome.

Things we can do nothing about – this covers things like whether an asteroid is going to destroy the Earth in your lifetime. These are the situations that really aren’t worth worrying about, and it’s these things that the media revels in telling you about. In the end, your anxiety and stress just feeds your sense of powerlessness.

If you really feel you can exert enough control and influence over something to make a tangible difference, then do it – the world needs more people like you. But be circumspect enough to be able to recognise when a situation is beyond your mastery.

We reclaim our sanity with intention, intention to do better and be better. If we just go with the tide of a dangerous shoreline, we’ll be bashed about by the waves and sucked in by the undercurrents. Every choice we make is a reflection of our mental health and will either help or hinder those around us.

How much time is your money worth?

As we build businesses and seek to create various income opportunities, we are always confronted with the challenge of pricing. It’s a challenge because all of our situations are different.

Those with qualifications and experience often charge more for their time. But it’s not a sure way to work out billing and costs; sometimes people feel very confident in the value they’re bringing, so rather than looking at the time and experience they bring to their hour of work, they look at the value it brings to the consumer. 

Another differing factor is how much money we all need to make each month to provide for our families and responsibilities.

Regardless of how we reach that “golden number”, the underlying view of all of these approaches assumes we will work out our billing based on a finite amount of hours in the day. So – if I need to earn forty grand, I need to earn x-amount per hour. The problem with this approach is that we lock ourselves into a certain amount of billable hours to cover our costs and make a profit.

The flip side of this coin is that we could say that if we work more hours, then we can earn so much more. If we’re not disciplined, we can become caught in a situation where we become overworked and unbalanced.

So – perhaps, instead of asking how much time we have or how much money we want, we can set a baseline of determining what our time is worth to us. It’s a simple change in perspective that places value on our time rather than how much money we can make.

This immediately places us in a position to start asking new questions about how we perceive and assign value. We start to think about other things that we would rather do with our time if we didn’t need to earn off each “working hour”.

It separates us from the spreadsheet of hourly rate vs hours worked and looks at questions of physical, mental, relational and spiritual health. Instead of weighing up the value of an hour against how much money we earn, we can consider how it has benefited our overall well-being.

As we open ourselves to these different questions, it’s much easier for us to start creating a life and financial plan to which we can feel fully committed. We can set metrics that are independent of market performance, intuitive to our goals and in line with the journey we’ve chosen.

So – how much time is your money worth?

Learning leverages healthy decisions (3/3)

Readiness is key to learning something new. If we’re not ready to learn something… it will probably go straight in one ear and out the other.

That was a favourite phrase of parents and teachers alike – if we weren’t paying attention, they’d lay that line thicker than peanut butter on a slice of white bread. And, they weren’t wrong. When we were distracted, information went “straight through us” without taking seed. It was true when we were in school, and it’s even more applicable now as we engage in a daily onslaught of information dissemination.

Social media and news streams keep us engaged and entertained, but seldom do they leave us educated. This is why we keep making choices that we regret. If access to information were key in making healthy decisions, none of us would struggle with making the wrong ones!

It’s not the access to information that’s important; it’s the learning that’s important.

The best time to offer advice (a learning opportunity) is only, ONLY, when it’s requested. Essentially, this recognises that if we’re not ready for advice (not asking for it), there’s a good chance that we’re not ready for it – and it won’t stick.

In line with some recent blogs, this one offers four more thoughts on how we can leverage learning to make healthier decisions; for our money, relationships, career, and anything else that we value in life.

Embrace novel formats

When lockdowns and Coronavirus hit the world, it led to exceedingly tough times, but it also created an upswell of novel learning formats. Online learning platforms (free and paid-for), TEDTalks, YouTube channels and smaller community-centric groups all began to provide places to learn that, in many instances, were more effective than traditional structures of learning.

Practice mindfulness

A healthy mind is a powerful mind. In line with recognising how prolific and persistent the engagement of technology and social media is in our lives, setting aside time for mindfulness is profoundly grounding, healing and helpful. The gurus all recommend starting with just five minutes a day and building up from there. There are plenty of great apps to help you get started.

With a healthy mind, anything is possible.

School was simply the starting line

Graduation is about levelling up, not about completion. All lifelong learners recognise that school is nothing but the starting line of our true education. This is a simple paradigm shift, but once we internalize it, we’ll start doing things differently.

Play the long game

“The greatest riches in life – personal or professional – come from compound interest.” Sahil Bloom. The hardest element of benefiting from compound interest is that it takes time, lots and lots of time!

Lifelong learners play the long game; they know that lessons will continue to be learnt and that whilst the truth may not change, their perception of the truth will continue to deepen.

(All of these ideas were shared in a compilation by Sahil Bloom – @SahilBloom – on Twitter)