by Mitch Anthony

Advisors who embrace financial life planning understand that their purpose is to help clients get the most life they can with the money they have. ROI is critical, but it has little meaning without ROL (Return on Life™). In this article, we will explore the philosophical framework that will help you help your clients harvest the greatest amount of significance from their money, or put another way—help them construct a bridge between means and meaning.

ROL is the one thing guaranteed to give your clients meaning, focus, challenge, and joy—no matter what is going on at any given time. It has very little to do with where they are but everything to do with where they are at. If you were to take a survey and ask people, “What do you think it would take to make your life great?” there is a very good chance that many would begin describing places they would like to visit, jobs they would like to engage in (or depart from), and amounts of money they would like at their disposal. However, these are not the assumptions that lead to a meaningful life.

Some people would answer the same question with, “I can’t imagine my life being any better.” If you surveyed those people and asked them about their locales, their houses, or their net worth, you would find they have very little in common. Their actual numbers would likely be all over the map. The only algorithm connecting these individuals is the lens through which they view their lives. They understand the one thing that counts for true wealth, or what I would define as a “rich life.” That one thing is the realization that disposition trumps position in the game of life. Where you are at (mentally) means more than how wealthy you are.

I’m guessing you’ve observed, up close or from a distance, one or more of the following personalities:

  • The grump on the golf course or tennis court who can’t enjoy his or her round or set. Ponder the irony that this person might be living out the dream he or she held so dear just a few years ago.
  • The person who has everything in terms of material wealth, prestige, fame, and position, yet demonstrates little to admire in life.
  • The corporate star who is stressed because there is no time to appreciate or enjoy his or her success.
  • The person who is more concerned with damage to possessions than actually enjoying them.

Our positions in wealth and locale are constantly changing—that’s life. However, it need not be the case with our temperaments, especially when it comes to the ever-fluctuating state of our investments, specifically our retirement account balances. Companies are legally obligated to issue statements about these accounts, but clients are not obliged to obsess about them to the point that their mood is poisoned for three months.

Remember the spring of 2009 when people were walking around numb with shock over their eroding balances? Whenever someone would comment to me about their investment balances, I would ask them, “What has changed in your life?” If they had lost their jobs, plenty had changed. But for most people, the only thing that had changed was the blip on the financial radar screen, a number on a page, a digit locked in an anxiety safe in the back corner of their minds—a number somebody told them that they needed to achieve to have any sort of life.

Given the market’s rebound, this “fin-sanity” has unnecessarily afflicted millions. Some imagined number—an artificial, ethereal finish line out in the distance—has robbed them of their joy in the present. We in the financial services industry only exacerbate the problem by constantly pointing to the present account position instead of to the proper emotional disposition.

Now, more than ever, is the proper time for advisors to become disposition-oriented. Instead of just talking about financial tactics and strategies, now is the time to advise. Begin by discussing attitude, discipline, habits of mind, and the perspectives that help clients weather their market storms. Warren Buffett once said, “The chains of habit are too light to be noticed until they are too heavy to be removed.” This axiom applies to our thoughts as much as it does to our behavior. By neglecting to observe and correct our outlook, we risk falling into attitudes that cloud our vision. As a result, we lose sight of the extraordinary wonders in this daily miracle called life—and all because of a number on a piece of paper!

Ultimately we are all defined by our disposition: How did we respond to something bad? Did we make the best of the situation? Did we strengthen what remained? Did we shift our focus toward what mattered most? Our wealth or status, on the other hand, never defines us (or our clients) unless we allow it to. What if when we asked clients about their “wealth,” we asked questions like these?

  • Did you wake up today with your health, surrounded by people you love?
  • Are you still challenged by the work you do?
  • Do you have plans and dreams and experiences still posted on the drawing board?

If your clients answer “yes” to all three questions, they are experiencing a strong ROL. Instead of asking, “Where are you at financially?” we ought to be asking, “Where are you at with your financial situation?”

If we (and our clients) are viewing the numbers from the proper perspective, we can cruise through each day (and statement) with assurance that the one thing that matters inside us cannot be taken or shaken by forces outside. Disposition trumps position. A settled mind trumps unsettled markets.

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©2015 Mitch Anthony. This article was adapted from “Return on Life Realities”, originally published in Financial Advisor magazine.

© 2015 Mitch Anthony

Mitch Anthony is the founder and president of Advisor Insights Inc.and the Financial Life Planning Institute, the leading provider of financial life planning tools and programs.

For almost two decades, Mitch and his team have provided training and development for both individual advisors and major organizations throughout the world. Mitch personally consults with many of the largest and most-recognizable names in the financial services industry on both financial life planning and relationship development.

Mitch has been named one of the financial services industry’s top “Movers & Shakers” for his pioneering work, and is interviewed by the media on a regular basis. The Institute is partnering with both Texas Tech University and the University of Georgia to develop financial life planning programs for their undergraduate programs. Mitch is a popular keynote speaker, columnist for Financial Advisor magazine and Journal of Financial Planning, and host of the daily radio feature, The Daily Dose, heard on over 100 radio stations nationwide.

Mitch is also the author of many groundbreaking books for advisors and consumers, including perennial bestseller StorySelling for Financial Advisors, cited by “Financial Advisor” magazine as the number one “must-read” book for financial professionals. Mitch’s other books include The New Retirementality (now in its 4th edition), From the Boiler Room to the Living RoomYour Clients for LifeYour Client’s StoryThe Cash in the Hat, and The Bean is Not Green. For information on these books and more resources, click here. Contact Mitch at [email protected].