by Mitch Anthony

The Return on Life™ (ROL) advisor understands that his or her purpose is to help clients get the most life they can with the money they have. The ROL vocation is the raison d’être for the ROI vocation. ROI is how we invest—ROL is the reason. ROL represents the difference between financial planning and financial life planning. This article will help you understand how you can 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.

It’s the one thing guaranteed to give your clients’ life meaning, focus, challenge, and joy—no matter what is going on at any given time, and without fail. 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 be, jobs they would like to gain (or lose), and amounts of money they would like at their disposal. If these are their assumptions for a great and fulfilling life, they are all mistaken.

Some 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 dwellings, or their net worth, you would find they have very little in common. Their actual numbers would likely be all over the ledger. 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 we might call a “rich life.” That one thing is the realization that strength of spirit trumps status in the game of life. Where you are at (mentally) means more than where you are in terms of position or wealth. Take, for example, people like these who you might have observed, up close or from a distance:

  • The grump on the golf course who can’t enjoy his round. Ponder the irony that he might be living out the dream he held so dear just a few years ago.
  • The person who has everything in terms of wealth, prestige, fame, and position, yet demonstrates little to admire in life.
  • The corporate star who is stressed and perplexed to within an inch of her sanity and therefore misses much of the enjoyment of her success.
  • The person who frets constantly over the potential damage to his possessions.

While our positions in wealth and locale are constantly in flux, the same is not true when it comes to our dispositions, especially when it comes to the ever-fluctuating state of our money, specifically our retirement account balances. Companies are required to send out statements about these accounts, but that doesn’t mean clients should obsess about what is most likely a temporary downturn—all that does is poison their mood.

Back in 2009, when things seemed to be at their worst, people were walking around numb with shock over their eroding balances. At that time, my question to them was simple: “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 away inside 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. Don’t get me wrong—for those individuals whose life savings got wiped out two years before they wanted to retire, it would have been difficult, if not impossible, to make up. But for others, it represented a temporary glitch, not a permanent malfunction.

Some imagined number—an artificial, ethereal finish line out in the distance—has robbed many of their joy in the present. Why should we let a transitory position, one that we know will be unrecognizable in six months or a year, destroy our disposition for the interim? Yet millions of people do, and we in the financial services industry only exacerbate the problem by constantly pointing to a client’s present account position instead of to the proper emotional disposition.

Many of your clients have recovered whatever it was they lost back then, and some are doing better than they ever dreamed possible. That means now, more than ever, is the time for advisors to become disposition-oriented. Now is the time to advise—not just talk about financial tactics and strategies. This is the time to discuss attitude, discipline, habits of mind, and perspectives that help clients weather market storms, because one thing is certain: we’ll see another financial cyclone at some point.

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 disposition, we fall into attitudes that cloud our vision and fail to witness the extraordinary wonders in this daily miracle called life—and all because of a number on a piece of paper.

Ultimately we are 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 in an enviable position in life simply because they have the proper disposition. 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, and a settled mind trumps unsettled markets.

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An earlier version of this article appeared in Financial Advisor.

© 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 the financial services industry.

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 is a consistently top-rated presenter who has spoken to groups ranging from 10 to more than 10,000. He has been named one of the financial services industry’s top “Movers & Shakers” for his pioneering work. Through the Institute, he has partnered with Texas Tech University, the University of Georgia, and Utah Valley University to develop financial life planning programs for their undergraduate programs.

Mitch is a sought-after expert for the media, and a regular columnist for Financial Advisor magazine. His columns have appeared on CBS MarketWatch and in the Journal of Financial Planning. His original comic strip “Stanley Brambles, CFG (Certified Financial Guru)”appears monthly in the print edition of Research magazine. Mitch is also 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 Story, and The Financial Lit-Kit: The Cash in the HatThe Bean is Not Green, and Where Did the Money Go?. For information on these books and more resources, click here. Contact Mitch at [email protected].